They’re called the lazy days of summer which might imply the choice of relaxation and nothing much to do. I posit that it may not be a choice, but a reaction to the weather. Is it laziness or lethargy when you’ve actually got quite a lot to do, but you’re not doing it because it’s too darn hot.
Wondering if heat and sweat can actually cause brain malfunction, I researched this on the Internet. You can find anything on the Internet. Google does all the work which is convenient if you’re feeling lethargic because it’s 105 degrees outside and not a great deal cooler indoors.
Google found a number of articles on the effect of temperature on brain function. I started with the scholarly articles in the science and medical journals and realized quickly that my brain was not functioning at a high enough level to interpret them — possibly because it was too darn hot. Next, I chose an article by Brigitte Delange,”The Brain Doesn’t Like it Hot,” which was slightly more readable. Wading through all the maybe, perhaps and mights in the article, I winkled out a few tidbits: the left brain, which is needed for the retention of new information, doesn’t work well in heat; the brain can’t tolerate temperature of more than 104 degrees; yawning may serve to send cooler air to the brain to help it stay alert and the number of deaths, suicides and murders rises with the temperature. It was 105 outside and I was yawning like crazy. Murder or suicide had not occurred to me because it was too darned hot and I was lethargic.
Another article, “Temperature and Learning,” cited Dunn and Dunn research reporting that too cold or too hot temperatures cause the brain to demand relief and this constant stream of demands from the brain interrupts normal thinking until the demand is satisfied. The article suggested that if the classroom environment was too hot, teachers have students do activities requiring less energy and that the teachers turn off the lights in order to fool students into thinking it is cooler.
An article by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety said temperatures above 30 degrees centigrade (86 degrees Fahrenheit) interfere with the performance of mental tasks. Through convection, the process by which the body exchanges heat with the surrounding air, at high temperatures the body’s rate of heat gain begins to exceed the rate of heat loss. This heat gain raises body temperature which causes a loss of concentration, a loss in efficiency in mental tasks, fatigue and threat of exhaustion and a loss of efficiency in skilled tasks. I knew it, I just knew it. You just can’t sweat enough to offset 105 degree temps.
People who take two-hour siestas in the heat of the day are not lazy — they are simply defying convection and conserving brain function. Good for them. A nap is an activity requiring less energy than most activities and closing your eyes is just as good as turning off the lights as far as fooling yourself that it’s cooler, so the Dunn and Dunn researchers should be happy that someone is taking their advice.
Between brain demands, yawning and sweat dripping down my chin as I lay in front of the fan, I’m not getting much done. Convection has got me in its coils and lethargy has fogged my brain. I might be down for the count until Fall. It’s not laziness — it’s science.
Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly.