The Only Way To Get Through Winter? Enter Your Hibernation Era

Photographed by Erika Long.
I’m a sleepy, pale girl whose body runs hot and skin burns with ease in the sun, which means I love the winter, but it’s apparent that I’m not in the majority. Winter is often described as long, hard, cold, and dark, which doesn’t exactly make the season all that popular. But in my humble, winter-loving opinion, the cold weather haters are getting — and, more importantly, doing — winter all wrong.
If we want to actually like the winter, we can’t carry on with the go-go-go attitude of our warm weather lives by filling up the gloomy weeks with plans and activities and parties and adventures. That’s not what this season is for, and we need to stop trying to make summer happen. The winter is for hibernating, resting, homemaking, napping, and taking it slow. I know — sounds totally unpleasant and uncool and uninspiring. And I get it. As an extrovert myself, I’m a pretty social person — I love going out and meeting new people and trying new things. But it’s not that we can’t do all of those things, it’s just that we need to pare it back a bit and prioritise the slowness that comes with winter instead of fighting against it.
Killy Winz, 25, had a similar epiphany during winter and posted about it on TikTok. “I used to have this perspective that in order to not feel sad or feel down about winter, I had to do everything. I would put so much pressure on myself to have plans every night of the week,” she tells Refinery29. “After the epiphany, I just kind of realised that's the opposite of how we should be thinking. We should be thinking about getting rest and recovery and staying in as much as we can.” Her video currently has almost 300,000 views, meaning that the people might be ready to rid themselves of the winter slander and enter their hibernation era — and I’m definitely here for it.
It’s not totally off base for us to feel like we need more rest and a slower pace of life during the winter — even science seems to agree. A recent survey found that 34% percent of adults report sleeping more in winter, and a study published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience last February found that most people experience prolonged REM sleep duration in the winter months vs. the warmer months. Here in Australia, a study by Frontiers in Neuroscience similarly shows that Australians get more REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in the winter.
I'm not a scientist, but I do know that the sun affects us big time — it controls our vitamin D levels and our circadian rhythm, and less sun ups our melatonin production. Because we get less sunshine in the winter, we may feel more inclined to snooze earlier and longer.
We’re not telling you to bed rot your life away, but rather embrace winter in all its restorative, freezing glory. I still make plans and get out of my apartment and do things, I’m just not doing as many things as I would if the temperature outside were warmer.
“One of the reasons we find winter so painful is because we expect to live exactly the same all year round, and that means that when our bodies are asking us to slow down, we keep trying to push on through,” Katherine May, author of Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat During Difficult Times, tells Refinery29. “We need more sleep in winter, but we carry on following the same patterns all year round and feel exhausted. It’s actually a blessing to have a season when we’re yearning to do less — we get the chance to retreat a little, to reflect on the year behind us, to restore our energies, and to dream about the next phase in our lives.”
It’s important to remember that the winter blues are real, and winter can affect some people more seriously than others. Around 5% of American adults experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is a form of depression, according to Cleveland Clinic. Similarly here in Australia, Professor Greg Murray, the director of Swinburne University's Centre for Mental Health, stated in 2020 to the ABC that he believes "about one in 300 Australians" are effected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. “A lot of times, people don't recognise how powerful and how much of an influence the change in seasons can have on us,” says Michele Leno, a licensed psychologist.
For those who experience SAD, it might not be as easy to want to fully embrace winter, but intentionally slowing down can be beneficial for us all. “We live in a society that's always telling us to do more, and I think that that can get really exhausting,” Winz says. “When you just give yourself permission to do less, I think that has a positive effect on your mental health in the winter.”
“Making the most of the winter season, from a psychological standpoint, involves embracing the unique opportunities and challenges that come with this time of year,” agrees Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a clinical psychologist. She advises us to embrace hygge, a Danish concept that describes a state of cozy being (the Scottish also have a similar concept they call coorie). “Create a warm and inviting environment in your home by lighting candles, enjoying hot beverages, snuggling up with blankets, and engaging in activities that promote relaxation and well-being,” she says.
It’s easier said than done to slow down, but winter is unavoidable — at least, for now. If you need any inspo, I’ll be spending the rest of the season getting into bed early, saying no more often, and leaning into my newfound, casual hobby of needlepointing. Chilling out is easier than you think — all you have to do is start.
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