ExpliKate: The science behind spring fever

Spring fever, explainedBy Kate Hakala

I stepped outside my apartment this week in jean cut-offs and a t-shirt, knowing that it would reach an unseasonably warm temperature for mid-April. I was running to a local deli and I was unshowered, bespectacled, and without a stitch of make up. Within the three minutes the errand took, I was approached by two men with almost eerily identical pick-up lines: “It’s a gorgeous day and you’re a gorgeous lady.”

I assure you, I’m no physical anomaly. The fact that I was being called a gorgeous lady twice in succession, it seemed to me, was no doubt predicated by the fact that it was a gorgeous day. As it turns out, science wholeheartedly agrees with me.

Spring fever. It’s what we all know as that majestic time from late March to early June where we suddenly want to peel off our layered clothing, jog around the park, dance in grassy fields of flowers, and walk hand in hand with a new paramour.

We feel giddy, excited, energized, distracted, fidgety, enlivened, inspired, and yes, horny. Compared to the relative doldrums of winter, it can feel like we have reached an almost hypomanic or euphoric state. Besides the looks from your boss when you’re staring out the window and twirling your hair at work, it’s absolutely fantastic and reinvigorating. But, why? Is it simply that we are all just happy to get some warmth back and show some leg?

Research says it’s a whole lot more than that.

While not a categorized psychological state, it seems the pendulum of moods brought on by spring fever have significant physiological grounds. What really drives the giddy train? Sunlight. The retina detects a greater amount of sunlight in the spring compared to winter, and sends the message to our biological clock, which in turn signals to the pineal gland to decrease melatonin production. Melatonin is the sleep hormone, and thus with less of it being produced in the spring, we suddenly feel less like a zombie, and more ready to take on the world.

This decrease in melatonin is further accentuated by the relief of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which is a wintertime depression. By feeling more alert and sort of slaphappy, it’s no wonder we feel frenzied and finally ready to don our gym shorts again. As we all know, exercise releases endorphins, the “feel good” hormone, increases blood flow, and going outside exposes us to vitamin D, which only perpetuates more energy and lightened moods this time of year.

Other factors adding to spring fever include an unexplained increase in production of serotonin, the hormone associated with feelings of elation, that often correlates with sleeping, eating, and sex drive. Not to mention the perceptible change in our environments in the spring. Senses largely underused in the winter, like smell, sight, and hearing, are bombarded with fragrances, colors, and noises that stimulate the brain and can trigger feelings of giddiness and conjure memories.

But, why do we want to get it on so badly?

It’s easy to forget that humans are just animals, too. We mammals follow the seasonal rhythms of mating much like the common field mouse. Research shows that the farther away from the equator that these critters live, where seasons are more distinctive, the greater the birth spikes in the spring. These patterns promote survival, anthropologists say, as spring fever might be an evolutionary development. In our early days, humans would often go into a semi-hibernation in the winter, and spring marked the time for hunting, gathering, and procreating. Essentially, an annual renaissance for the libido. With a marked increase in access to fresh plants and meat for our young, spring is evolutionarily the ideal time to bring new life into the world.

While in modern days, we pretty much hump year round no matter what, there is still a pronounced increase in conception rates of about 20% in June. This is probably because we have more baby-friendly juices running through us in spring, like the luteinizing hormone, which produces testosterone in men and ovulation in women. Science says men’s sperm counts are highest in spring, too. No wonder in vitro fertilization clinics and obstetricians alike report high success rates and an increase in unplanned pregnancies in the spring. Not only are we happy and active because of the daylight in spring, we have an underlying biological urge to flirt with that cute guy or gal at the end of the bar—for the survival of the species, of course.

Aside from all the hormonal shifts, spring is when all our skin comes out. We let our eyes rove all over the parts that have been covered in sweaters and scarves for months. Who, after months of visual deprivation, wouldn’t feel a little frisky? So, take advantage of your crazy, unbridled hormones and new-found energy. Write the next great novel, plant some lilacs, or battle the mold you’ve been avoiding in your bathroom.

But mainly, put on your favorite spring outfit, whether it’s cut-offs or culottes, and know that feeling good usually translates to looking good. And enjoy this season’s optical flesh buffet. I know I will be.

ExpliKate is a new column running on Kate-book.com every other Monday at noon. It is written by the hyper-inquisitive Kate Hakala, who seeks to answer questions ranging from “What am I actually drinking when I sip this kombucha?” to “Can guys really have an orgasm without ejaculating?” Read about those topics, and many others, in future columns.


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One thought on “ExpliKate: The science behind spring fever

  1. katetorg says:

    At least here in New York, I feel like spring is teasing us a bit. It was so here! And now, a little cold again. Want that decrease in melatonin.

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