Even if you're doing everything right, it's just harder to concentrate during the winter
There are so many things we can do in the winter to make ourselves feel more energized: go for a brisk walk in the cool air, use the indoor time to do some early spring cleaning, or switch from decaf to regular coffee and blame the fact that otherwise we wouldn’t leave our warm beds.
But there’s good news for those of us who feel sluggish in the winter regardless. According to a study performed by researchers at the University of Liège in Belgium, the time of year definitely affects the way our brains work — namely, how our sustained attention and memory perform.
Researchers brought in 28 subjects who were young and healthy, and who kept normal sleep schedules before they began the study. For four and a half days, these participants underwent sleep-deprivation and recovery cycles in the research lab, while having no access to the time of day, contact with anyone outside the lab, and natural light. They were then given tasks related to sustained attention and memory to test their brain function. The same participants were then brought in many times over the course of a year and tested again.
And while most of the participants’ task-completion outcome didn’t change depending on the time of year, their brain activity did. When it came to sustained attention, brain activity was highest in the summer (go figure – when we are/were all off of school) and lowest in the winter, aka now. Brain activity related to memory was very different, interestingly – highest in the fall (perhaps because we’re used to school picking back up?), and lowest in the spring. Maybe we’re still all used to spending spring being ready for summer break to get here?
While the researchers were able to conclude that brain activity varies depending on the season, since the study was fairly limited, they were unable to pinpoint exactly why. So the moral of this story is: Don’t worry too much if you keep getting distracted from your adulting tasks by important things like snacks, naps, and Netflix, since it’s winter. Maybe our penchant for being less attentive this time of year is the real reason bears hibernate during it. We feel you, bears.