‘Tis the season to be jolly, right? In any and every season? It turns out, maybe not. But don’t worry; it doesn’t make you a stick in the mud.
Studies have shown that during new seasons, your brain may react to the change in a variety of ways – sometimes positive, sometimes not so much. Maybe you have good internal intuition and this is something you’ve always known. Or maybe this is news to your noggin. Either way, you’re about to learn how seasonal fluctuations affect your cognitive outlook on life.
Ah, the flowers are blooming, the leaves are forming and the sun is coming out of cloud hibernation. Spring signifies a rebirth of sorts. Wildlife can sense it and so can our brains. As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, we inexplicably become more active creatures. Think about it, when was the last time someone participated in winter cleaning?
Just being outside more in the spring is an instant mood boost. Vitamin D levels go up as the sun acts like a UV solar power charger to our mind and mood. Exercise is correlated with warmer, sunnier days as well, and those extra endorphins boost that feel-good mood. Well, that and the fact that beach days are just around the corner and that swimsuit isn’t going to get in shape itself.
They don’t call it “spring fever” for nothing.
If you thought spring was a mood booster, then summer is an attitude atomic bomb. The longest days of the year are typically brimming with sunshine and warm weather. They act as an internal clock telling you to be happy and go outside.
With more external stimulus, the brain is more active in the summer months. As a result, people tend to be more willing during this brighter (literally and figuratively) time of the year. That summer vibe even goes as far as being the most popular months for putting us in “the mood.” It’s true. Men’s testosterone and women’s hormones spike to above-average levels in June, paving way for a lot of spring babies.
However, summer isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Due to the amount of stimuli during summer, we tend to lose focus over the “lazy” summer months. That doesn’t sound all that bad, but upon deeper research, we’ve uncovered that learning and retention are at their lowest levels during summer.
Furthermore, while the warm weather in early summer may be just the natural prescription the doctor didn’t order, sweltering weather in late summer has quite the opposite effect. A University of Michigan study noted that positive attitudes seem to wilt during those unbearably hot months – I’m looking at you late July and all of August. The mind doesn’t like oppressive heat and it can really fog up that positive mood.
Beautiful days and chillier evenings, that gorgeous autumn color palette – and hypersomnia. Wait, what?
As the opposite of insomnia, hypersomnia is the technical term for oversleeping, which tends to ramp up during the fall months. While catching a few extra zzz’s may not be a bad thing, hypersomnia typically affects the quality and deepness of sleep. So while you may be sleeping longer, it doesn’t mean you’re sleeping better. The culprit? Shorter days and less sunlight. UV light causes a chemical reaction in your brain that works in tandem with your circadian sleep cycle. Bottom line, fall fatigue sets in and cuts into our sleep and social calendar while filling up our eating calendar.
But the fall isn’t all negative to your noggin. The end of scorching summers benefits your brain in several ways. How? Because once the thermostat pushes past 80, our bodies try to cool themselves by drawing energy from our brains – affecting its optimal functionality. That means the fall is friendlier to your memory, temper and ability to problem solve.
Is it a coincidence that seasonal affective disorder makes the acronym SAD? Probably not. But SAD, which is a relatively new condition, is mostly associated with those suffering from the winter blues.
Often deemed as people’s least favorite season, winter does get a depressively bad rap. Which is probably why end of the year holidays are so welcomed. They take our mind off how bitter cold it is, how dark it gets and the fact that nearly all vegetation is dead.
In the winter, our body and mind go through a biological response to changing light levels. Part of that is our circadian clock, which tells us when to feel sleepy and when to wake, as well as hormone release, temperature regulation, metabolism and mood. One study actually shows people produce less serotonin during winter, which helps regulate a positive mood and feelings of wellbeing.
Believe it or not, studies have proven that our mental functionality is sharper in the winter. Our bodies may feel more sluggish from the cold temps, but our thinkers aren’t affected. All this despite the fact that brain activity is slower in the winter. The study goes on to find that in the winter we just act more efficiently. Just think of it as instinct. In the harshest environment, it’s advantageous to our survival if our brain prioritizes and executes even the most basic tasks in an economical fashion.