For many, the cold winter weather--with its endless, dreary days and forecasts of impending blizzards--is not the most uplifting, especially towards the end of winter, when we feel we should be seeing daffodils rather than snow. Concomitant with gloomy forecasts is a similar state of mind known as the "winter blues." Research says this mood change is not merely in our heads. In fact, numerous studies have documented the overall feeling of malaise, which has a name: seasonal affective disorder, or most appropriately SAD for short.
MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Tara Swart, neuroscientist, leadership coach, medical doctor and executive advisor, says that SAD is thought to be caused by the way our bodies respond to daylight. “Melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate our sleep, is released by the pineal gland in the brain into the bloodstream. Because this gland is activated by darkness, in shorter daylight hours in the winter, higher levels of melatonin are produced, causing lethargy and feelings of low energy.” Swart explains the production of serotonin--a hormone responsible for maintaining mood balance--can also decrease because of a lack of sunlight, which can lead to feelings of depression and negatively affecting our sleep and appetite.
Does winter weather affect productivity?
While the changing seasons can have a physical impact on our brain, to what extent is our cognitive function and performance level affected by the colder weather? Swart says opinions differ. While some studies show our brain activity is reduced in the colder months and can lead to sluggishness, other studies show that although brain activity is reduced, our performance levels remain the same--or that the brain is actually more efficient in the winter. Those who believe brain activity is reduced during the winter think shorter days may be the reason. Conversely, research has also shown that our attention span increases during the summer when days are longer