Spring fatigue is an old expression from when a long dark winter combined with lack of fresh fruit and vegetables led to a vitamin deficiency and lack of energy in spring time. It is not actually a medical diagnosis but it is a condition which is well known, especially today, amongst Norwegians.
I used to think that spring fatigue was a cultural myth to explain away irritability and tiredness but every year when spring comes around I experience symptoms of the spring fatigue syndrome. And you know what, I believe Norwegians are right about this yearly phenomenon.
Tiredness is one of the main signs of spring fatigue, especially for me. It is common over the dark season, even for Norwegians, to get insomnia. You’d think that in darkness your body would want to rest and sleep more, however, during this time of year your body gets disorientated because of the lack of light. I’ve discovered that it is the lack of light, not the darkness, that tells your body when to sleep. My body is programed, from after living in a place with a usual sunrise and sunset, to rest and then sleep a couple of hours after the sun goes down. It is an internal clock that sets my rest and sleeping patterns according to the sun. In Norway, especially in the North, the sun doesn’t come up for two months over winter so my internal clock gets thrown out of whack. I have to artificially make my body go into a resting then sleeping phase during the dark season – and I can tell you, it is very hard to do. The main battle is that the sunlight slowly slips away day-by-day lulling your body into confusion. If the sun just cut off straight away, like a light switch, it would be a lot easier to maintain a rigid sleeping schedule.
High and Low Activity
When the sun returns my body is thrown into a state of contradiction. It wants to run and jump and play one minute but when the warm light touches my skin I just want to coil up and go to sleep. Often when I’m playing outside in the snow with the family I have to take a quick cat-nap. When I close my eyes it feels like home – lying on an Australian beach, listening to the waves and feeling the sun on my eyelids – but in a thermal suit in the cold snow. That is the great thing about snow, you might need a bed or a couch to sleep on inside, but snow is one big fluffy mattress waiting for sleep to happen!
Warm and Cold Moments
It is strange that my body before needed lack-of-light to know when to sleep but now it wants to sleep all the time in the spring light. But maybe it isn’t the light that makes me want to sleep so much as the warmth. The last three months I have lived in complete coldness outside. In the coldness you have to jump and hop around to keep warm. Speak to a bunch of Norwegians standing outside and you will see them all giggle round like they have ants in their pants. It is the basics of Arctic survival – keep moving or die. Inside Norwegian homes are toasty over winter – perfect for snuggling up and going to sleep. Norwegians like to keep their bedrooms no warmer than 18 degrees celsius but that is actually warmer than the middle of summer in the North. In fact, a Norwegian likes their warmth to be warmer than what Australians like. Because of this, I think my body now associates warmness with sleeping time (whereas in Australia it was the coolness of nights). The light might draw me outside to play but the warmth just makes me want to curl up and snooze.
Energy and Vitamin D
Spring is the skinny time of year. During the winter season comfort food in a necessity. Warm, hearty food helps the body to retain nutrients. Longer digestion is needed to keep up energy levels. The return of the sun brings with it a new influx of fresh fruit and vegetables to the stores. Heavy, salty food is done away with and berries, exotic fruits and water-dense vegetables infiltrate the diet. This past dark season I have concentrated on a green-diet but I still feel a change in my body. It is because vitamin D is now being activated daily from the sun. Vitamin D, which is not found in fruit and vegetables, ensures enough calcium and phosphate are absorbed into the body. In fact, a symptom of vitamin D deficiency is fatigue and a lack of energy. This is why seafood, fatty fish and cod liver oil, which have a good amount of vitamin D, is a favoured food during the dark season in Norway. The change of diet takes time for the body to adjust and so energy levels can be unstable, hence, the up and down sluggish feeling during the spring.
Irritability and Lack of Concentration
Irritability is one of the complaints of spring fatigue, and so is lack of concentration. Lack of sleep is widely known to be the cause for both of these symptoms and Norwegians, especially in the North, have had three months of it. (Grizzly was invented by Norwegians.) However, I think that the combination of spring fatigue and waiting to reach the bank of holidays after an intense winter working period, is what culminates into unfocused activity. I find that there is a lot of talk about Easter holidays around work tables and coffee. Nearly everyone asks me where I plan to go for the break. It is always a better, more cheerful conversation than the next work project. The bank of holidays gives Norwegians a rest to look forward to, time to get over the winter blues and sicknesses, and to collect themselves to be back on track with future endeavors. No wonder Easter is considered one of the most important recreational holidays in Norway.
Kids certainly don’t escape spring fatigue. I find that my kids become hyper and cranky. They eat enormous amounts of food but can’t sit still long enough to eat all of it in one go. Because the sun is raising so early in the morning now, my kids get up at before 6am. They now go to bed within the light time (7pm) and they try to use the old favourite excuse ‘but the sun is still up’. Spring is the time when I notice my kids health is the lowest. They are skinnier than usual, even though I feed them as much (healthy food) as they want; they have dark circles under their eyes, even though I feed them plenty of iron and (try) to get them to sleep for 12 hours; and they get on each other’s nerves quicker even though I participant in more activities with them – Easter crafts, etc – to focus their attention on something else other than bickering.
Spring fatigue is here to stay but now that I actually believe in it and can see the effects, I can take measures to protect my family’s health and wellbeing. Food, exercise and sleep I’m sure are the things that can best help us to have a happier spring with limited fatigue. Norwegians know a lot about managing spring fatigue, however, they are still prone to the symptoms. I believe further investigation of the prevention and management on spring fatigue is needed. I am determined to more than just survive spring fatigue, I want to thrive through it.
This is one of the subjects we will be investigating more closely on our new blog topic Healthy Norway.