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The darkest hours: Certain times of day can be hazardous to your health

TODAY contributor Dr. Roshini Raj explains how our body clocks make us prone to ailments at certain times of day, and what to do about it.
/ Source: TODAY

There's a time and a place for everything. But did you know there are certain times of the day when we are more vulnerable to illness and disease?

Wednesday on TODAY Dr. Roshini Raj explained how our circadian rhythms affect our health, and how we can beat our own body clocks.

The two times of day that can be most hazardous to your health are 6 a.m. and 9 p.m, she said. The 6 a.m. hour is not a great time when it comes to cardiovascular disease.

“The early morning hours are notorious for the increased risk of heart attacks and strokes,” said Raj, an associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. “And the reason is, you have a surge of cortisol.

“That stress hormone is really supposed to help your body get ready to kind of beat the day and the day’s activities, but it’s not great for your heart,” she said. “You’re also at increased risk for blood clots, which can also increase heart attack risk.”

What can you do? Keep calm and go back to sleep.

“You want to really give yourself an extra maybe 10 or even 15 minutes of sleep,” Raj said, which “has been shown to actually decrease that cortisol surge.

“But at the same time, you want to make sure your morning routine is not a stressful time,” she added, suggesting doing lunch prep or picking out your kids’ clothes before going to bed. “Anything to cut down on the stress in the morning will reduce those levels.”

Arthritis can also flare up in the early morning. “You may have noticed as you’re getting a little older, as we all are, those joints tend to be a little bit stiffer in the morning and particularly in the hands, but also in the knees,” Raj said.

What can be done about that? Always talk to your doctor, Raj said, but if your physician is on board with it, you may want to take arthritis medications right before bed.

In contrast, about 9 p.m. is when our blood pressure tends to be highest. “It’s slowly rising throughout the day and blood pressure can peak at around this time,” she explained. “Talk to your doctor always, but it might be a good idea to take your blood pressure medication in the evening, so you can combat that peak at night.”

Another evening issue: Acid reflux tends to get worse at night, especially after a large meal.

“When you’re laying down at night, it’s easier for acid to come up into your esophagus, so you have to be careful about what you’re eating and how quickly you go to sleep right after you eat,” Raj advised. “You don’t want to have that big, large meal at dinnertime; try to do it more during the lunchtime hours.”

If you do suffer from acid reflux, stay upright for at least to two to three hours before lying down to avoid that unpleasant surge of acid, she advised. She also suggested talking to your doctor about the possibility of taking aspirin before bed: “That way you are protected early morning from that heart attack risk.”

Lisa A. Flam, a regular contributor to, is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.