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Why do we often feel tired during spring?

13 april 2023

We may be tired and exhausted, and our circulation may be all over the place, yet sleep often remains stubbornly elusive at night. Many people have to contend with tiredness in the spring. But where does this spring fatigue come from in the first place?



Around one quarter of the entire German population has to contend with spring fatigue each year, says sleep disorder clinician Werner Cassel from the University of Marburg. There are several reasons for this. During the cold months of the year, our bodies go into winter mode. We crave food with a higher fat content – and not only at Christmas. At the same time, the body feels less of a need for fruit and vegetables. It’s for this reason that we can often end up deficient in B vitamins, iron, magnesium, zinc and vitamin C as the winter wears on. However, we need these vitamins and trace elements when we start to feel the urge to become more active once springlike weather conditions return.


Turbulent hormones

And yet, the body needs time to adapt to the changed environmental conditions: When the weather warms up, our blood vessels expand and our blood pressure falls. This can result in tiredness or circulatory issues. What’s more, our hormonal balance becomes disrupted in the spring: The dark winter months see an increased concentration in the blood of the sleep hormone melatonin, whereas, at the same time, levels of the “feel-good hormone” serotonin fall – for specialists, this is one of the reasons behind winter depression. Once the days start to lengthen and get lighter, the hormonal balance tips in the opposite direction, with more serotonin and less melatonin. This unbalances our whole organism, and it can take up to a month for the balance to be restored, says psychologist Cassel.

Showing too little skin

Daylight isn’t just good for our serotonin levels – the same also applies to vitamin D. And many people in the northern hemisphere do not get enough of this in the winter. This is because our bodies can only synthesise this vitamin on their own if sunlight falls on our skin – and we normally only tend to expose our skin very sparingly when we are out and about during the winter. But the good news is that it is possible to compensate for a lack of vitamin D by taking the right kind of supplements. And, as a study has revealed, this also serves to reduce tiredness, even though it takes a few weeks for our vitamin D reserves to be replenished.


Coming out of hibernation

Another important factor is that we sleep longer in winter. Between 20 and 45 minutes longer on average, says sleep researcher Mr. Cassel. This changes with the advent of spring, when the days lengthen, we all start to feel like doing more and, depending on how thick our curtains are, the morning sun wakes us before our alarm clock. And then the clocks go forward at the end of March. Having to get up an hour earlier can mess up the sleep rhythms of night owls and shift workers in particular. But most of us get over this within about two weeks, according to sleep researcher Mr. Cassel. Spring fatigue also dissipates after two to four weeks. But if exhaustion and, particularly, low mood prove to be more persistent, we should consult a doctor, says TÜV NORD psychologist Ralf Buchstaller. This is because we may at this point be dealing with depression.


Eat properly – and go get some sun!

We can also eat our way out of spring fatigue. In this case, we should concentrate on cheese, eggs, meat, fish, pulses or nuts – in combination with foods that are rich in carbohydrates such as potatoes, pasta, rice and the like. The former are rich in tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin. Eating the latter group will help us synthesise insulin. This ensures that the tryptophan can leap the blood-brain barrier, allowing it to be converted into serotonin in the brain. While pineapple, kiwi, plums and bananas may be good for us, despite the received opinion they do not make us happier. Although they do contain naturally occurring serotonin, this does not leap the aforesaid blood-brain barrier, which means that it has no effect in the brain. The best means of tackling spring fatigue is to be found right outside the front door, and it’s totally free: Light! This boosts the production of serotonin and vitamin D, while at the same time slowing down the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Anyone who takes a daily walk in the fresh air or cycles to work will emerge more quickly from spring fatigue. But taking the stairs instead of the lift will also help us to stop yawning all the time. Alternating hot and cold showers or taking a sauna will also give our circulation an additional boost. The latter activity is a particularly good way of counteracting the changeability of April temperatures.



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