How The Hot Weather Affects Your Cognition

Is It Getting Hot In Here?

Ah, Summer. Sun, sea, sand and reduced cognitive function. 

Summer is synonymous with good times, relaxation and glowing tans, but did you know that the hot weather can also harm your cognitive functions?

It is no secret that the changing seasons can impact our mood and feelings. Generally speaking, summertime is associated with happiness and joy as days are longer and lighter. Meanwhile, winter often gets a bad rep for it’s short and dark days which are known to cause a low mood. 

However, recent research suggests hot weather can hurt our cognition

Thermal Stress

There’s two types of thermal stress. One is to do with mechanics, and the other one, which is what we’re talking about, is the effect of environmental factors on the human body. One example of this is hypothermia, where the body temperature, due to the climate, becomes dangerously low. Another example of this is a heat stroke. 

When it comes to how the heat affects the brain, according to one study by Saini et al., “high temperature and humidity particularly impair mental performance by altering brain neurochemistry.” In this particular study, Saini et al. explored the effects of long term thermal stress on the cognition of soldiers in the desert. Their results demonstrate a “detrimental impact of thermal stress on the cognitive performance of soldiers in deserts.”

Though this isn’t applicable for everyone, a lot of us, like the Peak team live in generally cooler places and temperatures rarely soar above 30 degrees celsius. 

What is common though are bouts of good weather we call heat waves. And with climate change occurring, we are sure to see more of these around the globe. So what happens to the brain during a heatwave with no air conditioning? 

To A/C Or Not To A/C?

One 2016 study explored just that. The study had one group who lived in an air-conditioned (A/C) building with a mean temperature of 21 degrees celsius, whilst the non-A/C group had an average indoor temperature of 27 degrees celsius. For 12 days, both groups would take two daily cognition tests. The results revealed:

Cognitive function deficits resulting from indoor thermal conditions during heat waves extend beyond vulnerable populations. Our findings highlight the importance of incorporating sustainable adaptation measures in buildings to preserve educational attainment, economic productivity, and safety in light of a changing climate.

Reduced cognitive function during a heat wave among residents of non-air-conditioned buildings: An observational study of young adults in the summer of 2016

That’s all well and good, but what about those of us who don’t have air conditioning units? 

Top Tips

Well, here are some tips to keep yourself and your room cool, as per recommended by the National Weather Service.

Tip 1

Drink plenty of water! Especially during hot weather as you can easily become dehydrated

Tip 2

If the inside of your house is below 95 degrees, use fans to increase air circulation

Tip 3

Wear light coloured and cool clothing to reflect the heat

Tip 4

Spend time in air conditioned places such as libraries and shopping centres

Tip 5

Close windows and curtains to keep hot air out

Tip 6

Limit any strenuous activities

Tip 7 

Take cool baths and showers.

As exciting and fun summer is, let’s not forget about the dangers that come with being exposed and underprepared. If you live in a hot place or know good weather is on the way, be sure to prepare appropriately. 

Got some time? Why not check out some of our other posts:

Sources Cited:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6039003/

https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/more/articles/as-temperature-goes-up-cognitive-performance-goes-down

https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-health-temperature-cognition/thinking-skills-may-suffer-on-hot-days-idUKKBN1K130A

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0377123717311334?via%3Dihub

https://www.weather.gov/media/safety/Heat-brochure17.pdf

Sajal Azam

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