Groundhog behavior offers insight on restorative Z’s for busy humans.
For many years, Groundhog Day was my favorite day. Perhaps, most obviously, it was the only holiday I knew of that included an animal in its name. Each February, I excitedly tuned into the morning news to see Punxsutawney Phil predict whether I should pack away my snow boots or not.
As an adult, the day took on new meaning. The film Groundhog Day hit theaters when I entered the so-called workforce in earnest. Gone were the days of lazily sleeping in because I had no morning classes. Instead, when the alarm went off each morning, I headed off to earn a paycheck.
Fast-forward, and I’m busily engaged in my “second act,” reclaiming the dreams I abandoned early in life while simultaneously trying to make more space for relaxation. As exciting as this phase may be, change brings sneaky hitchhikers some nights, as worry and anxiety thwart my sleep.
Groundhogs to the rescue! Indeed, their sleepfullness can inspire restorative Z's for busy humans.
Tips for Dropping Into Deeper Sleep
Like bears and other hibernators, groundhogs enter a state of torpor, dramatically reducing their heart rate and body temperature, reminding us that in addition to rest, we need deep sleep.
It’s not news that lack of sleep can impair the ability to think, can affect mood, and increases fatigue. It can even change our facial appearance!
So, it’s crucial to get enough Vitamin D, have a regular bedtime, limit screen time, and stay off the caffeine at night. Further, scent can also play a role. Lavender, peppermint, and even your mate’s scent may improve your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Create Your Own Burrow
Rather than a single-chambered hole, groundhogs create multi-level burrows, with separate areas for sleeping, dumping waste, caring for their young, and for turning around! For comfort, they fill their sleeping space with grass.
During the day, we also need time for resting, whether it’s curling up with a soft blanket, good book, and hot tea—or lying on our yoga mat in shavasana.
Paradoxically, when we deliberately rest, we are more productive during the day. “Rest is not idleness. It is the key to a better life,” asserts Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. In his book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Pang—drawing on over 100 studies from neuroscientists and sleep experts as well as biographical sketches of famous creatives—reveals that resting helps us think, problem-solve, and innovate more effectively.
Let Mother Nature Help
As groundhogs move soil to make their abodes, it piles up outside the main entrance. During the summer, you’ll often find a critter lying on this soft dirt to soak up the sun—the ultimate source of vitamin D.
A study published in Nature and the Science of Sleep suggests that we need to soak in the daylight as well and decrease illumination in our homes at night. The authors recommend we “prioritize outdoor activities that will guarantee exposure to sunlight.” So, bring on the hiking and nature practices!
Don’t Ignore Your Shadow
German lore proclaims that six more winter weeks will ensue if a groundhog sees its shadow; thus, shadows are deemed bad.
On the contrary, Jungian psychology promises that shadow work is essential for healing. Our shadow contains the parts of ourselves that we hide, suppress, or deny because we experienced shame or disapproval. We believe these qualities or experiences to be unacceptable, and so we ignore them, push them away, or run from them.
Yet, our shadow does not remain hidden. Often unknowingly, we project it onto others. Our shadow wields incredible power, influencing the people we are drawn to (and those we reject), our own self-esteem, and our life decisions.
It takes a lot of energy to keep our shadow hidden, and the resulting worry and anxiety can be significant contributors to insomnia and sleep deficits. Shining a light on your shadow may be the most valuable thing you can do to improve sleep quality.
Get Rid of What Doesn’t Serve You
In Groundhog Day, weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) queries, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?”
When our days feel monotonous, it may signal that something needs to go. What really matters? As we age, there is often a sense of wanting to get rid of things that no longer serve us. At the same time, there might be a desire to reclaim what was abandoned in our youth, the dreams set aside in the pursuit of money, prestige, or family obligations. Or due to other people’s opinions.
For example, as a kid, I brought home little road-killed rodents in my lunch box to bury. Of course, my school did not offer a career path related to “I care about roadkill.” Yet, my second act has busted forth from that concern, as I’ve woken up to the seemingly endless problems facing animals all over the planet.
Accordingly, I’m no longer fond of exploiting critters, including Punxsutawney Phil. I hope that soon we will stop hauling the latest Phil around for media appearances, then keeping him the rest of the year in a room at the local library. (Upon close inspection, I’ve also begun to question perpetuating a legend upheld by the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, which consists only of men donned in tuxedos and top hats. While I appreciate traditions, I think we need to look carefully at how they might uphold sexism, classism, and speciesism.)
Is it time to let Phil go and rethink this outdated narrative? “We think that using a cyber shadow-detector is a great alternative to yanking a frightened groundhog out of a fake burrow every February and waving him around in front of a boisterous crowd as cameras flash in his eyes,” say the folks at PETA. “Groundhogs avoid human contact and spend their days digging and burrowing. In February, they should be midway through their winter hibernation, not dodging the paparazzi.”
While we might balk at the idea of a robot Phil, think about the popularity of Star Wars’ C-3PO, R2-D2, and BB-8. Consider the risk-averse B-9 from Lost in Space and the quirky WALL-E. Perhaps it’s time for a beloved weather droid named PHL-2.0?
Want more rest? Check out these Delightful and Bear-able Sabbath Practices.