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Microscope: Sleepy sunshine

By David, 12 April 2017 News

A bouy sleeping in the sunshine, on a green hill.

Time for a snooze in the sun!
Image: ©iStock.com/imagedepotpro

Double Helix magazine is looking for your science questions! Our Microscope column answers the thorniest science queries you can throw at us.

Email us at Helix.Editor@csiro.au or via our contact details below and you could have your question published. Here’s a sample question to get you thinking.

Aisha Goshti asks: Why does the Sun makes you feel sleepy?

There’s nothing like a lazy day at the beach to make you feel sleepy. It turns out that there are several reasons for your sunny snoozing.

One reason is related to temperature. Direct sunlight has a lot of energy, and that can make your body hotter than usual. When you’re hot, you feel tired and sweat a lot – this is called heat exhaustion.

Sweating is great at helping to cool your body. But lots of sweating can cause problems. If you don’t drink enough water, you can become dehydrated, which causes more tiredness, dizziness and headaches. This is dangerous: so remember to drink lots of water when you’re out in the sunshine!

The Sun can also make you sleepy for another reason. When your eyes are exposed to bright light, your body stops making a chemical called melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your sleep. It makes sure you’re awake during the day and sleepy at night. When you get out of the sunshine, your body starts producing lots of melatonin. Soon after, you might feel like a nap!

If you have a nagging little query that needs an answer, send it in!

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5 comments

  1. This article did not quite answer my question, so I’m hoping for an expansion of the answer or an answer that may not have been explored here.

    I’ve often noticed that while driving on a very bright, sunny day that I get an overwhelming urge to sleep. It usually occurs when the sun is high in the sky as opposed to earlier or later hours when it is lower in the sky. Since I carry a lot of extra weight, I am super sensitive to heat, so while I’m in the car my air conditioner is on. My body is not warm or hot when this occurs, but instead I feel quite comfortable temperature wise. In addition, that desire for sleep is occurring in that specific moment – not after I come back indoors. In fact, shade relieves that urge. I feel like the trigger for that overwhelming need to sleep is specific to the light itself, and not just the light, but the “kind” or angle of light. What causes this?

      Reply
  2. I experience the exact same thing. It really affects me when driving or when I’m out and about in direct sunlight. I immediately feel overwhelmed with lethargy… Almost as if I’ve been tranquilized. It makes me want to sleep right then and there but as you’ve mentioned, shade or a change in environment typically makes it go away. It happens to me often. In fact it happened today when I was driving and I almost pulled over to take a nap 😂

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  3. Yes Marie, you’ve described what I’m feeling quite well. I’m so glad to hear this is not just me…though I’m sorry you have this same problem.

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  4. I also get sleepy when seeing the sun. I have the exact same thing. It’s the sunlight that makes me sleepy. I can fall asleep easier with the sunshine then I can in the dark of night.

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  5. Exactly! Why can I stay up all night, while having uncontrollable urges to sleep or nap during the day?

      Reply

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