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The up and down side of daylight saving

Dr Ross Walker
9 April 2014

by Ross Walker

As we have just come to the end of daylight saving, a new study of hospital admissions in Michigan has discovered a very interesting finding. This study suggested that losing one hour of sleep at the start of daylight saving, may not be so good for our health. Interestingly, gaining the extra hour at the other end of daylight saving (which we have just done) does have a positive benefit. 

The study looked at hospital admissions in the Michigan area over a four year period and found there was a 25% jump in heart attacks on the Monday after the start of daylight saving i.e. loss of one hour sleep on the Saturday night.  But this led to a 21% drop on the Tuesday after the autumn return to normal time i.e. an extra hour’s sleep on the Saturday night before. 

You may be surprised to hear that the most common time for a heart attack is eight o’clock on Monday morning.  This is the time when all of us think we have a long week to endure, before we get another break.  Often people who do not enjoy their lives and are under some form of cardiac risk, are the ones who will have this heart attack. 

Also, during times of significant communal stress such as the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center or the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles, there were seven times the amount of heart attacks on those days compared with normal.  But the heart attack rate was less on the days following, suggesting the acute stress of whatever trauma occurred, had already affected the predisposed individuals. 

Interestingly, on one day in Washington, ten thousand people meditated in a park and on that day, there were less heart attacks and less crime than normally seen in Washington.. 

Back to daylight saving, it may be surprising to hear that the loss of one hour sleep may bump up the heart attack rate but this brings us back to the vital importance of sleep, something I discuss frequently. 

Sleep hygiene and cultivating good sleep habits are vitally important for good health but a significant problem is that as we age, our sleep becomes more fragmented.  I have discussed in previous articles the vital importance of good sleep hygiene and especially around the times of loss of sleep such as the start of daylight saving, shift work or international travel, it is important to try and compensate as best you can by readjusting your sleep habits as soon as possible. 

I am soon to embark on a three week overseas trip lecturing in Italy and my recommendations for anyone making a long journey such as this, is to obtain some Melatonin (in Australia this is on prescription as Circadin 2mg) and also obtain a script for a gentle sleeping tablet from your doctor such as Temazepam.  When you are travelling into a particular time zone such as Europe, find out what time it is around 10.00pm in the area to which you are travelling (regardless of the time on the plane) and take the Melatonin and the gentle sedative at around the 10.00pm mark, so that you are readjusting your biologic clock into that time zone.  I travel frequently overseas and this works like a charm for me.  I suffer minimal jetlag and certainly do the same thing on the way back.

Regardless, the medical profession are realising now the vital importance of sleep. I mentioned in an article previously that having consistently less than six hours of sleep on a daily basis, has the same deleterious effects on health as cigarette smoking.  As we all know, it is estimated we spend around one third of our life sleeping, it must be rather important.

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