Autumn On The Brain

September 22nd was the official first day of fall. The mornings are brisk, the leaves are changing colour, and sweaters are becoming a common sight on campus. Our environment isn’t the only thing that transitions with the seasons – the change in temperature causes a change in our bodies, too. What kind of effects does fall have on the human body?

From season to season, our eyes perceive colour differently. According to a study done by researchers at York University, humans perceive the colour yellow differently depending on the season. In this study, 67 men and women were exposed to a colour-changing light to perceive what they believe to be the most “unique yellow”, that is, a pure yellow without any traces of green or orange. They performed this task once in June, and once again in January. Researchers found that there is in fact a difference in the way we perceive the exact same colour of yellow.

They suspect that this may be because of how the environment changes throughout the seasons. In the summer, lots of plants are thriving and many colours surround us. During our cold, northern winters there are not as many colours naturally occurring in the environment – white snow covers almost everything we see, the trees have lost their leaves and remain with just their bare brown branches, and the sky is often overcast with grey clouds. Because of the lack of colour in the winter, humans see changes in how particular colours appear.

Our diets also change in the fall and winter months. In the summer, light dishes that include fresh vegetables and fruit tend to be most popular, but once the weather start to cool down, our bodies crave more nutrients for energy. This being said, humans tend to eat foods that are generally “heavier” in fall and winter months. Ira Ockene, a cardiologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, conducted a study observing that humans ingest eighty-six more calories a day on average in fall months compared to spring months. Our weight also tends to go up with this calorie increase, both due to increased calorie intake as well as the fact that the winter months have the lowest reported levels of physical activity throughout the year.
Daylight changes affect the human body as well. Because Thunder Bay is situated in Northern Ontario, these environmental light changes are more prevalent than in more southern communities. On the Winter Solstice (December 21st, the shortest day of the year), Thunder Bay only has approximately eight hours of daylight, with the sun rising at 8:46 a.m. and setting at 5:04 p.m. These light changes can have a profound effect on our energy levels, sleeping patterns, and mood. Our biological sleeping and waking clock, known as the circadian rhythm, is strongly impacted by change in daylight between seasons. The hormone that makes us tired and puts us to sleep, melatonin, is secreted when we perceive darkness. Less hours of sunlight during winter months can affect the secretion of melatonin, therefore making us feel perpetually tired.

Does the change in season really bum you out? You may be a part of the 2-6% of people that experience seasonal affective disorder. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is characterized by changes in mood, eating patterns, sleeping patterns, and energy levels with the change of seasons. It is most common to feel these changes in winter months, but sufferers can experience them with any change of season. Seasonal affective disorder can be treated like many other mental health disorders.

See the full article here: