How Does Heat Affect Our Mental Health? Loss of Sleep, Anxiety, And More
Has the temperature gotten to you lately?
As a thriving population in a tropical climate, Filipinos are well accustomed to the adverse effects of heat (especially in the summertime). We know all about heat exhaustion, heatstroke, heat cramps, and other weather-induced ills. But what's not as talked about its effect on our mental health. All of us have, at one point, gotten irritable for no good reason and have likely shrugged it off to the heat. But the rising temperature index—which has hit peaks of 40's and even 50's—around the country is likely causing more than the usual bouts of annoyance.
Let's Start With Sleep
For most of us, sleeping in the summer has become less of a problem thanks to air conditioning. But for those of us who don't have those systems in place, sleeping during a heatwave can be difficult. Surprisingly, relative humidity increases in the early hours of the morning (between 1am to 3am) when people "should" be asleep; but because the humidity is so high at this time, it disrupts sleep quality, which in turn can result in difficulty concentrating and increased emotional reactivity (which explains why people who lack sleep are often irritable or have difficulty controlling impulses).
Currently, clinical evidence also points to the theory that sleep and emotion are closely related. In some studies, evidence have suggested that "sleeping disorders contribute to the formation of new mental health problems and to the maintenance of existing ones". This means that people who have insomnia are usually at greater risk to develop depression or other mental health troubles. Not to mention, poor sleep impairs cognitive function—something that we've all likely experienced from our school days.
How Heat Exacerbates Mental Health
Many other studies point to the fact that heat exacerbates many current mental health issues. American researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and California Polytechnic State University found that there is an association between hotter temperatures and an increase in not only suicide rates, but also hospital visits for mental health. A 2017 study based in India corroborated the evidence when they found that higher temperatures led to higher suicide rates, though this study also viewed it from an economic perspective by linking heat to reduced crop yields.
Other mental health issues, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, can also be made worse during a heatwave. Part of it can be from medication as researchers say that patients on anti-psychotics have more difficulty regulating body temperature due to the medication. This has, in some cases, caused hallucinations, or even manic episodes, not to mention an increased risk of dehydration and heatstroke.
Summer weather may also trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Though this condition is often associated with winter, it's not unheard of for people to experience flaring tempers during summer—especially if any of the risk factors (being a woman, having a relative with SAD, living closer to the equator, or having bipolar disorder), apply to you.
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What About Climate Change?
While climate change is often viewed through the lens of an environmental perspective, it's obvious now that climate affects us holistically. Droughts, food shortages, and extreme weather patterns are so often perceived through the macro-scale that we easily forget how these things affect us as individuals. Increased or extreme heat doesn't just bring about consequences that challenge us—it, in itself, takes a toll on our mental health whether we recognise it or not.
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