Prepare the emergency room: A total solar eclipse is approaching, and people will claim 'eclipse sickness'

By Lisa Marie Basile | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published February 23, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • A total solar eclipse is set to occur on April 8. Some people believe that eclipses can impact human health and psychology, claiming that “eclipse sickness” is a valid, albeit unexplainable, condition.

  • People say they’ve experienced fatigue, balance issues, vivid dreams, sleepwalking, flu-like symptoms, more vivid sight, sensitivity to electronic devices, anxiety, frustration, and confusion during and after an eclipse. 

  • Experts think people may potentially experience symptoms stemming from excitement and anxiety but that the eclipse itself likely has no bearing on human health.

The Internet is brimming with health and wellness claims and theories, many of which are questionable at best. One such theory that floods the Internet every once in a while? ‘Solar eclipse sickness, which is a debated condition. 

With the next total solar eclipse—when the moon passes between the sun and earth, completely blocking the face of the sun—coming April 8, your patients may very well report eclipse sickness, and emergency rooms may inexplicably become crowded during the 2024 total eclipse.

What is eclipse sickness?

An article published on Kentucky radio station WKDZ’s blog explores the author’s experience after an eclipse. “I started to feel kind of weird as the light changed and my shadow looked strange…[I] began to feel sick and had to lean against a truck to keep from losing my balance,” the blogger writes.[]

“We had safely removed our glasses since we were in totality. I remember looking around at my surroundings in the strange light. I was feeling worse, but in a way that is hard to describe. It was almost like having one foot in another world, and I was about to step through. It was almost like feeling faint,” they continue.

The author continues to say that they experienced a headache after the eclipse, and others on their Facebook reported similar symptoms. The author also mentions having read online that people experienced fatigue, balance issues, vivid dreams, sleepwalking, flu-like symptoms, more vivid sight, sensitivity to electronic devices, anxiety, frustration, and confusion, all of which they chalk to “eclipse anxiety or eclipse sickness.”

Another blogger on Medium claims that she felt exhausted and lightheaded after an eclipse.  On Reddit, people claim that they experienced lethargy or depression.[] 

Despite these claims, a NASA page set up to educate the public about eclipse misconceptions asserts, “There is no physical relationship between a total solar eclipse and your health, any more than there is a relationship between your health and a new moon. Among a random sample of people, you may find such correlations from time to time but they are outnumbered by all the other occasions during which your health was excellent.”[]

“It's troubling to see these kinds of negative ideas about something as fantastic as an eclipse,” says Tony Rice, an ambassador at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 

“Focusing on the amazing things about phenomen[a] like eclipses has been the best way to have this conversation in my experience. We could talk about the impact that eclipses really have on observers, how the experience makes you aware of the world around you, the changes in temperature, the changes in animal behavior, and the realization of how special [the earth is],” Rice says.

What is at the root of these solar eclipse sickness claims?

Bloggers aren’t the only ones who have explored the potential link between celestial events and health. Clinical researchers have also examined the phenomenon, and the data is mixed. 

Research published in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience in 2019 found “no real association between lunar and solar behavior and the actions of patients with psychiatric disorders.”[]

However, the research notes that prior studies have suggested a reduction in suicide rates ahead of solar eclipses. More so, research from 1981 found prolactin increase and behavioral abnormalities in patients with schizophrenia immediately after a total solar eclipse.[]

These hormonal shifts may make sense, however, says Leann Poston, MD, a physician-writer and researcher at Invigor Medical. While she sees no plausible link between the eclipse and changes in physiology and disease, she notes that “when an event occurs that is outside the norm and it feels difficult to explain, it can cause an increase in cortisol, which can have physical and psychological effects.”

When people read about or witness the solar eclipse, they may feel excitement and even anxiety, leading to an increase in epinephrine and norepinephrine, Dr. Poston says. “[This increases] heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and blood flow to muscles. Cortisol also increases glucose release into the bloodstream so the body is ready for ‘fight or flight.’” All of this, she says, may explain why people feel tired or simply off. 

There’s also a psychological component that may explain why some people tout solar eclipse sickness, says Sarah Jeffries, MSc, a mental health first aid trainer at Mental Health First Aid Course. 

“Humans are social animals, and it is easy to learn how to feel or behave from others around us. When multiple people start reporting feeling unwell during the eclipse, this might generate a feedback loop where other observers start scanning their own feelings more carefully, which increases the likelihood that psychosomatic symptoms will be experienced,” Jeffries says.

She also notes that people may experience confirmation bias in that they seek, interpret, favor, and remember information in ways that align with their beliefs. “So, if someone believes in the syndrome of eclipse sickness,” Jeffries says, “they are more likely to just as descriptively attribute any discomfort or sickness that they might feel close to an eclipse to this syndrome, when there might be another explanation.”

Additionally, people simply want to make sense of things. “If there is no science [through] which to comprehend a phenomenon, people might fancy other explanations for any funny feelings they are having or a group of strange occurrences around this time of year,” Jeffries says.

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