Sleepless in summer? Blame climate change

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As extreme temperature events increase in frequency, duration, and magnitude, the human body, which is fairly adaptive in terms of thermoregulation, may finally experience the effects of climate change. The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously warned that exposure to excessive heat “has wide-ranging physiological effects on all people, often exacerbating existing illnesses and leading to premature death and disability”.

While short-term consequences such as heat cramps and exhaustion are quite noticeable and manageable, we need to pay special attention to the effects of high heat in people with comorbidities. dr Rommel Tickoo, Director of Internal Medicine at Max Super Specialty Hospital, Panchsheel Park, says: “While children and the elderly have always been vulnerable, people with diabetes, heart disease and other comorbidities need to be very well hydrated and maintain optimal electrolyte balance during extreme conditions ambient heat.”

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“Sometimes too many diuretics (which cause increased urination) can suddenly affect blood pressure. And sudden changes affect the effectiveness of the current medication. Normally, the human body adapts to changes in temperature and can survive extreme conditions if it finds relief in a controlled and cooler environment. But prolonged exposure to sustained high heat, particularly for those with an outdoor profile, increases the risk of heat stroke,” he added.

What is the tipping point for heat stroke?

like dr Tickoo explains: “This is what happens when the body’s ability to adapt is challenged so much that it forgets to sweat. We sweat when the heat is high, which cools the body. But once the body’s temperature regulation mechanism fails under unusual heat stress and a person stops sweating, the body heats up uncontrollably. There is high fever and delirium and the conditions are deteriorating very quickly.”

The actual scramble arises when the ambient heat and the body’s own heat generated by metabolic processes put additional strain on the body’s ability to regulate and adapt. Then you are exhausted and complain of cramps, headaches and nausea. Because of the rapid turning point, Dr. Tickoo on special caution for those suffering from chronic conditions such as “cardiovascular, respiratory and cerebrovascular diseases and diabetes-related diseases”. Simply because heatstroke affects both the circulatory and nervous systems of the body. If the usual symptoms of exhaustion, nausea, dizziness and cramps persist despite rehydration and rehabilitation, you should see a doctor.

How heat can make you sleepless

A few days ago, a report from the University of Copenhagen set off alarm bells when it found how rising nighttime temperatures caused by the climate crisis were affecting the sleep of people around the world. This is the largest study of its kind to date. While we increasingly value quality sleep during these stressful times for healing and well-being, we find it harder to sleep at the right time and wake up early as global warming drives night-time temperatures even faster increases than daytime temperatures. The analysis found that the average global citizen is already losing 44 hours of sleep per year, resulting in 11 nights with less than seven hours of sleep, which is still considered a healthy benchmark.

“Long-term effects of constant exposure to heat can affect not only sleep, but even your immunity and digestive system,” says Dr. Tickoo.

The human body has a circadian rhythm, or its own built-in sleep cycle mechanism. Our internal body temperature drops to help us fall asleep and stay asleep. This happens after the daylight hours. After sunset, body processes begin to slow down, lowering our internal body temperature, shutting us down, so to speak. Blood vessels dilate to release heat and the body is primed for rest.

When the ambient temperature is high, it slows down and disrupts the body’s natural cooling process. “That’s how you sleep in and out. You can throw yourself back and forth. They may be in bed, but they’re drifting in and out. And then you’re tempted to look at your devices, which keep you in an awake state. Sleep disturbances are subtle long-term effects of high heat,” says Dr. Tickoo. The body’s recovery functions that require deep sleep are clearly affected, impacting our immunity.

How can you mitigate the effects?

Of course, we can condition our immediate environment by keeping the room temperature below 32°C during the day and below 24°C at night. According to the WHO, this is particularly important for infants or people who are over 60 years old or suffer from chronic diseases.

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Electric fans help, but if the temperature is above 35°C they may not prevent heat-related illnesses as they throw hot air back. “That’s why it’s important to stay hydrated and hydrated. Of course, everyone knows to avoid being outdoors during the hottest part of the day. But if it’s unavoidable, drink up before you head out. Cover yourself appropriately and use sun hats, sunglasses and umbrellas. And once inside, cool down gradually, washing your face and hands before entering an air-conditioned room. Wear loose-fitting clothing to allow air to circulate,” advises Dr. Tickoo.

As for diet during the heat wave, he says: “Drink water or liquids frequently, but avoid alcohol and excess caffeine and sugar. Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid high-protein foods. Avoid strenuous physical activity. Don’t give up walking, but do it during the coolest time of the day, between 4am and 7am. If you go for a late night walk, keep it between 6pm and 7pm, no later.” And as the WHO says: “Store medicines below 25°C or in the refrigerator (read the storage instructions on the packaging).

The human body may not be prepared for climate change, but living mindfully can help us better adapt to our changing environment.

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