What’s the precise moment when life ends? It’s a morbid thing to think about for some and a matter best left alone for others. However, science has peeled back the layers of this mystery, revealing patterns around when people tend to bid their final adieu. Just as your “body clock” dictates when you wake and sleep, it also shares a glimpse into the time of day when you meet the end – with a surprising morning “spike” in departures. Some studies have also highlighted the deadliest days of the week and the year.
When Do We Most Likely Say Goodbye?
Your body clock, the internal rhythm guiding various bodily functions, not only dictates your sleep patterns but also influences when you’re most likely to take your last breath. Harvard Medical School’s research in 2012 revealed that the peak time for departing this world is 11 a.m..1 Professor Clifford Saper, the lead author of the study, emphasized, “There’s even a circadian rhythm of death so that in the general population, people tend on average to be most likely to die in the morning hours”. However, it’s more complex than a single-hour timeframe.
Saper’s research involving 1,200 healthy individuals aged 65 found that those with specific genetic variants (genotypes) exhibit different sleeping patterns and an altered average time of death. People with the G-G genotype tend to pass away around 6 p.m., in contrast to the typical 11 a.m. for the general population. He concluded that the genetics of your body clock can, to some extent, determine when you’ll depart this world.
The Deadliest Days of the Year
Statistically, more people pass away in the chilly winter months, particularly in January and December, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, Professor David Philips’ analysis of 57 million death certificates from 1979 to 2004 unearthed an intriguing revelation. New Year’s Day emerged as the deadliest day of the year, and it wasn’t due to festive celebrations, alcohol, or traffic accidents. The reasons behind this phenomenon remain puzzling, as it is consistent across various natural causes of death.
More recent research identified Christmas Day as the deadliest day of the year, especially concerning heart attacks. The period between Christmas and New Year witnesses a significant spike in these unfortunate events. Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones of the American Heart Association explained that holidays can be a stressful time, with disrupted routines, increased consumption of food and alcohol, decreased physical activity, and heightened stress levels. These factors may contribute to an elevated risk of heart attacks during this season.
The Day of Departure: Weekdays vs. Weekends
When analyzing 39 million deaths between 1999 and 2004, researchers uncovered a curious trend: Saturdays emerged as the day when one is most likely to pass. Several reasons contribute to this phenomenon. Saturdays witness an increase in deaths related to drug overdoses, car accidents, and firearms. More recent research from 2018 reiterated the elevated risk of death when admitted to a hospital over the weekend. This research, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, revealed lower survival rates for patients with cardiac arrest on weekends and weeknights compared to weekdays.
But what remains a puzzle is the spike in deaths during the holidays, particularly on Christmas, New Year’s Day, and the days following these celebrations. Studies haven’t been able to pinpoint a single cause for this holiday peak.2 In contrast to popular belief, the suicide rate is at its lowest during the holiday season, with spring and fall marking the peak times. Homicide rates also decrease during the holidays.
Science unravels when you’re most likely to depart this world—morning, holidays, and Saturdays hold surprising insights.Phillips suggests that one possible reason for the holiday spike in deaths could be a delay in seeking medical care. People who aren’t feeling well may postpone their hospital visits to stay with family during the holidays. Additionally, holiday staffing at hospitals may play a role in impacting response times and care quality.
While the reasons for these patterns in human mortality are complex and multifaceted, the research underscores the importance of maintaining regular healthcare access and being attentive to our well-being, even during festive seasons. It also reminds us to be sensitive to the emotions of those who may be grieving the loss of a loved one during the holidays, offering support and understanding in their time of need.
In the end, the science behind the timing of life’s departure remains enigmatic, with many factors at play. While we may not have all the answers, we can ensure that we cherish the moments we have and remain vigilant about our health and well-being throughout the year.
- “This is the exact time, day and month of the year you’re most likely to die, according to science.” Daily Mail. Rob Waugh. September 23, 2023.
- “Why do more people die at Christmas, New Year’s?” CNN. Jen Christensen. December 23, 2013.