Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Daylight Saving Time Brings Mixed Health Effects: A Cardiologist’s Insights

HomeHealthDaylight Saving Time Brings Mixed Health Effects: A Cardiologist's Insights

As clocks spring forward this Sunday across the United States and Canada, our bodies may face a disruption to the natural circadian rhythms that govern critical functions like sleep and metabolism. While the start of daylight saving time (DST) promises brighter evenings, Dr. Rachana Kulkarni, a leading cardiologist, reveals potential risks and rewards this transition could have on our health.

The Circadian Disruption

Dr. Kulkarni, the regional Director of Cardiovascular Services for RWJBarnabas Health and Director of its prestigious Women’s Heart Center, explains that DST impacts everyone due to its effect on our internal body clocks or circadian rhythms.

The circadian rhythm is the discipline the body goes by, dictating multiple processes,” states Dr. Kulkarni. “When that gets disrupted, the whole body and its basic metabolic functions get affected.”

While we gain an extra hour of evening sunlight – a perk many relish – Dr. Kulkarni cautions that this shift also brings “some health challenges” attributable to the disruption of our natural rhythms.

Sleep: The Cornerstone of Cardiovascular Health

As a cardiologist focused on delivering cutting-edge cardiovascular care, Dr. Kulkarni is acutely aware of the pivotal role that quality sleep plays in maintaining a healthy heart.

“Sleep is one of life’s essential aids,” she affirms, “and it’s among the most crucial elements for good cardiovascular health.”

The loss of an hour’s sleep that accompanies the start of DST can disrupt this foundational pillar, with potentially severe ramifications, especially in the first week as our bodies struggle to adapt.

Elevated Risks: Heart Attacks, Strokes, and Arrhythmias

According to Dr. Kulkarni, the days immediately following the start of DST see “a marked increase in heart attacks and strokes” – a surge that can persist for up to a week.

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“Even during typical weeks, emergency rooms and cardiologists see a significant increase in heart attacks and strokes on Mondays,” she explains, adding that this unfortunate pattern is exacerbated by the disruption to circadian rhythms caused by DST.

Those with existing risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease are especially vulnerable during this transitional period.

Dr. Kulkarni draws particular attention to the plight of post-menopausal women, a demographic she describes as “very prone to heart and health risks because of lack of sleep and interruption of the circadian rhythm.”

“We have data and research to support that one in four post-menopausal women are at risk for having irregular heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation,” she cautions. “Sleep disturbance is very common in peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women, and that increases their risk.”

Cognitive Impairment and Mental Health Challenges

The adverse effects of DST extend beyond the cardiovascular system. With disrupted sleep patterns, our cognitive function and mental well-being can also take a hit.

“Lack of good sleep can lead to cognitive decline because you are unable to focus,” warns Dr. Kulkarni. “If your body is not rested, you are unable to focus that next day.”

Moreover, studies have established links between irregular sleep and an increased risk of depression, a connection that disproportionately affects younger individuals. “Younger people are more likely to face depression and obesity due to lack of sleep,” Dr. Kulkarni notes.

Weight Gain, Diabetes, and a Vicious Cycle

The health implications of DST can create a vicious cycle, as disrupted sleep often leads to poor lifestyle choices that further compound the issues.

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“When we feel tired, we’re less likely to exercise,” explains Dr. Kulkarni, citing research that links sleep loss to increased risks of visceral obesity and, by extension, cardiovascular disease.

This lethargy can contribute to weight gain, which in turn heightens the risk of developing type 2 diabetes – another well-established risk factor for heart disease.

“Studies have shown that younger people are more likely to face obesity due to lack of sleep,” adds Dr. Kulkarni, “while older people are more likely to have cognitive decline and higher cardiovascular risk.”

The Sunny Side: Vitamin D, Exercise, and Better Sleep Hygiene

While the transition to DST undoubtedly poses challenges, Dr. Kulkarni is quick to highlight its potential upsides, especially if we’re proactive in adapting our routines.

“If we are prudent about how to transition our body, there are so many positives that we get with more daylight,” she asserts.

Chief among these benefits is increased exposure to natural light, a catalyst for vitamin D production and a boon for both physical and mental well-being. “Exposure to natural light is a wonderful thing to do,” says Dr. Kulkarni. “It allows better health and is amazing for our bodies and psyche.”

The longer evenings also present opportune windows for exercising outdoors, an activity Dr. Kulkarni wholeheartedly recommends. “My suggestion is to go outside and start exercising,” she advises. “We are going to now have light when we go out [before work] and when we come home, so take advantage of the extra light that we have.

By prioritizing physical activity and spending time in nature, we can potentially offset some of the negative effects of the time change while reaping the benefits of increased vitamin D.

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Finally, Dr. Kulkarni emphasizes the importance of cultivating good sleep hygiene habits to ease the transition. “We should know that these are the challenges and we should prep ourselves in a better way,” she counsels.

Her recommendations include:

  • Going to bed slightly earlier in the days leading up to the time change
  • Avoiding caffeine, especially in the latter half of the day
  • Reducing exposure to blue light from devices an hour before bedtime
  • Maintaining a calming, tech-free bedroom environment

“Get into good sleep hygiene,” Dr. Kulkarni advises, “and then it’s all good. It’s up to us. I always say knowledge is power!”

A Balanced Perspective

While the start of daylight saving time undoubtedly brings a blend of advantages and risks, Dr. Kulkarni’s insights provide a roadmap for navigating this biannual transition with mindfulness and pragmatism.

By acknowledging the potential challenges – heightened cardiovascular risks, cognitive issues, and disrupted metabolic function – and employing proactive strategies like improved sleep habits and increased physical activity, we can mitigate the downsides while capitalizing on the upsides of extended daylight hours.

“Limit the use of technology. This is a good time to get out!” Dr. Kulkarni appeals. With awareness, preparation, and a commitment to healthier routines, the start of daylight saving time can be an opportunity to reset our habits and embrace the joys of longer, brighter days.

As the clocks move forward this Sunday, let Dr. Kulkarni’s balanced perspective be a guiding light, illuminating a path towards better health and well-being in the months ahead.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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