MARCH IS NATIONAL SLEEP AWARENESS MONTH
[by Tamara Sellman RPSGT CCSH for Advanced Cardiovascular Sleep Disorders Center]
Tomorrow is dubbed "Sleepy Monday" in response to the spring change to Daylight Saving Time, and for good reason. We're all a little more sleepy than usual on a Monday morning after we "spring" our clocks forward.
While this may seem like a quaint characterization of modern-day America, the reality is a bit darker: Sleepy Monday is also known for increases in two dangerous phenomena—car accidents and heart attacks.
Sleepy Monday and drowsy driving
It may seem like the loss of just one hour of sleep last night shouldn't make a difference to your Monday morning commute.
However, research and statistics show that even the slightest amount of residual sleepiness caused by that lost hour can impair your judgment, slow your reaction time, and delay your reaction time while operating a vehicle.
These seemingly minor effects increase your risk of having a motor vehicle accident that results in injuries and even fatalities. The same holds true for those who operate heavy machinery at work.
Signs of driver fatigue include:
- Excessive yawning
- Driving over rumble strips unintentionally
- Drifting from lane to lane
- Forgetting to use turn signals
- Falling asleep while idling at stoplights
- Having trouble with focusing, keeping the eyes open, or dry itchy eyes
- Forgetting where you have just drive
- Missing exits
Drowsy driving is at least as dangerous as driving while under the influence or driving while texting, and it is especially dangerous if you are sleep deprived and under the influence of alcohol or substances and texting.
If you're experiencing any of these signs of drowsiness, pull over and get some rest or engage in a stimulating activity that will spur wakefulness, such as engaging in brief exercise or having coffee with breakfast.
Sleepy Monday and heart attacks
Fewer people may be aware of the uptick in heart attacks that follows the spring time change.
However, a 2014 study in the journal, Open Heart, shows that Sleepy Monday brings a 24 percent increase in heart attacks when compared to the daily average experienced on other Mondays.
(As a side note: Mondays, in general, are already well known to be the days of the week when heart attacks are most likely to occur, due to the stress experienced at the beginning of the work week. Sleepy Monday amplifies these risks.)
What does sleep loss from the time change have to do with heart health?
Scientists believe these increases in heart attack risks relate to the disruption of circadian rhythms as a result of the change to Daylight Saving Time.
On any given morning, cortisol levels in the morning are out of balance, hormones have unusual fluctuations that reflect this imbalance, and blood sugar and insulin levels may fall out of synch. These conditions can lead to stress on the heart muscle, with an hour less of sleep increasing the odds.
It's also worth noting that most heart attacks occur between the hours of 4am and 10am. This is because our blood is "stickier" at this time. When we encounter increases in adrenaline (which can relate to fatigue caused by sleep deprivation), this can trigger problems in the coronary arteries which can culminate in heart attacks.
If you are at higher risk for heart attacks, please don't hesitate to go to the emergency room or call 911 if you suddenly feel chest pain or other symptoms (see the chart, left) on Sleepy Monday.
And don't fear... your increased risk for a heart attack levels off after your body readjusts to the time change.
Remember: Poor sleep health is a year-round problem
Don't think that Sleepy Monday is the only time you truly need to worry about car accidents or heart attacks.
Please consult your doctor if you have sleep troubles, it really could save your life.