Sunday, March 10, 2013

Time Change Equals Heart Attack?

Twice a year, most parts of the U.S. adjust their clocks. We “spring forward” in the spring and “fall backward” in the fall, moving ahead or back an hour. This anachronism of a day before pervasive outdoor lighting is a bad idea that just won’t die. In addition to being a real nuisance, did you know that daylight savings time is dangerous to your health?


Our bodies are governed by an internal clock. These circadian rhythms adjust our metabolism, make us sleepy, trigger digestive system activities (we’ll just leave it at that) and play a huge role in our secretion of hormones. When we get jet lag, we are feeling the effects of messing with your circadian rhythms. Time change is a mini-jet lag experience that most of us suffer, twice a year.

There have been several studies on the rate of car accidents on the day following time change. They found that traffic accidents increase 8% on the day following the time change. This might be a good day to take the bus?

Your car might be easy to repair after a time change-related accident, but your heart is a different matter. Since our circadian rhythms drive changes to our blood pressure, heart rate and vascular dilation, it makes sense that losing an hour of sleep might be bad for your heart.

A study, reported in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, studied this very matter. They found a 5% increase in heart attacks immediately following the spring time change compared to the previous week. Yes, a 5% increase, just because of a lost hour that doesn’t return until autumn.

What can you do? Awareness is a good first step. Take that first week a bit easier. Maybe the Monday after time change isn’t the best time to start a new workout routine. Don’t schedule stressful events for Monday, either. There’s no reason to go looking for heart trouble. Tuesday will come soon enough.

Another approach that can help is to make the time change more gradual. Maybe move your clocks up by 30 minutes Friday night and 30 minutes Saturday night. Obviously, this will make you march to a different drum all day Saturday, but what is your heart worth, anyway?

So take it easy on yourself following the spring sleep hijacking. Your heart will thank you!

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