What Causes Spring Fever?

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: With the weather turning warm so early, I feel like I am coming down with spring fever. What causes spring fever?

When I first received this question, I thought I knew what was meant by the term, even though it is not an official diagnosis. Where I grew up, Spring Fever is the name for a temporary mood typically characterized by a state of low energy and weariness experienced by many people in springtime. I remember my grandfather gathering ginseng in the fall and drying it for the purpose of making a tea to help alleviate the symptoms of Spring Fever. However, as I began to research the subject, I learned that a more common usage of the term refers to an increase in energy, vitality and particularly sexual appetite, occurring at the end of winter, as the days begin to lengthen and the weather outside becomes warmer.

Since the same term appears to be used to describe two different syndromes, I will begin with what I knew to be Spring Fever. There is some indication that people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) are more susceptible to Spring Fever. These individuals actually may be experiencing symptoms of SAD at a time when they really want to be outside, but cannot find the motivation to do so.

In the northern hemisphere the symptoms usually arise from mid-March to mid-April, and depending on the person may be more or less pronounced. The most common symptoms include weariness (despite an adequate amount of sleep), sensitivity to changes in the weather, dizziness, irritability, headaches, aching joints, and of course a lack of motivation.

Since Spring Fever is not an actual diagnosis, the causes have not yet been fully resolved, but hormone balance is thought to possibly play a role. One theory suggests that over the winter, the body’s reserves of serotonin become depleted, allowing melatonin (sleep hormone) to work its effect. Thus you might feel the need to sleep at the time of the year you would expect to get up and go. Others have suggested that fluctuations in spring temperatures result in changes in blood pressure, resulting in tiredness.

For those who think of Spring Fever as a time of increased energy, vitality, and sexual appetite, this too seems to be more common among those who experience SAD. If that is the case, then what seems to be an elevated mood is probably the experience of coming out SAD, or leaving behind the winter blues.

It is my opinion that the jury is still out as exactly what Spring fever is, and as such it is difficult to accurately say what causes it.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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