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Daylight saving time has little influence on heart health

Daylight saving time (DST) sparks both excitement and annoyance when the clocks change each spring. However, beyond the simple inconvenience, a bigger question exists: does it affect our heart health

A new study by the Mayo Clinic tackles this debate head-on, aiming to provide clear and definitive answers about the true impact of daylight saving time on our well-being.

Benefits of daylight saving time

Daylight saving time was first created with the goal of saving energy. By shifting clocks forward in the summer, there would be more daylight in the evenings. This, in theory, would mean people wouldn’t need to turn on lights as early, leading to less electricity use

Beyond just saving energy, DST aimed to better align human activity with the natural light cycle, allowing people to take advantage of daylight hours for activities. 

Over the years, the reasons for DST have expanded to include arguments that it allows for more leisure time in the evenings and even helps boost economic activity.

Focus of the study 

The researchers studied the health records of 36 million Americans to see if switching to and from daylight saving time impacted their heart health. 

The experts checked how often individuals experienced heart issues like heart attacks and strokes in the days following the spring “spring forward” and fall “fall back” time changes. They then compared these occurrences to other periods throughout the year to identify any significant differences.

Spring transition

The study found a minor increase in heart problems after the spring time change when clocks “spring forward.” This increase is noteworthy because it suggests a possible, though very minor, effect of the time change on heart health. 

However, the researchers emphasized that the rise in events is so small that it’s unlikely to have any noticeable impact on most people’s health. While there might be a measurable effect, it’s not a cause for major concern and shouldn’t lead to significant changes in public health policies regarding daylight saving time.

Autumn transition

The number of heart problems did not increase significantly during the fall when daylight saving time ends and people “fall back” an hour. This suggests that the extra hour of sleep gained in the fall might balance out any negative effects caused by the time change. 

In other words, switching back to standard time in the autumn doesn’t seem to have a noticeable negative impact on heart health, unlike the small increase seen in the spring when time jumps forward. 

“We looked at five years across the U.S., and what we found is that it’s unlikely that there is a clinically meaningful difference in cardiovascular health due to daylight saving time,” noted study lead author Dr. Benjamin Satterfield.

Broader implications

Since the health effects seem small, the discussion might now focus on whether the benefits of daylight saving time, like saving energy and boosting the economy, outweigh the disruptions it causes to our natural sleep patterns and daily routines. 

“When decisions are made about whether to abolish daylight saving time, there is no need to take concerns regarding heart health into account,” noted study senior author Bernard J. Gersh.

The study is published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Innovations, Quality & Outcomes.

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