Spring Fatigue

Symptoms, treatment, and advice for this seasonal affliction

Ryan Scott

Written by Ryan Scott Published on 08.04.2013 10:07:40 (updated on 08.04.2013) Reading time: 5 minutes

With winter slowly coming to an end and the spring warmth creeping in, you’d think many of us would respond to the seasonal change with unbridled energy and enthusiasm. But if you’re anything like me, you often greet the time of new life feeling like a half- deflated bouncy castle.

You get enough sleep, yet you’re yawning all day. On top of that, you find it hard to focus and you can even forget simple things. Spring fatigue (jarní únava) is a real feeling for about three quarters of people living in the Czech Republic. But it’s not something we have to take lying down, even if lying down is all we want to do.

Causes

One reason we could be feeling tired at the beginning of spring is that the body is exhausted from the long winter because its reserves of vitamins are used up. However, given that fresh fruits and vegetables, not to mention vitamin supplements, are available all year round, you would think people would partake. But clearly, not enough do.

A change in air pressure is also given as a reason – and it’s probably the one I hear most often. Reference to the connection between low pressure and feeling tired crops up on a lot of health discussion forums, though there doesn’t appear to be anything concrete from a medical standpoint.

Serotonin levels and production could be responsible too.  Serotonin in high-levels is thought to promote a sense of well-being. Furthermore, serotonin production is linked to daylight. We produce more when sunlight touches our optic nerve. Therefore, it makes sense that during winter we feel down if the serotonin levels are low. But why does it hit some people so hard in the spring hours of daylight?
    
The most typical explanation is that the body starts to replenish stores of serotonin and reduces levels of melatonin – the hormone responsible for sleep. This change is believed to exhaust the body.

I contacted Dr. Stefan Kukura at the Canadian Medical Center to run these explanations by him. He said they were generally accepted, but pointed out some other factors to be mindful of.

“In winter, people are not drinking enough water. They are tired from working a lot…we frequently have different types of infection [and] don’t all have time to treat it properly. We don’t have time to heal. We’re in a rush. We’re hurrying to work, so we don’t cure it properly,” he said. What we call spring fatigue could be the body recuperating from the winter cold season.

Treatment

With the causes quite well established, treatment might mean some lifestyle adjustments. One of the first things to do is ensure your body is getting plenty of vitamins. The possibility that winter illnesses could make us feel tired in the spring means we should boost our consumption of foods with vitamin C, or at least take supplements. Remember, even if you didn’t have any symptoms during winter, it doesn’t mean your body wasn’t fighting an infection.

Vitamin D levels can get low over winter since the vitamin is produced in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. Fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel are common dietary sources of the vitamin. Otherwise, supplements are available in pharmacies. The role of vitamin D in spring fatigue is difficult pinpoint. The vitamin is mostly linked to bone strength. Vitamin D receptors have been found in the brain, but as of yet no clear explanation is given if they are responsible for moods.  Maybe keeping your vitamin levels up is just a way to not feel so depleted over winter.

Sufficient amounts Vitamin B, on the other hand, are important to promote blood cell development, blood vessel growth, and ensure proper functioning of the nerves. It’s easy to see why problems with circulation or nerves would contribute to fatigue.

Perhaps the most obvious way to counteract the fatigue is to take notice of the body’s tired feeling and get plenty of rest. The health benefits of regular and sufficient sleep are well documented. But sometimes you feel tired even after a good night sleep.

I put this to Dr. Kukura, and he responded with two words. “Physical activity. In the winter months we eat more and move less.” Apart from maintaining a healthy body, exercise boosts production of serotonin too and improves circulation. Furthermore, getting outside allows you to soak up the rays.

Though lack of sunshine is identified as a factor, Dr Kukura was cautious about the benefits of sun beds. He said that they should only be used at the recommended dosage.  Overdose can result in melanomas. Anyone with moles or irregular pigmentation should first speak with a dermatologist before using a sun bed.

“At a reasonable amount, it might be good,” he said.

Something more serious

If you do all that and you are still feeling tired, it might be time to go for more tests. Chronic fatigue can be misdiagnosed at this time of year, because everyone assumes it is a seasonal problem.

Dr. Kukura stressed the kink between winter infection and chronic fatigue. Certain viruses such as Epstein-Barr and cytomegalovirus (a member of the herpes strain of viruses) are connected to chronic fatigue. A serious respiratory infection could also result in this feeling.

“Especially, we have to think if we did not suffer some infection in the last few months and whether it was without consequences,” he said.

Is it in our heads?

Some people may be skeptical about spring fatigue. According to one nutritionist, Pavlína Zdenková Kroužková, spring fatigue doesn’t exist. In this article, she is quoted as saying “if a person eats healthy meals, exercises regularly, and thinks positively, they shouldn’t suffer from spring fatigue.” She sees the problem in the media talking about the problem, and thus reinforcing the feelings in people. Unfortunately, Ms. Zdenková Kroužková wasn’t available for an interview.

However, Dr. Kukura shares the opinion it is a lifestyle problem.

“In winter we have infections, we eat, we don’t move, we have low intake of vitamins, and we have no sunshine. If we try to improve those five things then we should not suffer from spring fatigue at all.”

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