The Morning Menace: How Your Internal Clock May Trigger Heart Attacks

When it comes to heart attacks and cardiovascular disease, the biggest killers for both men and women, timing is everything. Research has shown that time plays a crucial role, as the lion’s share of these deadly incidents tend to happen in the morning. The reason behind this trend is your body’s internal clock.

Scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston and Oregon Health & Science University in Portland have discovered that our internal body clocks, also known as circadian systems, are the primary reason our bodies are more susceptible to heart attacks or ischemic strokes first thing in the morning.

Understanding Your Circadian System

Frank A.J.L. Scheer, a researcher and director of the Medical Chronobiology Program at BWH, explains that “our findings suggest that the circadian system, or the internal body clock, contributes to the increased risk for cardiovascular events in the morning.”

But what is this circadian system? Essentially, it’s a built-in biological clock that regulates many of our bodily functions, including sleep and wake cycles, digestion, and body temperature. It also influences the release of hormones, like the stress hormone cortisol, which peaks in the early morning. These natural rhythms are designed to keep us in sync with the 24-hour day, making sure our body knows when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to be active.

The Role of PAI-1

In their study, the researchers found that the circadian clock in our bodies also controls the production of plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1), a natural chemical associated with a higher risk of blood clots. Due to the workings of our circadian rhythm, PAI-1 levels typically peak around 6:30 a.m., which makes us more vulnerable to heart attacks and strokes at that time.

According to Steven Shea, director of the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences and the study’s co-author, “our findings indicate that the human circadian system causes a morning peak in circulating levels of PAI-1, independent of any behavioral or environmental influences.” He adds, “the circadian system determined to a large extent the PAI-1 rhythm observed during a regular sleep/wake cycle. This morning peak in PAI-1 could help explain adverse cardiovascular events in vulnerable individuals.”

Managing Your Morning Risk

So, what can you do to minimize your likelihood of suffering from a heart attack or stroke first thing in the morning? There are several steps you can take to manage your early morning risk:

  1. Get enough sleep: Just like a lack of sleep can have detrimental effects on your health, getting enough sleep can help improve your overall wellness and reduce your risk of developing serious health issues. Aim for at least seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night.

  2. Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. This can help regulate your circadian rhythms and reduce your risk of early morning heart attacks.

  3. Take blood pressure medication in the morning: If you’re already taking blood pressure medication, consider talking to your doctor about taking it in the morning. This may help regulate your blood pressure during the potentially risky morning hours.

  4. Exercise regularly: Engaging in regular physical activity can help lower your risk of heart attacks and strokes. It can also help control your weight and blood pressure, and improve your overall cardiovascular health.

  5. Eat a heart-healthy diet: Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help lower your risk of heart disease. Avoid processed foods, sodium, and unhealthy fats whenever possible.

  6. Don’t smoke: Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, so quitting is an essential step in reducing your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

  7. Limit alcohol intake: Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can increase your risk of heart disease, so it’s essential to drink in moderation.

  8. Manage stress: Find healthy ways to cope with stress, such as through meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in hobbies that bring you joy.

By taking these precautionary measures, you can actively reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke in the morning and maintain better overall cardiovascular health.