What is Spring Fever? Seasonal Affective Disorder in Spring Explained

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

When you think of spring, what do you associate it with? Sunny days, flower fields, and sundresses? If that is you, you are not alone! But there are some people who, unfortunately, also associate spring fever with the season. This condition can make the sunny days not feel so sunny.

What is spring fever?

If you are not a fan of the colder days, you may highly anticipate spring every year because it can be the polar opposite of winter. However, while some people will feel relief from the transition, others may struggle due to the intense contrast of the seasons.

During the winter, we tend to slow down and stay indoors most of the time. Outdoor activities are put on hold, and we stay snuggled up with the heat blasting. Many people also struggle to leave their beds in the morning, knowing that the icy, cold air is waiting for them when they step out the door.

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Once the snow begins to melt, and everyone talks about what activities the new season will bring, it can feel overwhelming. Transitioning from a time that is associated with slowing down and little energy to high amounts of excitement and exuberance requires a lot of mental and emotional energy for one to handle.

About five percent of people experience spring fever, with the majority of that population being women. Your experience of spring fever can range from mild symptoms to a manic-depressive disorder. But, of course, you do not have too much control over whether or not you get spring fever in the springtime; you have your body’s circadian clock to blame.

Your circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle determined by how much you sleep and your exposure to sunlight. It essentially is a clock in your brain that gives your body signals based on environmental cues. Both your physical and mental capabilities and processes are governed by this master clock, and you may feel the effects if it is thrown off severely enough. One of the most relatable situations would be jet lag.

Your circadian rhythm has the potential to be disturbed once spring rolls around, causing spring fever.

During the winter, your body is used to less sunlight, more extended sleep periods, and more frequent eating. On the contrary, spring brings around more sunlight, shorter sleep periods, and less frequent eating. All three of these are significant factors in how your brain’s master clock runs.

Symptoms of SAD in spring to look out for

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to the changing seasons. When a change in sleep patterns throws off your circadian rhythm, your sleep can suffer for an extended period of time. Common symptoms may be waking up frequently throughout the night, struggling to fall asleep initially, waking up and not being able to go back to sleep, and overall low-quality sleep. It can even contribute to obstructive sleep apnea. OSA is a disorder where you experience lapses of breathing throughout the night while you are asleep. This can decrease the body’s oxygen levels and lead to other issues.

A woman in a grey hoodie in the spring rain with SAD symptoms

As for your alteration with how often and how much you eat during each season, your metabolism and eating patterns are linked to your circadian rhythm. When you eat at different times of the day or in various amounts, your glucose, hormone, and appetite levels can be affected. During the winter, you tend not to eat as late in the day because the sun goes down earlier, prompting you to sleep. In the spring, you will start to eat later, which will signal to the body that it is not yet time for sleep, even though that is not what it is used to. This can disrupt melatonin release and confuse your metabolism. Likely symptoms are fatigue, brain fog, and digestive issues.

Here is a summary of symptoms to keep an eye out for during the springtime:

  • Alterations in heart rate
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unpredictable mood swings
  • Change in energy levels
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Metabolism issues
  • Change in sex drive
  • Change in mood

How to manage spring fever

Whether your symptoms are not too bad or tend to be more severe, there are always steps you can take to try and manage or eliminate them. Generally, these symptoms should only last about a month or so because your body’s circadian rhythm will gradually adjust itself to your new spring routine. It will also do this as you go into every new season each year.

A great way to accelerate this process is by giving yourself a timed schedule to follow daily. For example, determine when you will wake up, go to sleep, eat, and exercise. Intentionally providing the body with the signals that your master clock is constantly keeping an eye out for can decrease the amount of time you experience spring fever at all.

Since your sleep patterns are one of the main factors that cause spring fever, tackling that can also help significantly.

In addition to having a regular sleep schedule, utilizing melatonin may be a good idea.

Your brain naturally produces melatonin during the evening to signal to your body when it is time to sleep. However, as the sun sets later when it becomes spring, the body may be slow to adjust to when it is actually supposed to release the melatonin. You can help it by taking small doses of melatonin before going to bed. You mustn’t take a large amount or take it for many weeks in a row because your brain will stop producing it, as it is recognizing that an outside source is doing the job for it. Follow your prescription and start with the slowest dosage until your spring fever symptoms start to lessen.

People exercising in a park to improve spring fever symptoms

If you do find that you go through symptoms like mood swings, depression, and fatigue, getting out in the sun and moving your body can be a great help. Both of these activities cause your brain to produce happy hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine. Try to dedicate time to walking the dog, hiking with friends, playing outdoor sports, going for a jog, and gardening. If you cannot be outdoors, try to exercise indoors frequently with the windows open to allow both sunlight and fresh air in.

Other common springtime illnesses

Unfortunately, even if you do not experience spring fever, it isn’t the only illness you can catch. Conditions such as asthma, allergies, and the common cold make their presence known among many. The most common allergy is pollen, and everyone has more exposure to it since they spend more time outdoors and with their windows open. Symptoms like runny nose, itchy eyes, congested sinuses, and more can be experienced by those with pestering spring allergies.

If you have asthma, common allergy aggravators may cause your usual symptoms to worsen and make you more sensitive. While the cold, dry air commonly leads to flare-ups in winter, they also can happen in the spring because of said issues. When you inhale the small pollen particles, your airways and lungs may become irritated. This leads to coughing, a tight chest, and trouble breathing.

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For breathing issues, it is crucial to monitor how much time is spent outdoors. You can also take precautions indoors too. For example, investing in an air purifier, regularly dusting and wiping down surfaces, brushing your pets often, and washing your sheets weekly can help minimize respiratory discomfort.

As for the common cold that creeps in with the warmer weather, you can only do so much to speed up your healing process. Whether it be a slight nuisance that still allows you to go to work and school, or it keeps you in bed, it is mainly time and rest that will diminish the symptoms. Preventing a common cold can prove to be a challenge, but strengthening your immune system never causes any harm. Take the following steps to build up a barrier to unwanted bacteria and viruses:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Get enough sleep
  • Wash your hands often throughout the day
  • Eat a healthy diet with various sources of nutrients
  • Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum
  • Avoid smoking
  • Try to keep your stress down as much as you can

Final thoughts

Whether you experience spring fever every year or know someone who does, being able to keep an eye out for common symptoms is important. When your circadian rhythm is thrown off by the changes that come with a new season, taking charge of your routine by actively regulating when you sleep, eat, and exercise will make a huge difference. Take control of your health and scare that spring fever away!

July 22, 2022