1. Why do more heart attacks and sudden deaths occur on Monday than on any other day of the week? According to researchers, an "outpouring" of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, occurs within working people on Mondays. These findings were substantiated in a study of 683 patients, predominantly middle-aged men with implanted defibrillators and a history of life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias. The data led researchers to conclude that Monday is the most stressful day of the week when it comes to risk factors for heart attack.
What I find provocative about the study is that its participants showed a prominent peak in arrhythmias on Mondays—21 percent of episodes—even if they were no longer working! That was followed by a mid-week decline in arrhythmias and a second peak on Fridays. Not surprisingly, Saturdays and Sundays saw a 50 percent lower arrhythmia rate than did Mondays.
Why do Mondays continue to be the peak day for arrhythmias? I believe that your body always remembers and anticipates stressful events. So, even though the participants in the study were not working, the fact that their bodies anticipated going to work on Monday triggered the identical biochemical stress hormones, increasing the heart attack risk factors that led to potentially lethal ventricular arrhythmias.
What does this mean for you? Remember that there is a strong link between stress and heart attack risk factors and cardiovascular disorders. On Sundays, plan a relaxing evening and turn in early so you get a sound night's rest. Also, avoid rushing to work, highly charged meetings and heavy exercise before midday Monday, all of which can be heart attack risk factors. Plus, do your best to avoid over-scheduling yourself on Mondays, so you can take the day at a more relaxed pace.
2. Why do more heart attacks occur between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. than at any other time of day? A study reported in the journal Heart also showed that people who have a heart attack between 6 a.m. and 12 p.m. have 20 percent more damage to their heart tissue than those who have heart attacks at other times of the day.
Here's why: Cardiovascular events follow a circadian rhythm, and they're also triggered by physical and emotional stresses. It's believed that your sympathetic nervous system is activated when you assume an upright position in the morning, increasing your levels of the stress hormone cortisol and your heart attack risk factors. This is why morning sex can trigger a heart attack in some people.
What does this mean for you? Give yourself time to wake up slowly in the morning, stretching your legs before you rise to an upright position. If you have heart issues, including heart attack risk factors, I also recommend saving strenuous exercise (including sex) for the afternoon or evening.
3. Why is your blood pressure higher in the morning than the evening? Levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which interacts with the autonomic nervous system and can drive up blood pressure readings, peak in the early morning hours.
What does this mean for you? I recommend taking your blood pressure an hour after awakening, before breakfast. But if your blood pressure is excessively high in the morning (140/90 or more) and normal at other times of the day, ask your doctor for a 24-hour salivary cortisol level test (samples are saved every four hours for 24 hours) to see if cortisol, one of the heart attack risk factors, is affecting your blood pressure.
4. Why is getting to sleep before 10 p.m. so critical to heart health? Going to bed earlier in the evening puts you more in line with your body's natural sleep/wake cycle—and a good night's sleep is critical to heart health.
Research has found is that a chronic lack of sleep heightens your sympathetic tone, which is a part of your autonomic nervous system. That in turn raises the adrenal-cortisone "stress" response in your body. The release of these stress chemicals increases your heart attack risk factors, including heart disease and stroke, but also diabetes and high blood pressure.
Other studies have found that poor sleep can lead to chest pain, cardiac arrhythmias, and overall increased mortality in heart patients. Plus, a study conducted at the University of Chicago showed that people who don't get adequate sleep are more likely to develop calcium deposits in their coronary arteries, leading to hardening of the arteries and plaque buildup.
What does this mean for you? Try to go to bed by 10 p.m. on most nights. Keep your room cool and dark, and try a calming tea such as chamomile before bedtime to help you relax. Don't fret if you don't fall asleep right away, the rest you're getting is also important for your heart, and lowering your heart attack risk factors.