Why Are Seasons Important for Brain Health?

Did you know that when the seasons change, it may affect our cognition?

When the seasons change, you may notice changes in your mood. Spring may bring feelings of hope and renewal, and Fall may bring feelings of warmth and hominess, bringing up the need to feel warm and cozy. However, the seasons affect far more than our moods. Let’s dive into how seasons affect brain health and cognitive function.

Neuroplasticity and Changing Seasons

A study of over 3,000 older adults across multiple countries found that participants experienced an increase in cognitive function in the late Summer and early Autumn. Of course, this doesn’t simply have to do with the seasons, but with the lifestyle factors that come along with them. This could include hours of sunlight, hormonal changes, diet changes, temperature, sleep patterns, and more.

Interestingly, researchers have found variances in certain cognitive functions in relation to the seasons. One study found that participants had higher functionality of working memory during the Fall, but higher functionality of attention in the Summer. In the Winter, cognitive performance has been found to generally decrease.

Shifting Brain Volume

One potential reason for these changes in cognition is the size of our brains. Separate research has shown that brain size changes with the seasons and delved into the potential reasons why. The study found that much of the brain shrinks down during the Summer and grows larger during the Winter. This may be due to changes in atmospheric pressure, temperature, and oxygen levels. It seems that the brain needs to adjust in order to absorb all the oxygen necessary for high levels of functioning.

However, interestingly, one area of the brain, the cerebellum, does the opposite. It grows larger in the Summer and smaller in the Winter. The cerebellum is in charge of complex movements, balance, and fluidity. For example, you use it when playing sports, cleaning up your home, or driving a car. 

This phenomenon is a little harder to explain, but may be because of evolution and energy demands. Historically, food was scarcer in the Winter, so our organs may have needed to adjust by shrinking in order to require less energy. This theory makes sense since the cerebellum is the oldest area of our evolved brains.

What do we do with this information?

So, this is all pretty interesting, but why does it matter? It matters because knowing more about how our brains work allows us to take better care of our health and cognition! Some takeaways that we can take from this research are:


  1. Take a little extra care during the Winter and Spring. Most areas of our brains shrink during this time, and our moods may get slightly lower. It’s good to pay a little extra attention to our brain health. Make sure to get plenty of sleep, challenge your brain in healthy ways (like reading or doing cognitive exercises), eat a well-rounded diet, and get exercise. All of these activities contribute to a healthy brain.
  2. Get the right amount of sunlight all year round. While it isn’t healthy to overdo it, getting some vitamin D every day has positive effects on our brains. In general, spending time outdoors in the sun helps our bodies and brains regulate.
  3. Go easy on yourself if you notice subtle cognitive differences in different seasons. Know that this is normal! Just as the seasons change, your cognitive skills will change throughout the year as well.


Humans are part of the natural world, and it can be easy to forget this when we spend a lot of time indoors or interacting with technology. Just as nature goes through yearly changes, so do we! Taking time to understand how our brains are, in some ways syncing with the natural world can shed light on why we may experience cognitive changes throughout the year. 

Aly Castle

Aly is HappyNeuron Pro’s Content Specialist. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and loves utilizing her design background to share important cognitive information clearly and understandably.

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