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Daylight-Saving Time and Heart Attacks: The Hidden Health Risks of Springing Forward

By: Terri McKinney

Every Spring, people across the world will set their clocks forward one hour for daylight-saving time. Although originally conceived to help individuals make better use of the daylight hours by moving an hour of sunlight from the morning to the afternoon, daylight-saving time may come with hidden risks.

Daylight-saving time, heart attacks and risk factors

A 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that individuals had an approximately 5 percent greater risk of having a heart attack immediately following the springtime clock change than they did the week before the shift.

The ties between daylight-saving time and heart attacks may have to do with the relationship between sleep deprivation and cardiovascular health, according to study authors. The study authors suggest that sleep deprivation may cause an increase in proinflammatory cytokine levels and a predominance of sympathetic activity, circumstances that can possibly lead to heart failure.

The study also suggests that individuals who are already at a higher risk for heart attacks might benefit from avoiding sudden changes in their biologic rhythms. For example, these individuals may want to consider gradually changing their sleep cycles by 15 minutes at a time beginning four days prior to daylight-saving time, rather than making the shift all at once.


Daylight-saving time: heart attacks aren’t the only risk

Many researchers have looked at the health issues that may be associated with daylight-saving time, and heart attacks aren’t the only risk.

Traffic accidents

A 1996 study in the New England Journal of Medicine linked the daylight-saving time disruption in sleep cycle to an increased risk of traffic accidents. Data pulled from the Canadian Ministry of Transport showed that the rate of traffic accidents was 8 percent higher than average on the Monday immediately following the time shift.

The study’s authors suggest that the loss of an hour’s sleep may lead to an increased number of lapses of attention (which the study’s authors dubbed “microsleeps”) during daily activities, which may explain the increase in the probability of accidents.

Workplace injuries

A 2009 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed that the daylight-saving time shift may also increase workplace injuries. Using data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, researchers found that workers in the mining industry sustained more workplace injuries and injuries of greater severity on the Mondays directly following the daylight-saving time switch than they did on other days.

What does this mean for healthcare professionals and first responders?

Healthcare professionals and first responders may need to prepare to respond to an increase in heart attacks, as well as automotive and on-the-job injuries on Monday, March 11, 2013. Proper certification in life support functions such as advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) can help these professionals ensure they’re prepared and prepped for any small surges in emergency room traffic.

Health Ed Solutions (HES) is the leading provider of online healthcare certification, offering ACLS, pediatric advanced life support (PALS), basic life support (BLS) and other trainings in convenient online formats. Visit HES’ website for Heartsaver CPR, AED online certification facts. HES’ research library also has a wealth of information about the latest findings for heart disease.