Passing Out In The Heat

passing Out In The Heat

I have never over-heated to the point of passing out or having any real problems or long term consequences. I’m lucky that I have not because I do a lot of running and have had a few extremely hot runs in the past. I live in Reno, NV and our high temperatures in the summer can reach into the triple digits and cause problems. When I was in high school the dangers of heat and athletics had become more of a national focus because several high school football players across the country had recently died from heat exhaustion during practices. Possibly one reason why I never had too terrible an experience of running in the heat was because there was an increased focus on keeping high school athletes cool in the during summer practices when I was competing.
In her book Grunt, Mary Roach examines what heat exhaustion means for members of the military. It can be a serious problem for service members in full military gear on patrol in the hot deserts of Iraq or Afghanistan. Luckily, for soldiers and high school athletes, the body has a quick solution, “heat exhaustion is embarrassing but not particularly dangerous. Fainting is both symptom and cure. Once you’re horizontal on the ground, the blood flows back into your head and you come to. Someone brings you water and escorts you to the shade and you’re fine.” Roach continues to explain that heatstroke is what can kill, going a step beyond heat exhaustion.
It is important to be aware of how hot it is, how much water people are able to take in, and how much rest and shade is available as well. It is often not when people are in the middle of exercise that overheating becomes apparent. Roach writes, “counterintuitively, overheated people sometimes pass out not in the midst of their exertions but when they stop and stand still; this is because contracting the leg muscles helps keep blood from pooling.” Breaks and cool down points have to come before people are soo hot that stopping exercise will cause them to faint. Hopefully the fainting an lying flat helps get the blood out of the legs to cool the rest of the body, but if they have gone too far, then they are already in more serious trouble. This was a painful lesson that coaches were learning at the time I was in high school, and hopefully drill-sergeant high school coaches are more aware of the importance of water breaks today.

Racial Bias Manifests When We Are Tired

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all make cognitive errors that result in biases, incorrect assessments, and bad decisions. Daniel Pink examines the timing of our errors and biases in his book When: The Scientific Secrets to Perfect Timing. It is one thing to simply say that biases exist, and another to try to understand what leads to biases and when such biases are most likely to manifest. It turns out that the time of day has a big impact on when we are likely to see biases in our thinking and actions.


Regarding a research study where participants were asked to judge a criminal defendant, Pink writes, “All of the jurors read the same set of facts. But for half of them, the defendants’s name was Robert Garner, and for the other half, it was Roberto Garcia. When people made their decisions in the morning, there was no difference in guilty verdicts between the two defendants. However, when they rendered their verdicts later in the day, they were much more likely to believe that Garcia was guilty and Garner was innocent.”


Pink argues that when we are tired, when we have had to make many decisions throughout the day, and when we have become exhausted from high cognitive loads, we slow down with our decision-making process and are less able to think rationally. We use short-cuts in our decisions which can lead to cognitive errors. The case above shows how racial biases or prejudices may slip in when our brains are depleted.


None of us like to think of ourselves as impulsive or biased. And perhaps in the morning, after our first cup of coffee and before the stress of the day has gotten to us, we really are the aspirational versions of ourselves who we see as fair, honest, and patient. But the afternoon version of ourselves, the one who yells at other drivers in 5 p.m. traffic, is much less patient, more biased, and less capable of rational thought.


The idea of implicit biases, or prejudices that we don’t recognize that we hold, is controversial. None of us want to believe that we could make such terrible mistakes in thinking and treat two people so differently simply because a name sounds foreign. The study Pink mentions is a good way to approach this topic and show that we are at the whim of our tired brains, and to demonstrate that we can, in a sense, have two selves. Our rational and patient post-coffee self is able to make better decisions than our afternoon I-just-want-to-get-home-from-work selves. We are not the evil that manifests through our biases, but rather our biases are a manifestation that results from poor decision-making situations and mental fatigue. This is a lighter way to demonstrate the power and hidden dangers of our cognitive biases, and the importance of having people make crucial decisions at appropriate times. It is important to be honest about these biases so that we can look at the structures, systems, and institutions that shape our lives so that we can create a society that works better for all of us, regardless of what time of day it is.