The Science of Summer

Professor Adam Hart dabs some soothing scientific lotion on five queries surrounding the sunny season.

04 summer makes you happy

1. Let’s get this straight: Does the sun actually make you happier?
In a word, yes. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s triggered in some people during the autumn and winter and seems to be closely related to a lack of sunlight. Although we’re still working out exactly why “no sun = SAD,” it seems likely that a lack of sunlight lowers serotonin (the “happy hormone”) levels. So if the sun is shining and you feel like dancing, now you’ll know why.

2. Does a hot drink really help to cool you down better than a cold drink?
Drinking a hot drink causes receptors on our tongue to tell our brain it’s getting hot.
Our brain responds by making us sweat, which evaporates on our skin and cools us down. The problems with this counter-intuitive setup? Sweating profusely isn’t always a desired outcome, especially if you’re somewhere humid—in this case, sweat can’t evaporate, so you’ll just end up hotter and wetter. In most circumstances, then, an ice cream is going to feel a lot more pleasant than a steaming mug of coffee.

3. Are cool showers better for you than hot ones?
Cool showers keep our skin and hair in better condition and stimulate fat burning and increased alertness, but if you want to sweat less when dressing, have a room temperature shower instead. If your internal thermostat perceives your body is at the same temperature as the room you dress in, it won’t need to sweat to redress the balance—getting ready

for work will be that much easier without sweat pouring down your back.

4. What the hell is brain freeze and why can’t I drink my Slush Puppie in peace?
The curse of sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia—that awful pain you get when you eat something cold too quickly—is a severe but short-lived headache. It develops when you hurriedly cool the back of your throat, affecting the carotid artery that runs to the brain. The brain does all it can to protect itself from this sudden—and, so your brain thinks, potentially threatening—onslaught, sending you a painful warning signal that prevents you piling on more of the same agony (at least for a couple of minutes).

5. What actually happens if I look directly at the sun for too long?
Staring at the sun—I mean, duh!—could cause solar retinopathy, where the UV radiation
that causes sunburn does similar damage to your retina, the light-sensitive layer at the back your eye. In serious cases it can cause permanent eye damage and loss of sight. Like winding up a Hell’s Angel or opening beer bottles with your teeth, file this idiocy under Important Things to Avoid.