There are so many great things about autumn that we wait all year for — the pumpkin-flavored drinks, the holidays spent with friends and family, and the fresh displays of boots that pop up in the windows of all your favorite stores. Basically, fall is the season of comfort food and shoe shopping. However, there is a lot more to it than good food and new fashion. The cold weather is creeping in and it brings changes in sunlight, lower temperatures, and sometimes a slight change in lifestyle. No matter how bulletproof you think you are, all of these changes could potentially have some tangible effects on your mind and body.
Everything in our bodies, from our sleep patterns to hormonal balance and mood swings, can be affected by autumn’s shorter days and longer nights — even our sex lives could be altered by the turning of the leaves (don’t worry, this change is one you’ll be very happy with). We all know that this is the time of year when we lose a bit of light during the day, especially after daylight savings rolls around. That can have some strange effects on us, like making us spend more time snoozing (but getting lower quality sleep) and making us more susceptible to anxiety or depression. But autumn has some positives about it as well, so don’t write it off just yet. Besides, if nothing else, there’s lots of pumpkin spice to be had that you don’t want to miss out on.
Here are five things autumn does to your body.
1. Your Memory Improves
Earlier this year, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a Belgian study showing how our brains work differently, depending on the season. The study’s lead author Dr. Gilles Vandewalle, a neuroscientist at the University of Liege, told the Huffington Post, “Mood and immunity are well known to change with seasons in humans and there are indications that several brain aspects could also be seasonal.”
The study found that, in the summer, the brain performs well with attention-centered tasks, but in the fall, it takes on a different kind of efficiency. Your memory actually becomes sharper, since the part of your brain that’s responsible for remembering things is firing off at a higher rate. You may even be able to concentrate better and be more productive overall.
2. You Sleep Way More Than Usual
Out of all the months, October is the one where people sleep the most, by an average of an extra 2.7 hours a night. At least, that’s what Harvard researchers have found. “When autumn kicks off, it’s normal for people to start hitting the snooze button more often than they did in the summer. It’s actually classifiable as a condition called hypersomnia, which is exactly the opposite of insomnia. With shorter days and longer nights, our circadian rhythm gets thrown out of whack, so our bodies need all the rest they can get.
Regardless of the added rest, the quality of this long slumber isn’t something to be excited about. Because our eyes are being hit with less ultraviolet rays during the day, our sleep patterns are disrupted for the worse. As a result, we may be sleeping for longer hours, but we wake up still feeling pretty sluggish in the morning.
3. Your Anxiety May Ramp Up
For anyone who struggles with anxiety, autumn can be a particularly trying time. Experts say that just about anyone can be affected by this particular seasonal change, because it comes with a whole lot of transition that makes you feel slightly out of control. For example, school is back in, the holidays are around the corner, and it’s time to change up your whole wardrobe. This can potentially throw off the way your neurological system functions.
Autumn anxiety can sometimes be interchangeable with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a depression or anxiety that occurs in colder months, partly due to the reduced sunlight we encounter. SAD can be bad enough to screw up your everyday life, so don’t hesitate to reach out to a doctor if you notice some significant changes in the way you’re feeling.
4. You Could Catch The Flu Or Other Illnesses
Just like your parents and teachers told you, the influenza virus comes out to play when the weather is cooler and dryer. As soon as the temperature drops, people start getting sick, and next thing you know, you and all of your friends are laid up in bed with a fever.
Another thing that might give you the sniffles is the change of allergens in the air, whether it’s mold or different kinds of pollen. It might sound like common sense, but so few of us actually practice this that it’s worth a reminder: wash your hands often every chance you get to keep the germs off.
5. You May Get Dehydrated
It sounds counterintuitive, but when the heat dies down, we actually run a higher risk of getting dehydrated. Confused? It actually makes a lot of sense — in the middle of the summer, we can’t help but constantly toss back water because we’re hot and sweaty and the sun is beating down on us. When the weather takes a turn for the cooler side, though, we forget to drink as much H2O and we start pounding back more dehydrating beverages like coffee and tea.
To prevent this from happening, make sure you’re sipping enough water during the day. Even set a few reminders on your phone for yourself if you have to. You don’t want to miss out on all the pumpkin pie because you’re busy nursing a bout of dehydration.