Editorial: Long hours, little sleep and heart attacks

By Phillip L. Polakoff, M.D.

Men who often work long hours or get little sleep double their risk of having a nonfatal heart attack, according to Japanese researchers.

The researchers evaluated the cases of 260 men aged 40-79 who were admitted to hospitals with acute myocardial infarction. They compared these men with a control group of 445 men of similar ages and places of residence that had not suffered heart attacks.

Men who worked 61 hours a week or more on average during the previous year were twice as likely to have a heart attack as the men who worked 40 hours or less during the previous year.

Men who slept five hours or less on average each working day during the previous year had two to three times greater risk of having a heart attack than men who got more than five hours of sleep each night. The study was published in the July 2002 issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Every man whose age, work hours and sleep habits are similar to those men in the study will want to ask serious questions: Are the long hours and the lack of sufficient rest worth it - to my health and to my family or those dependent on me?

Equally important, every employer seeking to squeeze more productivity out of the same number of workers by stretching their shift or work hours must consider serious business implications.

If further study validates the findings of this study, companies that require their employees to put in long hours could be exposing themselves to large legal liabilities.

In the end, it could be shown that it is cheaper, more cost-effective and less risky to hire extra help than to allow existing people to work themselves to death or suffer a heart attack.

Whether it's a personal sleep disorder that can and should be treated, or a corporate disorder in making it hard for workers to get enough sleep, it's time for America to wake up!


Copyright 2002, Dr. Phillip L. Polakoff and medical writer Jack Tucker/ Press Associates , Inc. (PAI).


© 2002 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers