Why Does The Sun Make You Sleepy? Experts Say It's Normal, But Here's How To Avoid It

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I’m convinced one of the best feelings in the world is calling shotgun on your way home from the beach, and instead of playing the role of DJ like you promised your BFF in the driver’s seat you would, you connect to your Spotify and nap for the remainder of the road trip. This may or may not be because, whether you’re outside for two hours or 10, the sun makes you sleepy, and it’s not the kind of tired you can ward off with a cup of coffee, either. It’s the kind of exhaustion that washes over you like you haven’t slept in days, that makes you feel you need to snooze wherever there’s a headrest available. This is a particularly interesting dilemma come summertime, when I’m sure all you’re interested in doing is spending your free time outdoors. So the question is, how can you not only enjoy the sunshine, but stay awake for it, too?

I honestly didn’t realize the extent of the sun’s effects on my energy levels until my first family pool party of summer 2018. The weather app on my iPhone told me to expect partly sunny skies that day, but in reality, there was literally not one gray cloud in the sky. Of course, I’m not complaining — I spent the entire day going back and forth between the pool and my lounge chair in the sun, but by the time 7 p.m. rolled around and I was getting in my car to drive home, all I really wanted to do was either take a nap, or call it a night right then and there. “Why do I feel so exhausted?” I thought, apparently out loud, because my mom replied, matter-of-factly “It’s the sun.”

You might feel sleepy after spending time in the sun because those big, bright rays are doing a number on you both mentally and physically.

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Think about it this way: How much time do you actually spend outside in the winter? Not a whole lot, right? And, when you are braving the cold, it’s probably in the early morning before work, when the sun isn’t all that strong yet, or in the evening, when you’ve clocked out for the day and the sun has already set. Fast-forward to the spring and summer months, when temperatures start to warm up, and it stays light outside beyond dinner time. Once this glorious time of year rolls back around, how do you take advantage of that extra sunshine?

I know myself, and when the seasons change from winter to spring, and spring to summer, my mood is just as bright as the sun, and all I want to do is spend time outside of my apartment. What’s really interesting about how the sun affects your energy levels, though, is that mentally, you’re wide awake, but physically, your body’s working on overdrive to keep you cool, and that’s where the exhaustion comes in.

Dr. David Brodner, a leading sleep specialist and principle physician at the Center for Sinus, Allergy and Sleep Wellness in Palm Beach County, Florida, tells Elite Daily that being in the sun makes you feel energized, at least initially, because it “triggers the brain to decrease the amount of melatonin in the bloodstream.” To refresh your memory, melatonin is a hormone in your body that’s mass-produced when you’re exposed to darkness, and signals to your brain that it’s time for bed. So what Brodner is getting at here is that, the more hours of daylight there are, the less melatonin will be made in your body. In other words, you’re going to be up and at ‘em longer than usual because the hormone that would typically make you tired is on standby until nightfall.

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It’s a little confusing, right? Because, based on that logic alone, wouldn’t it make more sense to say that spending time in the sun actually makes you feel more awake? Well, technically yes, but how the sun is affecting you physically is what’s really going to make you feel sleepy.

See, when the temperature outside is warmer than your body temperature, your insides are basically working that much harder to keep you at the standard 98.7 degrees. When exposed to the sun, Brodner tells Elite Daily, your body temperature is naturally going to rise, which then “forces the body to utilize several strategies to cool down, such as sweating and increasing the diameter of blood vessels to allow heat to dissipate through the skin.” In other words, your body is using every ounce of energy necessary to keep your body temperature regulated, and that dispelling of energy is what makes you feel tired.

As far as how long it takes before the sun makes you sleepy, that'll depend on your individual body. But the good news is you can fight off that tired feeling — for a little while, at least.

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I was out in the sun for all of four hours the other day before my eyelids started to feel heavy, but Gene Bruno, senior director of product innovation for Twinlab Consolidation Corporation, tells Elite Daily there isn't really a set amount of time you can spend in the sun that’ll guarantee you won’t feel exhausted if you duck inside once those hours are up. The amount of time it takes for the sun to make you sleepy will depend on a few things, like your age, weight, and how hydrated you are, but even though these details vary from person to person, the tricks experts have for staying lively in the sun, at least for a little while, can work for anyone and everyone.

The first thing Bruno says you're going to want to do is make sure you have a bottle of water handy at all times, because even if you're not doing anything physical, just being outside where the sun is beating down will dehydrate you. He also suggests taking supplements before heading out for the day, if that's your thing. Making sure you have high levels of magnesium and L-tyrosine, which can help regulate your body temperature, keep you feeling alert, and regulate the body's use of glucose for constant energy, Bruno says, can help you stay active, longer, so you don't snooze on all the sunshine.

Brodner adds that any opportunity to cool down the body is going to be key. Things like wearing a hat, ducking under an umbrella or tree for shade, or taking a dip the pool, ocean, or lake can help regulate your body temperature. Using sunscreen is also important, too, as sunburn is not only painful, it makes you even sleepier, so do yourself a favor and lather up, friend.