Spring has finally sprung. There’s something in the air, and it’s not just pollen, I can feel it, why is it that seasons can affect us so much. Spring break, spring vacation, spring weddings, prom day — spring fever. We want to get out, wear less, and mingle lots. Not only do the adults feel it, even the kids feel it, too. Talk to any teacher, you’ll likely hear there’s craziness in the classrooms as you will hear it in the adult environments. All of a sudden the whole world is alive, the twirping of birds, the humming of insects, the breath of fresh air, and patio time.
On a more scientific note, that energy surge, in whatever form it takes, is a function of longer days and lots more sunlight, says Michael Smolensky, PhD, professor at the University of Texas-Houston School of Public Health. He is co-author of the book The Body Clock Guide to Better Health.
There’s a reason why we feel the way we do. In fact, many facets of everyday life are governed by seasonal patterns as well as circadian rhythms — our internal biological clock, Smolensky tells us.
“These are the rhythms of life, and we take them for granted,” he says. “People accept the fact that our bodies are organized in space — that our toes are at the end of our feet, and the hairs on our head stand up. But we give little thought to the fact that our bodies are structured in time.”
Spring Brings Changes in Hormones
Imagine that when seasons change, the retina — the inner layer of the eye that connects to the brain through the optic nerve — naturally reacts to the first subtle signs in the amount of daylight, says Sanford Auerbach, MD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Boston University. This reaction triggers hormonal changes, including an adjustment in melatonin, a hormone that affects sleep cycles and mood changes.
During the long darkness of winter months, the body naturally produces more melatonin. For people prone to seasonal affective disorder, all that melatonin triggers a winter depression. In spring, when melatonin production eases up, so does depression. This explains why I use a high powered lamp in my home office. It always helped me to be so more productive and energetic – I knew that light and sunlight always affected how I felt.
“There’s more daylight, so people have more energy, sleep a little less,” Auerbach says. “People who have manic-depressive problems [bipolar disorder] may be more manic in springtime.”
Body image springs into our consciousness this time of year. All of a sudden were seeing runners and joggers all over. We’re shaking that craving for carbohydrates that makes us put on weight, says Smolensky. “It’s likely a carryover from our ancestors who had a hibernation-type biology. In the fall, they began putting on weight to get through the lean times of winter.”
Spring is the time for renewal, as seasons change so do we as humans. Let us not forget that we are part of nature and its rhythms.