There's something in the air, and it's not just pollen. Spring
break, spring vacation, spring weddings -- spring fever. We want to get out,
wear less, mingle lots. Kids feel it, too. Talk to any teacher, you'll likely
hear there's craziness in the classrooms.
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.
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Last week, I hit the supermarket and loaded up on all my favorite junk
foods: Krispy Kreme donuts, frozen pizza, and Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey
ice cream. It's not for me—it's for my husband, I rationalized, as I pushed the
cart up and down the aisles. Never mind that my husband was going on a business
trip the next day, or that I work from...
In fact, many facets of everyday life are governed by seasonal
patterns as well as circadian rhythms -- our internal biological clock,
Smolensky tells WebMD.
"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
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.
"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.
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."
We may have more energy in springtime, but it won't necessarily
play itself out in the bedroom, Smolensky tells WebMD. "When we look at
couples who have kept diaries of sexual encounters and single males who have
kept their own data, sexual activity is really rather low in the spring. The
peak is in the fall."
The reason? Testosterone levels peak in summer and autumn --
not in springtime, he says. The evidence: More women conceive in late summer
and early autumn than in spring, he says. The pattern also shows up in the
CDC's data on two common sexually transmitted diseases, syphilis and gonorrhea.
The peak is in late fall and early winter.