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How to Hibernate: Reading to Slow Down, Rest, and Reset

Courtney Rodgers


Courtney has been reading and collecting books almost as long as she's been alive. She holds a B.A. in Theatre and Creative Writing. Courtney has been writing with Book Riot since 2019, and is a Bibliologist with TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations. She's currently brainstorming for her next creative project. You can follow her on Instagram.

The state of hibernation is meant to protect against the harsh weather conditions of winter and low food sources. Unlike the animal kingdom, people tend to try and get everything done in winter. New Year, NEW ME. It’s a ploy to make us spend money on expensive coffee and run ourselves ragged. It’s okay to just chill out for a while, to hibernate. New to the concept of human hibernation? Don’t worry, I’m here as your guide. I am a lifelong expert at snacking, napping, wearing comfy clothes, and cozy reads. Winter may be almost over, but there’s still time to burrow yourself in comfort for a while. Hibernation isn’t just for the birds.

Winter is inconveniently split between the old and new year, thus making hibernation smack dab in the middle of resolution season. Gross. Even if you do not set resolutions or goals for yourself in the New Year, you’re likely familiar with the reading goals prevalent on social media sites like Goodreads. It’s almost like a game — seeing which of your bookish friends can meet their goal first, or who reads the most books. The number you set for yourself, whether on Goodreads or on a scrap of paper, is meaningless. It’s easy to get caught in the competitive mindset. Skimming passages to finish a book you don’t like, to hit number 57, or rushing through a book you’d rather savor isn’t going to win you any awards. There are some books that demand languid reading — sticky prose with long words, endless paragraphs, and metaphors to untangle. I’d rather a deliciously slow book than 20 dizzying books that I’ll forget as soon as I read the last sentence. 

The harsh truth is that no one is going to care whether you read 20 books this year or 200. Americans read an average of 14 books per year. The median, representing the typical American reader, is four a year. Reading is a hobby. Yes, reading is also done for education and personal enrichment, but let’s think of it as a hobby in terms of number of books read. Generally, people don’t set goals for movies watched in a year, or number of cakes baked. Hikers might make a list of where they’d like to climb in the next year. A hobby photographer may have a goal of trying out new techniques. The number of books read in a year is not a necessary factor to enjoying the books you read in a year. 

As a new hibernator, I invite you to change your reading goal. Make amusement and pleasure your reading goal. Take notes, journal your thoughts, relax into your reading. Give yourself permission to quit a book if you don’t like it. Even if it’s a “literary masterpiece.” Bye-bye. Conserve your energy for something better and more rest-promoting.

Tempting as it may be, reading late into the night can lead to fatigue, oversleeping, and general irritability. What’s a bookworm to do? Switch things up by reading before bed, rather than staying up to read. We all know that better sleep helps us feel better, overall. Wintertime is the best to practice better sleep hygiene, because nature is doing half the work for us. 

a photo of a cozy reading nook with a cat

Once it’s dark outside, it’s time to wind down for the evening. Get cozy with a warm bath or shower, your favorite jammies, and get settled in bed. Turn off the TV and turn down the lights, and try to limit reading to about an hour before your bedtime. Save the big, epic reads and new books for weekend reading. On weekends, build your “den” for dozing and reading comics. If you don’t have anywhere to be, don’t go anywhere. You’re in hibernation, baby. Whatever it is, can wait until spring. Reading a 700 page fantasy novel, crocheting rectangles, and eating homemade scones? Don’t mind if I do. Sleep is the minimum requirement of rest. You deserve to relax, too. 

With spring just around the corner, hibernation is also a reset. When animals come out of hibernation, they slowly warm up, readjusting to their environment. Humans spring clean. I love the “Sunday reset” videos on TikTok where people wipe down their counters, refill their snack baskets, and prepare their house for the coming week. Toys get put away, dirty laundry gets washed, couch pillows get karate chopped. As aesthetically pleasing as all of that is, I want to reset the same way animals do. Slowly poking my head out, warming up in the sun, regaining my strength before being expected to rush around again. 

On sunny winter days, I’ll pull on my tennis shoes and grab my headphones and go for a long walk outside. If it’s windy, I’ll grab my blue hat. Walking and audiobook time has been a huge part of my daily routine for almost ten years. Winter walks are precious, especially on biting cold, gray days. It’s like a secret. No one else is out enjoying this miserable weather, but here I am, having an adventure.  As the days get longer, so do my walks. 

Resetting for spring is just a stretch, a little wiggle in the sun. Try reading a chapter with your morning coffee, or going for a quick walk during your lunch break. Running a marathon or reading 100 books in a month can come later. It takes time to come out of hibernation. 

Need some hibernation reading inspiration? Visit our winter archives, and try these science fiction and fantasy books perfect for a wintry read.