Spring fever: How it really works

Spring has long been known as a time of blossoming and virility. As young Bambi learned, “Nearly everybody gets twitterpated in the springtime.”

While spring fever may be hard to define in exact terms, scientists have figured out that it involves our circadian rhythms — what some have dubbed our “internal clock” and which syncs up with Mother Nature’s cycles.

Spring fever was once thought to be psychological, but we know now that it involves physiological processes. The changing seasons cause the body’s internal chemistry to undergo a re-calibration of sorts.

According to Justin Weeks, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio University and director of the Center for the Evaluation and Treatment of Anxiety, melatonin is the culprit.

Melatonin is a hormone involved in regulating many aspects of our biological cycles, including when we sleep, when females begin to menstruate and how frequently menstruation occurs.

The birds and the bees. Graphic by Haylie Wise
The birds and the bees. Graphic by Haylie Wise

Weeks pointed out that because we get less sunlight during winter, our bodies produce less melatonin. The converse is also true, and so surging melatonin levels in the spring may partially account for the upswing in humanity’s collective mood.

Other culprits include seratonin and dopamine, which also kick up production when you get more sun exposure.

Scientists have also discovered what common sense has known for a long time — spring fever messes with your concentration, and can lead to students doing things like skipping classes to frolic in sunlit meadows.

There’s also a flip-side to this time of love and new life, however. According to Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, director of seasonal studies at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, suicides and hospital admissions for depression and alcoholism reach their peak around the same time of year we associate with joyous spring.

Like spring fever, spring depression is also physiological. Some peoples’ bodies can’t adapt to the rapid seasonal shift, so they experience physical and emotional breakdowns while others are frolicking in the aforementioned meadows.

Another bit of common sense that science has confirmed is that different people have differing sensitivities to seasonal changes. While your roommate or neighbor might turn into a rollicking sex god to rival Adonis, your mileage may vary.

But for good or ill, spring fever cannot last forever. Rosenthal commented that April is the “cruelest month” for some, and we know that the amount of sunlight in each day will continue to increase until the summer solstice. So, while the mood lasts, don’t be afraid to be adventurous. While we here at Whim would never encourage you to skip class, we do strongly recommend finding a sunlit meadow at your earliest convenience.