Well, it’s summertime in the northern hemisphere, and you know what that means! School’s out, and swimsuits are on! Kids are running through sprinklers, teens are lounging by the pool, and many of us are rekindling our relationship with our grills! (I’m sorry, baby, I’ll never leave you again!) Each year we experience this cycle without ever batting an eye. Little did you know, your routine isn’t the only thing that changes each season! Your brain is changing, too! So, what actually is happening to your brain right now? Check out these 5 things your brain does during summer*:
- Your brain releases more serotonin.
You may know serotonin as a neurotransmitter, or a chemical that allows your body to communicate. Serotonin plays a role in affecting your mood, appetite, and even sexual desire. What does this mean for summertime? Well, studies have shown that during the summertime your brain actually creates more serotonin, and reuptakes (the process of absorbing serotonin) less, leaving more in your blood and gastrointestinal tract (the good ole’ gut). This is because serotonin has shown to be effected by the amount of light you receive. In the summertime, the days are at their longest, and your exposure to sun is at the highest. As a result, your body increases production of serotonin, potentially giving you a little happiness kick each summer (Brewerton, 1989; Lambert, Reid, Kaye, Jennings, & Esler, 2002; Young, 2007).
- Your circadian rhythm changes.
Your circadian rhythm is known best for regulating your sleep-wake cycle. This rhythm may be the reason you can’t sleep past 9AM (even on the weekends)! However, your circadian rhythm is a not fixed cycle, by any means. Once again, your brain is responding to the light of the long days of summertime. As the days get longer, your body needs to be awake and alert for longer periods of time. In order to achieve this, your body’s circadian rhythm fluctuates according to the changing photoperiod (the amount of time you receive sunlight each day), allowing you to maintain energy for the long summer days and conserve energy on cold winter evenings (Meyer, Muto, Jaspar, Kussé, Lambot, Chellappa, . . ., &Vandewalle, 2016).
- Your attention becomes more focused.
Are you more productive during the summertime? Maybe fostering your passions is more relaxing under the shade of a large oak tree on a warm, sunny day. What you may not realize is that this is actually the perfect time to be picking up hobbies. A study done by Meyer and her team (2016) suggests that at the time of the summer solstice, June 21st, the performance of participants on sustained attention tasks was at its peak. This is likely because summer solstice is also the longest day of the year and, you guessed it, the day when you are likely to receive the most exposure to sunlight! The findings of this study may indicate that your ability to remain focused on one task for a lengthened period of time is also related to the serotonin levels in your brain and your circadian rhythm, both of which, as mentioned, are also affected by the amount of light you take in each day (Meyer et al., 2016).
- Men find women less attractive.
What? Did you read that right? How is that even possible? I mean, summertime is notoriously a time of tank tops, shorts, and exposed skin! Actually, a study conducted by Pawlowski and Sorokowski (2008) suggests that this is the problem! The two recorded data from 114 heterosexual males throughout the course of a year in order to obtain results during all four seasons. The participants were shown a series of photographs and asked to rate the attractiveness of the women pictured. The results showed that, on average, the men rated women as being the least attractive during the summertime and the most attractive during the wintertime! This may be the result of something known as the “contrast effect,” or the idea that your perception of something is effected by your exposure to similar stimuli. In the summertime, women are more likely to wear less covering clothing, whether this is a bikini, a sundress, or shorts and a tank top, due to the increase in temperatures and the amount of sunlight they see in a day. Pawlowski and Sorokowski theorize that because men are exposed to more women wearing fewer clothing in the summertime, men actually find women less attractive at this time of the year (Pawlowski, & Sorokowski, 2008).
- You may develop depression**.
You may note feeling lethargic and blue during the dark, and dreary days of winter. You may recognize the term Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) as something that aggravates your depression during the coldest months of the year. You might not even recognize the term officially, but still experience oversleeping, overeating, and weight gain during winter, all of which are symptoms of SAD. But, did you know that summertime could make you feel depressed too? Summer depression presents itself with symptoms such as loss of sleep, appetite, and weight, a stark contrast to its winter counterpart. Unfortunately, much less is known about the treatment of summer depression than winter depression (Madden, Heath, Rosenthal, & Martin, 1996). Still, if you experience sadness, decreased energy, and decreased socialization during the summertime, please seek out a mental health care professional to determine if Seasonal Affective Disorder is at fault!
Wow! The way that our bodies interact with our environment is truly incredible. This summer, try to take note of the little changes your body is experiencing and pick out the ways summer affects you! For more articles like this, don’t forget to follow our blog and find us on other social media platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram!
*It is important to note that the seasons of the year depend on where you live! In the northern hemisphere May through July are summer months because of the amount of sunlight the hemisphere receives during this time. In the southern hemisphere summer is considered to be November through January.
**Depression is a serious and sometimes life-threatening disease. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, please seek help. The offices of Central Florida Psychological Consultants, Inc. offers counseling services to those in need. Please visit our website at http://www.centralfloridapsychology.com or call our offices at (352) 365-2243 for more information today.
Brewerton, T. D. (1989). Seasonal variation of serotonin function in humans: Research and clinical implications. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry: Official Journal of the American Academy of Clinical Psychiatrists, 1(3), 153-164.
Lambert, G. W., Reid, C., Kaye, D. M., Jennings, G. L., & Esler, M. D. (2002). Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain. The Lancet, 360, 1840-1842.
Madden, P. A. F., Heath, A. C., Rosenthal, N. E., & Martin, N. G. (1996). Seasonal changes in mood and behavior: The role of genetic factors. Archives of General Psychiatry, 53(1), 47-55.
Meyer, C., Muto, V., Jaspar, M., Kussé, C., Lambot, E., Chellappa, S., . . ., &Vandewalle, G. (2016). Seasonality in human cognitive brain responses. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(11), 3066-3071. doi:10.1073/pnas1518129113
Pawlowski, B., & Sorokowski, P. (2008). Men’s attraction to women’s bodies changes seasonally. Perception, 37, 1079-1085. doi:10.1068/p5715
Young, S. N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 32(6), 394-395.
Written by Savannah Achor