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Dr. Michael J. Breus Headshot

Don't Take the Election TOO Seriously

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Highly emotional moments can be stressful... and deadly. I think we all know someone who has been taking the election so seriously that thoughts of their party losing has them contemplating a move to another country.

But too much can be, well, too much. Take Terence Tolbert as an example. Working tirelessly for Obama as his campaign director in Nevada, he died of a massive heart attack Sunday night while driving alone near the offices in North Las Vegas. He was a young 42.

While I cannot speculate that the campaign had anything to do with his death--for all we know he could have had a congenital defect in his heart or some such and would have died even under the least stressful situations--I think it's fair to point out that when someone young dies suddenly under a very stressful job situation or environment, you have to wonder.

Within days before E-Day (the actual election), McCain and Obama crisscrossed the country with very little sleep to capture last-minute votes. McCain even held a rally in his home state long after midnight. What does that do to a septuagenarian? Obama was caught yesterday giving a talk in Florida thinking he was in Ohio. The sleep deprivation is definitely taking its toll and spotting his memory.

We were all blessed (except for the candidates, no doubt) with an extra hour of sleep the other night, and it could have meant more than you think it did. The end of daylight savings could not have come at a better time this year, as a new study shows the impact that one extra hour can actually have on you.

And you can thank the Swedes for finding this: the extra hour of sleep we gain from turning back the clock may protect us from a heart attack. We've long known that Mondays tend to be "heart attack days." Because they are usually considered the worst day of the week for many, there's a pattern of higher heart attacks on Monday morning as people dread the new work week, stressful thoughts rush in, and there's an uptick in activity following the restful weekend.

After poring over 20 years of records, Swedish researchers discovered something else is actually going on. Time shifts negatively affect our biological rhythms, but when those shifts offer more sleep, there's a 5 percent drop in Monday Blues heart attacks. Pretty amazing, don't you think? Yet another example of how sleep really has an impact on our stress level and ability to cope. In the spring, when we "spring forward," there's an increase in heart attacks after that one-hour loss of sleep.

So what's my point here? Well, today is a very stressful, exciting, and activity-filled day for millions of Americans. If there is no clear winner by suppertime, how many will stay up late watching the coverage on television? How many hearts will sink--or race like a rabbit--when their candidate loses or wins?

Take heart: this is an historic election. Experience it in stride. Whatever the outcome, great reform and change is likely on the way. Just don't take is so seriously that it ruins your health. Or you may not be around to watch this next president in action. (And if you've been emotionally involved in this election for the past 18 months, then think about all that accumulated stress. You, more than anyone, need a good night's sleep.)

Vote early. And get to bed early!

This article about sleep is cross-posted at The Insomnia Blog.

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