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Summer Survival Guide: How to Stay Cool and Sharp in the Heat

Feeling the summer slump? As temperatures climb, so do the challenges of staying sharp and energized. The heat can play tricks on your brain, leaving you feeling foggy and moody. Add dehydration and disrupted sleep into the mix, and you've got a recipe for summer fatigue. 


But fear not! Here are some savvy strategies to outsmart the summer heat and keep your cool all season long.


The Science Behind Summer Sluggishness


As summer temperatures rise, you might notice feeling more sluggish and experiencing brain fog. This isn't just a figment of your imagination; there's scientific evidence to back up these effects of heat on your brain and mood. Exposure to high temperatures can alter brain chemistry, affecting neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters play a crucial role in regulating mood, and changes in their levels can lead to mood swings and cognitive issues such as difficulty concentrating and memory problems.


Moreover, the body's response to heat, such as sweating, can cause dehydration, which further compounds these effects. Dehydration can impair cognitive function and contribute to feelings of fatigue, making it challenging to stay alert and focused. Additionally, higher nighttime temperatures during the summer can disrupt sleep patterns, resulting in fatigue and irritability during the day. Poor sleep quality (click here to see our tips on sleeping in the heat) can also worsen cognitive dysfunction and mood disturbances, adding to the overall impact of heat on your well-being.


Studies conducted on the impact of heat have shown intriguing results. For instance, a 2021 study documented a decline in cognitive performance when air temperatures reached 79 degrees Fahrenheit. This study noted a decrease in activity within the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for relaxation and stress reduction, as temperatures rose. Additionally, oxygen saturation levels in the blood decreased with elevated temperatures, potentially leading to reduced cognitive function.


Further research has explored the effects of heat on various groups. Studies have indicated that office workers are most productive when the air temperature is around 72 degrees, with productivity dropping as temperatures rise into the mid-70s. Similarly, high school students may perform worse on standardized tests when taking them on hot days.

Experts emphasize the intricate ways in which heat affects mental and emotional well-being. They explain that these studies suggest a diminished ability to think clearly and efficiently in hotter environments. 


The Science Behind Summer Moodiness


Additionally, research suggests that heat can significantly impact mood, potentially leading to increased irritability and moodiness. This effect is believed to be linked to several factors, including changes in hormonal levels and the body's stress response.


One key hormone affected by heat is cortisol, often referred to as the "stress hormone." Cortisol levels can increase in response to heat exposure, leading to heightened feelings of stress and irritability. This hormonal change can influence mood regulation, making individuals more prone to mood swings and irritability in hot conditions.


Furthermore, the body's physiological response to heat, such as increased heart rate and sweating, can mimic the physical sensations of stress. This can activate the body's stress response, triggering the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can affect mood and behavior, potentially leading to increased irritability and emotional volatility.


Research has also shown that heat can impact neurotransmitter levels in the brain, which play a crucial role in regulating mood. For example, serotonin, often referred to as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter, can be affected by heat. High temperatures can lead to changes in serotonin levels, which may contribute to mood changes and irritability.


Moreover, discomfort caused by heat, such as sweaty skin and feelings of being overheated, can also contribute to irritability and moodiness. These physical sensations can be distracting and uncomfortable, leading to increased frustration and irritability in individuals exposed to high temperatures for extended periods.


Overall, the impact of heat on mood is complex and multifaceted, involving hormonal, physiological, and psychological factors. Recognizing these effects can help individuals better manage their mood in hot conditions and take steps to mitigate the negative effects of heat on mental well-being.


While our bodies can adapt to higher temperatures over time, prolonged exposure to extreme heat can still pose risks. Understanding these effects is crucial, especially with the increasing frequency and severity of heat waves due to climate change. 


Ways to beat the summer heat:


Cooling Foods for a Clearer Mind


One way to combat the effects of summer heat on your body is through your diet. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) emphasizes the importance of balance, especially when it comes to eating. During the summer months, TCM recommends consuming "cool" foods such as cucumber, watermelon, and mint. These foods can help cool your body from the inside out, providing relief from the heat and potentially reducing feelings of sluggishness and brain fog.


Additionally, incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet can provide essential vitamins and minerals that support cognitive function and overall health. Foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries and leafy greens, can help protect your brain from oxidative stress caused by heat and other environmental factors.


Hydration: Your Secret Weapon Against Summer Fatigue


Staying hydrated is crucial, especially during the summer months. Dehydration can exacerbate feelings of fatigue and brain fog, so it's essential to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Adding electrolytes to your water or consuming hydrating foods like watermelon and cucumber can help ensure you stay properly hydrated, even in the hottest weather.


In addition to water, herbal teas can be a refreshing and hydrating option. Peppermint tea, for example, not only helps cool the body but also has a refreshing taste that can help invigorate your senses on a hot day.


Dress Cool, Stay Cool


What you wear can also impact how you feel in the summer heat. Opt for loose, light-colored clothing that reflects the sun's rays rather than absorbing them. This can help keep your body temperature regulated and reduce the risk of overheating, helping you feel more comfortable and energized throughout the day.


Choosing breathable fabrics like cotton or linen can also help wick away sweat and keep you feeling cool and dry. Avoiding dark colors can further help reflect heat and sunlight, keeping you more comfortable in hot weather.


Timing Is Everything: Beating the Heat With Smart Scheduling


Avoiding strenuous activity during the hottest parts of the day can help you stay cool and prevent feelings of fatigue. Instead, try to schedule outdoor activities for the early morning or evening when the temperature is cooler. This can help you stay active while minimizing the impact of the summer heat on your body.


Planning indoor activities during the hottest parts of the day can also help you stay cool and avoid overexertion. Consider visiting air-conditioned spaces like museums or shopping malls to beat the heat while still enjoying your summer activities.


Knowing the symptoms of heat-related illnesses:


As you bask in the joys of summer, it's crucial to be aware of the signs of heat-related illnesses. Heat-related illnesses can vary from mild conditions like heat rash and heat cramps to more severe issues such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke.


Heat Exhaustion Symptoms:

  • Heavy sweating

  • Weakness or fatigue

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Muscle cramps

  • Headache

  • Cool, moist skin with goosebumps despite the heat

  • Dark urine (a sign of dehydration)


If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, it's important to move to a cooler place, rest, and hydrate. Heat exhaustion left untreated can progress to heatstroke, a more serious condition.


Heatstroke Symptoms:

  • High body temperature (above 103°F)

  • Hot, red, dry, or damp skin

  • Fast, strong pulse

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea

  • Confusion, agitation, or disorientation

  • Slurred speech

  • Seizures

  • Loss of consciousness


Heatstroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. If you suspect someone has heatstroke, call emergency services right away and take steps to cool the person down while waiting for help to arrive. Placing them in a cool bath or shower or applying cold compresses to the neck, armpits, and groin can help lower their body temperature.


Summer's heat can take a toll on your body and mind, but with the right strategies, you can beat the summer slump and make the most of the season. By staying hydrated, eating cooling foods, dressing appropriately, and scheduling outdoor activities wisely, you can combat the effects of the heat and stay refreshed and rejuvenated. 


So, don't let the summer heat get you down. Follow these tips, embrace the season, and enjoy all the joys that summer has to offer. For more information, click here to contact us or call 276-235-3205 to schedule your complimentary discovery call.


The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!

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