An old-fashioned bell alarm clock sits outside with trees in the background.
Daylight saving time starts Sunday, March 8. This also happens to be a day when heart attack rates climb. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Research linking the start of daylight saving time with a rise in heart attacks may make you wonder: How do I stay heart healthy as we spring ahead Sunday?

Ryan Madder, MD, an interventional cardiologist with Spectrum Health Medical Group, has been on the front lines the day after the time change.

A few years ago, on the Monday after the spring time change, he was in the Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center’s cardiac catheterization lab. And yes, they were “very busy,” he said.

“Several studies have demonstrated an uptick in heart attacks each Monday after the spring time change and the increase may carry into that week,” Dr. Madder said.

Thomas Boyden, MD, a Spectrum Health preventive cardiologist, has a few suggestions: Relax. Be careful. Make lifestyle changes.

Let’s start with the first one.

Relax

Although research raises concerns about heart health risks and time change, Dr. Boyden advises people to keep the findings in perspective.

A study of almost 1,000 patients in Michigan hospitals compared the number of admissions for heart attacks for a week before and after the start of daylight saving time.

It found a 17% increase in heart attacks the week after Michiganders set their clocks ahead. In fact, the number rose 71% on the Sunday of the time change.

Another study looked at 42,000 heart attacks at multiple Michigan hospitals. On the Monday after the time change, heart attacks rose 24%.

While the studies point to an association between heart attacks and the spring time change, Dr. Boyden said they do not show cause and effect.

Doctors have identified possible culprits behind the increase. Lack of sleep is chief among them.

“Plasma cortisol levels naturally rise and fall in cycles during the day, peaking in the morning hours,” Dr. Madder said. “When this happens, blood pressure and heart rate also rise, and this may trigger a heart attack in some people.”

In general, Mondays have been shown to have higher rates of heart attacks.

“Certainly we know stress hormones are associated with heart attacks,” Dr. Boyden said. “There’s a certain amount of stress with going back to work.”

Be careful

With the daylight saving time set to take place this Sunday, Dr. Boyden suggested a little extra vigilance regarding possible heart attack symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure and increased shortness of breath. Call a doctor or get to an emergency room if you sense trouble.

If you suspect a heart attack, doctors advise that you call 911 to be transported to the hospital. Driving yourself or having a family member drive you could lead to big problems and delays. The ambulance personnel can provide services and begin testing that will speed your diagnosis and treatment.

“If you have any warning signs, take it seriously,” Dr. Boyden said.

And for those who don’t have to get up early, he suggests slowly easing into the time change. Get up a bit earlier every day.

Lifestyle changes

For those worried about heart attack risk, Dr. Boyden advises focusing on diet and exercise.

“I can’t stress that enough,” he said. “We are getting bigger and more sedentary. We need to make a wholesale change in this country.”

Lifestyle changes hold the key to preventing conditions that cause heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.