There’s a lot to love about summertime. No class! Shorts and tank tops! Casual patio parties! But beyond all of the obvious seasonal perks this season brings, there are actual biological and physical reasons why summer puts you in a good mood. We talked to Dr. David Neubauer, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, about the connection between summer and your good mood.
1. You can eat more fresh foods
While you can certainly get fresh foods year round, summer in particular seems to be teeming with fruit and veggie options. “There are lots of reasons to focus on a whole foods, plants-based diet,” says Neubauer. “There are positive effects on our bodies and brains, and on our thinking and feeling.” These effects include physical effects like good digestion and clear skin as well as harder-to-measure effects like mental clarity, alertness and energy. “There’s been a lot of speculation that a vegetarian diet can have effects on cognitive functioning and mood,” Neubauer says. “We need more research to prove that. In the meantime, eat as healthy as possible.”
When you’re shopping, skip the processed foods and support a local farm at your weekend farmer’s market. The fruit and veggies there will often be organic—and delicious! Some foods that are in season during the summer are carrots, cantaloupe, blackberries, and, of course, watermelon. When you eat well, you feel good; hence, a better mood. Need ideas? Check out our article about the best foods to eat this summer to keep you healthy.
2. You’re getting more sleep
Okay, so this one may not apply if you’re waking up super early for an internship or a job. However, in general, college students will get more sleep in the summer than they do in the school year. This has huge effects on your mood and happiness level, Neubauer says. “There’s tons of evidence coming out about the negative impact of not getting enough sleep or sleeping off and on at different times. Lack of sleep can lead to irritability and even depression,” he says.
For Johns Hopkins senior Vanessa, this is very much true. “During the school year, I probably get six hours of sleep per night. In the summer, it’s more like 10 hours,” she says. “I definitely feel better and more energetic during the summertime.”
Without a doubt, sleep keeps you happy and sane. But there’s a caveat: Neubauer says healthy sleep should be consistent, so you should aim to fall asleep and wake up around the same time each day for you to feel fully rested. Also, oversleeping can make you lethargic and groggy. Eight hours per night is a good bet for collegiettes.
3. You can get in more outdoor exercise
Working out in the winter can be a drag, especially when it requires leaving your cozy dorm room for the windy, snowy outdoors. Sure, jogging on a treadmill for an hour in your crowded rec center does the job, but it’s not nearly as fun (or scenic!) as running through the woods, in a park, or even down your street. Outdoor exercise, whether you’re swimming in a pool, kicking a ball around a field with friends, or going on walks, can make you happy purely because these things can be more fun outdoors.
But Neubauer links it back to sleep. “There is some evidence that lots of activity will help sleep,” he says. “It’s not a simple one-to-one relationship. A huge amount of exercise won’t [inherently] make you tired. But regular exercise has a positive effect on sleep.” Since sleep promotes general happiness, summer’s potential for outdoor exercise (but really, exercise of any kind) has a big effect on how you feel. “I personally just prefer working out outside,” says Hillary, a student at Boston College. “Because it’s more fun, I think I tend to work out longer, too, than if I stayed inside.”
4. The weather is nice and sunny
According to Neubauer, there’s research being done on the connection between sunlight and mood. “It is clear in cases where people are very depressed that strategic light exposure can have a direct therapeutic effect, especially those with seasonal affective disorder [a disorder where you become depressed in colder, darker months],” he says. “The principle is well-established. People… who are more down in the wintertime have more energy and their mood is up in the summer.” Basically, the brightness of summer can naturally enhance your mood and make you feel happier.
Want to really capitalize on this? If you’re feeling down, go outside if it’s sunny. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but people definitely are in tune to sunlight, and it can have an impact on your health. But be careful about sun exposure and sunscreen, Neubauer advises. You don’t need to burn or tan to get the positive benefits of the sun! Make sure you’re consistently applying sunscreen if you plan on being outside.
So if you feel a little more cheerful than normal in the summer, thank the season and enjoy the happiness of these months. School will be back before you know it!