Science & Technology
The Neuroscience of Summer Vacation
By Alyssa Garufi and Hannah Lee
Volume 2 Issue 7
June 13, 2022
Image provided by Manual Red Eye
As the school year comes to an end, most students begin to experience improved moods and excitement for summer. Summer is a time of year in which students do not have to worry about school or tests; it is a break from the constant cycle of work during the school year, whether through a prolonged trip to another country or even just an escape to the local beach. Vacations lead to a change in a student’s life from the usual rhythms of school during the summer. This change in routine can limit an individual’s stress and anxiety and cause them to feel happier and more adventurous. There is no doubt that summer vacation imbues significant improvements in an individual's health; however, some research shows that it is not only the lack of school that causes these improvements, but the very science behind the summer season has shown to limit mental fatigue. The neuroscience of summer vacation starts with the increased prevalence of vitamin D. Vitamin D is an essential component of the human body that comes from the sun. It is good for the absorption of iron, proper function of the immune system, wound healing, and maintenance of cartilage, helping an individual sustain a healthy life. However, during the winter months, there is less sun exposure, resulting in a widespread vitamin D deficiency among individuals. There is a great correlation between vitamin D deficiency and mental illness, usually resulting in depression, chronic stress, and anxiety. It is the very vitamins themselves that come from the sun that makes summer as appealing as it is. Not only does the sun give you excess vitamin D, but so does exercise. The more physical activity you partake in, the more vitamin D your body produces, thus decreasing levels of stress and anxiety. The summer climate also plays an important role in this production of vitamin D, since increased temperatures mean there is a greater chance of an individual running around and partaking in physical activity outdoors, like swimming. The summer season has a strong correlation between increased levels of vitamin D in the body, and thus greater well-being. In addition to an increase in vitamin D during the summer days, there is also more time for physical activity. While many of us may instinctually want to rest and relax, it is incredibly important to ensure that we take some time for physical activity during the summer break as well, due to the numerous benefits it yields to our mental health. A recent meta-analysis of studies found that aerobic exercise prevents age-related deterioration in the hippocampus, which is the region of the brain that controls memory and learning. As we age, our hippocampus shrinks, thus decreasing our ability to remember and learn information. People who make time for aerobic exercises, such as running, hiking, or swimming, demonstrate a much slower rate of deterioration. This allows the hippocampus, and our memory and learning skills, to remain intact much longer than those who did not exercise. Making time for this sort of exercise is incredibly important in maintaining our brain health, and during the summer we have plenty of time to do so. The exercise required doesn’t have to be extreme, it could be anything from a bike ride to the store or a morning walk around your neighborhood. By increasing your physical activity during the summer break, you can easily improve your brain health and decrease the rate at which your hippocampus shrinks. Summer vacation also gives us the time to relax and take a break. As many scientists have already concluded, cell phone addictions are a prevalent problem in many people. We use our cell phones for nearly everything, and it is rare that we are found without our phones. Most of our population has a cell phone by the age of 12, and an even greater percentage has a phone by the age of 14. A 2015 study found that 63% of American university students had an evident cell phone addiction (Scheyer). Addictive behavior dysregulates the reward system of the brain. It leaves a lasting impact on both behavioral and emotional domains such as reward anticipation, judgements, and rational decision-making skills by altering the dopamine levels in the brain. An addiction to cell phones is correlated with loneliness, poor sleep, and chronic stress, which all lead to chronic inflammation in the brain. This increases the rate of neurodegeneration, decreases cognitive function, and causes issues such as chronic anxiety and depression. Vacation can allow us to disconnect from our cell phones, thus allowing us to recuperate from the stress induced by our always-connected lifestyle. Taking a break from our cell phones is incredibly important, as it will relieve the anxiety and stress that comes from always being on them. Breaking our constant connection to our cell phones during our summer vacation will allow us to relieve some of the depression and loneliness that results from our phones. This also helps us break our addiction to cell phones as well, allowing the effect on our behavioral and emotional domains to be lessened. Overall, summer break can help us in many ways. Increasing our levels of vitamin D intake, raising our levels of physical activity, and decreasing the amount of time spent on our cell phones will allow us to relax and limit our mental fatigue. This allows us to increase our brain health by decreasing the prevalence of mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. Scientific studies have found that taking a break such as summer results in decreases in the psychological measures of stress and depression, as well as improved brain health. However, while it is important for us to focus on improving our brain health, it is also important for us to focus on ourselves during this break. Ensure that you enjoy your time off so you can be refreshed and re-energized for the upcoming school year!