Springtime fatigue? No thanks!

When spring rolls around, the sun’s rays warm your body and lift your spirits. Nature’s reawakening boosts morale, making anything seem possible.

Stress and sleep

Sonia Chartier

26 February 2019

Poor us. While we drag ourselves around all weak and tired, all around us animals and plants are waking up with renewed energy. Now before you go thinking you need to medicate yourself, don't! We're not ill, we're just going through an adjustment period. In other words, your body just needs time to slowly emerge from its winter stupor.

Lack of oxygen

In winter, you spend most of your days indoors, where your body doesn't get enough oxygen. A lack of oxygen slows the bodily functions, causing blood circulation disorders, reduced performance and headaches. Frequent yawning stems from a lack of oxygen: your body says "Open wide!" so you'll take in more oxygen.

A short walk each day gives your body enough sunlight and oxygen to keep you in a good mood without all the yawning. Even when the mercury dips or the weather gets dreary, taking a walk is still worth the effort.

At the mercy of fair weather?

Your blood vessels dilate as soon as the weather heats up and contract when it drops, so your body is constantly having to adapt to these fluctuations. If the adjustment doesn't happen quickly enough, your blood circulation gets knocked off-kilter, leaving you feeling dizzy and weak.

As soon as the days start getting longer and sunlight becomes more plentiful, your biorhythm changes: hormonal adjustments start taking place and that also influences your metabolism.

Hormone power

Hormones control all the body's essential processes, such as sleep, metabolism, wellbeing, energy, hunger, thirst, reproduction and growth. When spring brings longer days and more intense sunlight, the thyroid, pineal and adrenocortical glands work overtime and accelerate hormone production. Faced with that stimulation, your body does its spring cleaning, renewing your cells and boosting your immune defences, which grew weaker during the winter. Interestingly, children and adolescents grow faster in the spring.

Day, night, serotonin and melatonin

When talking about spring fatigue, two hormones in particular tend to come up: serotonin, the happy hormone, and melatonin, the sleep hormone.

One precondition for serotonin production is the presence of the amino acid tryptophan, which the body doesn't produce but instead sources from a protein-rich diet. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, one of many substances that allow information to move between nerve cells. It plays a role in your sleep-wake rhythm, wellbeing, sense of satisfaction and energy. Serotonin is produced by the brain using tryptophan during the day.

At night and when it's dark, the body converts serotonin into melatonin, which controls the sleep-wake cycle of a number of the body's functions and promotes sleep.

When spring comes around, the days lengthen and the sun's rays get stronger. When this happens, the body has to get used to the increase in serotonin production and the simultaneous decrease in melatonin production. As a result, the spring boost you expect doesn't come as soon as you would hope. When you feel your body's engine running out of gas, slow down and take a break, at least until your internal clock finds its rhythm.

Protein to the rescue!

According to a study conducted at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, people who are fatigued in spring often have low serotonin levels. Easy to fix, right? Yes, but not the way you'd expect. You can't just avoid a serotonin deficiency by eating a lot of meat. While protein-rich foods like meat, fish and dairy contain a lot of tryptophan, some of protein's other components prevent the amino acid from reaching the brain, which often leads to a drop in serotonin levels.

The solution? (And it's really quite simple...) Eat foods rich in complex carbohydrates! The carbs you get from your food (starches, sugar) create the ideal conditions for transporting tryptophan to the brain. For serotonin to reach its destination and activate your good mood, your blood sugar levels need a gentle boost, and that can't happen if you don't eat carbohydrates. But choosing the right kinds is important: complex carbohydrates from fruits and whole grains boost blood sugar levels gradually and help keep them stable. Simple sugars and foods made with white flour trigger blood sugar spikes and troughs, which are bad news.

The key is in the ratio: eat more complex carbohydrates than protein at mealtime to promote tryptophan production. Conversely, if you eat more protein than carbs, you'll foster the production of tyrosine and subsequently, adrenaline. While this might be good for concentration, memory and the survival reflex, it's not the effect you're looking for.

A banana a day: fact or fiction?

While bananas are good for you, what you really need in this case is a walk, not a banana. In popular culture, some foods are considered "happy foods" because they contain traces of serotonin. These include bananas, pineapple, avocados, figs, dates, raisins, apples, plums, nuts and tomatoes. It would be wonderful if this serotonin gave us a dose of happiness, but unfortunately, serotonin from external sources doesn't reach the brain, which is the only place it can have its effect. On the other hand, a brisk walk does boost serotonin production and provide positive effects.

Fatigue-fighting nutrients

By the end of winter, your stores of vitamins and mineral salts are often depleted. Iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc, calcium and potassium deficits, as well as a lack of vitamins B, C and E, are very common. On top of this making you more susceptible to infectious diseases and bacterial infections, a lack of vitamins can lead to blood circulation problems, fatigue, listlessness and headaches. What's more, a deficit of vitamins B1 and B6 leads to a drop in cerebral serotonin, which in turn causes moodiness and increased pain sensitivity. These vitamins are found in yeast-based supplements, wheat germ and whole wheat.

The best way to fight spring fatigue is through an appropriate diet: specialists recommend meals rich in vitamins and mineral salts, whole grains (wheat germ), cheese, quark, brown rice, potatoes, pasta and lots of fruits and vegetables.

To get your day off to a great start, have a good bowl of muesli, whose nutrient-rich grains, plain yogurt and fresh fruit will replenish your vitamin and mineral stores.

Run listlessness out of town

To feel good in the spring, you need to load up on energy. Start first thing in the morning. Getting active early in the day helps eliminate anxiety and worries. Take the time to wake up. Reach out and stretch your arms, legs and back while inhaling deeply. Motions like these relieve your joints and make them more flexible. In so doing, you'll stimulate your blood flow, even before you get out of bed.

If you're someone who look on with horror and incredulity at early-morning joggers zip by, keep in mind that they're not entirely crazy: once you get moving, you too will feel energized and happy. But if hitting the jogging trail in the wee hours is really not your thing, a few morning exercises in your room with the window wide open will work wonders too.


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