Sleep Like a Groundhog Again and Again and Again!

Every February 2nd, the United States, Canada and Germany all celebrate Groundhog Day. Sometimes known as “Groundhog’S Day,” this odd little holiday is based on the idea that if a groundhog sees its shadow after coming out of its burrow on February 2nd, there will be six more weeks of winter. If it doesn’t, spring is on its way. Where did all this come from and how does any of it relate to sleep? Read on and learn all about Groundhog Day!

So What Is a Groundhog, Anyway?

Knowing the old tongue-twister “how much wood could a woodchuck chop if a woodchuck could chop wood” is half the answer, because really, a groundhog is a woodchuck. To get more scientific with it, a woodchuck is a species of “marmoset,” or rodent animal that’s like a small monkey. Groundhogs feast all summer to get plenty of stores of fat, then as soon as it gets cold, they dig a small burrow into the ground. When the groundhog gets into the burrow to sleep, their heart rates decrease until their body temperature is barely more than the temperature of the burrow itself. This allows them to hibernate all winter, and voila! They’re ready for Groundhog Day!

Groundhogs live in these burrows most of the year, so it’s easily their most comfortable place to make rest. No need to eat, because they’ve gorged so much that their body can live off the fat. If they see their shadows when they come out of the ground, they think it’s still winter and go back in, the legend goes. For this they’re celebrated as being nature’s meteorologist. Hey, when you really don’t care about your appearance, getting fat and sleeping all winter is not a bad deal. Especially if you’re praised for it afterwards!  

Here are five more fun facts about groundhogs you can use to impress family and friends!

Groundhogs are also called “whistle-pigs” or “land beavers”: Besides being woodchucks, groundhogs can also claim “whistle-pig” or “land beaver” as their nom de guerra. This is because of a high pitched whistling sound they make when they’re in danger. The whistle alerts the rest of their colony to get scarce. As for “woodchuck,” it actually comes from the Algonquin Native American name for the animal, which was “wuchak.” Yep, no wood or chucking involved. (Hopefully “land beaver” and “groundhog” are self-explanatory!)

Papa is a Rolling Stone: Male groundhogs tend to mate with two females each, so a groundhog family consisting of one male, two female mates, and litters from current and previous mating seasons. While baby groundhogs get along well with their siblings, the two mothers and their children are aggressive toward each other. They say that men are dogs, but you could probably call them groundhogs too!

Hey Hey, They’re Still Monkeys: Though they’re called groundhogs and are thus typically associated with land, groundhogs do climb trees. They can be found there foraging for food in summer months. If you’re ever in a place that’s known for its groundhogs, don’t forget to look up!

It’s Not Just for Eskimos Anymore: It’s been observed that groundhogs greet each other by touching their noses to the mouth of the other groundhog. The scientific name for this is “naso-oral contact,” and while it’s not quite rubbing noses, it does look a lot like how Eskimos kiss. Affectionate little critters, aren’t they?

They Grow Up So Fast: 65% of groundhogs born in mid-April leave the burrow after only three months or so to make their way in the world. The other 35% are females that will only stick around until their first birthday, about when their mother delivers another litter.

A Brief History of Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is actually rooted in the Christian festival of light known as Candlemas, which was celebrated throughout Europe on February 2nd. On this day, the clergy would distribute candles to provide warmth in the coming winter, which is the source of Groundhog Day’s winter-based origins. The size of the candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. In fact, an old Scottish couplet goes, “if Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”

Because there is a long tradition of using animals to explain things, the Germans took this holiday and expanded it, making the hedgehog their way of actually predicting the weather. When Germans settled in what is now Pennsylvania however, they discovered few hedgehogs around. Instead they adapted the myth to groundhogs, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The First Groundhog Day

On February 2, 1887, the first Groundhog Day was celebrated at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. This makes Groundhog Day an American holiday in the truest sense. That year, a newspaper editor and groundhog hunter declared that “Phil,” the weather predicting groundhog of Punxsutawney, was America’s official predictor of winter in the U.S. To this day, Pennsylvania has continued declaring how long winter would be through a line of “Phils,” but in the years since, other places have taken issue.

A Phil by Any Other Name (or Place)

If there’s one thing you can always say about Americans, it’s that we’re original. Not to be outdone by some dumb ‘chuck in Pennsylvania, here are nine other communities with their own answers to Punxsutawney Phil:

  1. “Woody” (Howell, Michigan)
  2. “Holtsville Hal” (Holtsville, New York)
  3. “Malverne Mel” (Malverne, New York)
  4. “Jimmy The Groundhog” (Sun Prairie, Wisconsin)
  5. “Sir Walter Wally” (Raleigh, North Carolina)
  6. “Chattanooga Chuck” (Chattanooga, Tennessee)
  7. “Dunkirk Dave” (Dunkirk, New York)
  8. “General Beauregard Lee” (Lilburn, Georgia)
  9. “Staten Island Chuck” (Staten Island, New York)

Each one is valued for their ability to see their shadow (or not) and correctly predict winter. As a result, each (and their offspring of the same name) is a local celebrity. And that’s nothing to whistle at!

Now About That Movie…

Of course, no examination of Groundhog Day would be complete without addressing the groundhog in the room, namely the movie that bears its name. Easily one of director Harold Ramis’s best, Groundhog Day immortalized Punxsutawney Phil with its story of a weatherman (Bill Murray), who absolutely can’t stand reporting on Phil year after year. As perhaps a “cosmic punishment” for being self-centered, he’s forced to relive Groundhog Day again and again, with no seeming way to escape it.

This year is Groundhog Day’s 25th anniversary, so to celebrate, we thought it might be fun to look at some of the more interesting interpretations of the film. Here are some of the best:

  •         That Bill Murray’s character is in the Mahayan Buddhist state of “sansara,” and cannot escape until he saves everybody.
  •         That the movie is a metaphor for psychoanalysis because Murray’s character repeats the same narcissistic patterns until he can break the cycle.
  •         That it’s a model for economic theory, because Murray’s character is able to gain easily at the end only when he has full knowledge. Since this could never occur in real life, the film supposedly illustrates that “full competitive equilibrium is a myth. (Yeah, we don’t get it either.)
  •         That it’s the ultimate self-help book. Or more specifically, that it’s The Magic of Groundhog Day, a real book by motivational speaker Paul Hannum, which shows you how to break negative repetitive patterns of behavior and move forward in your life.
  •         That Punxsutawney is actually Christian Purgatory (there is a blog posting that gives TEN reasons for this) because Bill Murray’s character is stuck there. Ironically, some also believe the film is a metaphor for Judaism, because Murray’s character’s good deeds beget more good, and (spoiler alert!) he can’t escape until the world is perfect, as in the Jewish tradition.

So What Does Any Of This Have To Do With Sleep?

In the final analysis, Groundhog Day is a holiday about whether we’ll have more or less winter in a given year. Since it’s been well-established that winter can make sleeping difficult, what Groundhog Day can tell us is how long we’ll have to struggle through sleepless nights. As humans, we obviously can’t sleep our whole winters away. What can we do about it? We can use every trick in the book to sleep as much like a groundhog as possible, and here are the most commonly used sleep hacks to promote better sleep!

  1.      Drink warm milk before you go to sleep – Warm milk helps the body produce melatonin, “the sleep hormone.” With just a glass of it, you can easily battle insomnia effects on the body and get your best sleep.
  2.      Wear a pair of socks to bed – studies have shown that by just warming up your feet you can actually sleep better in winter. As a result, sleeping with a pair of socks on, regardless of what else you wear (or don’t) can help you make like a groundhog too. Hospitals always give their patients free socks for this reason, because nothing naturally heals the body up like better sleep!
  3.      Take a shower before bedtime – groundhogs don’t have access to hot and cold running water, and basically sleep all winter. Humans don’t have that luxury, so we take advantage of what we do have, which is the ability to take a shower at any time of day. Science has taught us that given time to cool down afterward, warming the body also promotes better sleep. Beat that, whistle-pig!
  4.      Make sure that you have sleep better bedding – since winter is when groundhogs burrow into the ground, we humans need to create our own little burrows in the form of sleep better bedding. With the right combination of layering, pillows, and the best mattress, you’ll be snoozing away in no time!
  5.      Order an affordable premium mattress – Also unlike a groundhog, when you make your little burrow, you want to sleep on a cloud, not sleep on the ground. This is the reason why the trend these days is to have a sleep haven mattress like the one at The advantage of Lull’s online mattress is that you can order it on the web and it sets up quickly and easily. Like a groundhog’s burrow, a gel-infused memory foam mattress keeps your body at a comfortable temperature, ideal for getting the best sleep. If you’re a parent, it doesn’t matter how many of your own little groundhogs pile into bed with you – the responsive foam absorb movement so you’ll never be disturbed while hibernating.

So at the end of the day, the bottom line is this: sleep is so important that every year we dedicate a whole day to a little critter who can tell us how much easier it might get. If the groundhog sees its shadow, we know we’re in for the long haul. If he doesn’t, it will be a little bit easier as springtime approaches.

…at least until summer. Then we’ll have a whole new set of issues that no “land beaver” can help us with! Until then, sleep tight!