How Is Our Brain Affected By Heat?
Leigh Richardson, NCC, LPC, BCN, BCB
Clinical Director and Founder/The Brain Performance Center - AdvisoryCloudTM
As summer is quickly approaching us, have you ever thought about how our brains are affected by the summer heat? If you have been in the Dallas area long enough, you know that we will soon be seeing temperatures in the mid-80’s and likely into the 90’s by June.
We all know that our bodies become sluggish during summer heat waves. However, few people are aware that heat affects their brain too. Recent studies reveal the way in which temperature spikes and heat waves adversely impact our lives. Researchers of Harvard University have discovered that extreme heat makes it harder to think. Researchers tracked more than 40 students during the course of this study held in 2016, in which 50% of the students stayed in air conditioned buildings, whereas the rest stayed in rooms without air conditioners. The students undertook two tests conducted after they woke up during the morning in the span of 12 days, which was inclusive of a 5-day heat wave. One of the tests measured the ability of the students to focus and the second test measured the speed at which those students processed as well as memorized information. These tests showed that students who lived in air conditioned rooms performed significantly better during the course of the heat wave, compared to students who stayed in room without ACs. The scores of the latter students decreased significantly across five measures that included memory and reaction times. In sharp contrast the former students, apart from being accurate, were able to complete the tests faster. The authors of the study concluded that additional studies are necessary to understand how larger populations could be impacted by stress related to heat, which includes workspace safety, their economic productivity, as well as their ability to learn.
The study's lead author stated that the majority of the research on what does heat do to the brain had been conducted in vulnerable populations like the elderly. This creates a perception that the public at large is not susceptible to heat waves. It was also found that indoor temperatures keep on rising even when the temperatures outdoors subside. This provides a negative impression that the threat has passed, which is not the case. According to Joseph Allen, amongst the senior authors of the study, buildings in regions that have mainly cold climates were designed in such a manner so that they could easily retain heat. On the flip side, such buildings face problems shedding heat during the summer season, resulting in higher indoor temperatures. This goes on to prove how dangerous heat waves and extreme heat can be to healthy members of the population as well.
In yet another study, the professors of Stanford University professors discovered that the increasing number of suicides are directly proportional to hotter temperatures. In this study, new methods were employed to determine the relationship between increasing temperature and depression... ultimately leading to suicide.
These studies provide evidence that displays how heat affects our mood and our thinking capability. Here are results from other studies on what does heat do to the brain:
• Lawrence Berkeley National Lab researchers discovered that the performance of workers goes down significantly when temperatures of their office rises above mid 70s as well as their productivity peaks when temperatures rises to approximately 72 degrees.
• In the past, researchers suggested that people subjected to higher temperatures become more aggressive. However, critics argue that accrediting a behavioral form to just one factor is excessively simplistic.
• Another study held during the graduation tests of high school students of public schools in New York shows that students participating in exams during hot weather reduces their passing rates.
Global temperatures are steadily on the rise with the mercury rising to its highest level in 2017. According to studies, extreme heat is the primary cause of death when compared with any other meteorological events pan USA. The study also revealed that the very young and the elderly have the maximum risk of suffering from extreme heat.
*Previously published in The Katy Trail*