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I wish I could hibernate in winter – be more Dormouse?

When the days draw in and it is cold outside, my instinct is to fill up on fattening food and curl up and sleep more.

I have always wondered from an evolutionary point of view what our relationship is with hibernation or to be more precise torpor, the metabolic slowing down during winter that such animals like a dormouse partake in.

Basically is there a way I can justify eating cheese and chocolate and spending all day under a duvet?

Hibernation in most animals boils down to; avoiding the cold, sustaining energy when there is little resource and/or predator avoidance, say if a predator is more active at certain times of the year.

We have no need to avoid the cold with our warm houses and clothing. Nor do the large majority of us have reduced food resources.

Thankfully predator avoidance is also unnecessary.

And yet most of us notice our retreat inwards, to warm and to reflection.

Although technology, clothing and housing has advanced at great pace, our bodies are still slowly evolving. Less sunlight with the shorter days leads to a reduction in melatonin and disrupted sleeping patterns. This interestingly has led some to wake in the night believing they are suffering from a form of wintertime insomnia. However, as pointed out in At Day’s Close: a History of Nighttime by Roger Ekirch this would have been the norm for our ancestors who weren’t able to control the lighting in their environment. Leading to the suggestion that there would have been a first and second sleep with a wakeful time in-between where people would indulge in quiet meditative activities.

A study conducted by Wehr and colleagues imitating this winter sleeping pattern discovered that the subjects had increased release of prolactin in their blood. This is a hormone in high availability in breastfeeding mothers and leads to a feeling of contentment and calm. So far be it from an anxious waking time but more of a reflective waking during winter.

Our desire to fill up on fattening food to stave off the cold and lower resources here in the northern hemisphere is no longer necessary and yet the desire is still there back from our cave days.

Hence the manic desire to join gyms and get fit for the new year!!

I will suspect I will always feel the urge to get into the Hygge frame of mind during winter, that instinct to slow and move inwards. But I also want to use my winter reflectiveness to remember that as we slow we may become more sedentary. Given the nature of most human work time now spent at a computer it is useful to remember in wintertime, with that ever present urge to hibernate, that we must move to keep our bodies healthy and supple.

We can incorporate more movement in our winter day by: moving our workspace around; changing chairs; playing indoor games on the floor; using indoor spaces to “work out” but most importantly wrapping up and enjoying the winter in all its starkness and darkness. Pop a head lamp on and explore the outdoors in the dark.

And don’t forget if the body still becomes fixed and stiff and the aches and pains return, chiropractic can help. I am here, in my Stroud clinic ready to welcome you, to reset and restore your joints.

Rebecca Johnson McTimoney Chiropractor, BWY teacher, natural movement enthusiast and winter lover. December 2020