Change your clock this weekend: it may help your ticker

November 2, 2011 Anand A. Gersappe, M.D., Ph.D.

“Fall back and spring forward!”

In the era before digital media, I often relied on this phrase to remind myself about daylight savings time.

And now, there’s a great reason to remember to turn your clocks back and sleep in an extra hour this weekend: it may be good for your heart.

More than 1.5 billion people reset their clocks every year, turning clocks backward by an hour in the fall and forward by an hour in the spring. These transitions have been known to disrupt internal biologic rhythms and influence the duration and quality of sleep, an effect that lasts for several days after the shifts. But does losing or gaining that one hour have health consequences?

A 2008 report in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Janszky and colleagues (see this link) suggests that it does. The authors looked at twenty years of heart attack data from Sweden. They showed that there is a significant increase in the daily rate of heart attack in the first few days after we “spring ahead” and get an hour less of sleep, but that in the first few days after we “fall back” and gain an hour of sleep, there are fewer heart attacks.

We've long known that sleep deprivation carries a high risk. Sleeping less than 5-6 hours per night is associated with significant increase in the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and depression.

The average sleep requirement for an adult is 7.5-8 hours. But 40% of Americans sleep less than 7 hours a night. Many have a disorder that interferes with sleep – such as sleep apnea - that can be tested and treated. But most just don't set aside enough time for sleep. So try it! If you don't give yourself enough time for sleep, go to bed fifteen minutes earlier for a few days, then a half hour earlier, until you get seven and a half hours a night. Your daytime functioning and overall health will improve and your risk of heart disease will go down.

And this weekend, take advantage of the opportunity for an extra hour of sleep.


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