When the rain starts to fall, your bed starts to call. And by springtime, it is certainly coming down, so it’s completely understandable if you’ve answered recently with a midday nap or a lazy Sunday morning. But why? We’ve all heard that April showers bring May flowers, but what is it about the gentle pitter-patter of a storm that causes drowsiness to bloom as well?
There seems to be little scientific evidence (or effort, frankly) linking stormy skies and sleepy eyes, but there’s no denying anecdotally that rain leads to sleep. It just makes sense. Let’s explore some potential reasons why:
1) The sound. What’s more comforting than the splashing drone of water falling from the sky? (Or conversely, more terrifying than a monstrous thunderstorm? More on that later.) Rainy days result in what’s known as “pink noise,” like white background noise that includes all the frequencies that humans can hear, but with lower volumes at higher frequencies. This has proved useful in decreasing brain activity, putting you in a trance-like state which aids sleep quality.
We also process rain as a non-threatening sound, which helps to calm us into slumber. For example, in a 2012 study at a hospital, alarms at low decibels, even as quiet as a whisper, tended to wake patients up with more regularity than traffic or helicopter sounds as loud as a shout. Traditionally, rain poses little threat and allows us to zone out. It can even help mask other disruptive sounds and stimuli that might typically jolt us awake.
2) The darkness. No, not of your soul, though that will come later! Obviously when it’s rainy and overcast, less sunlight peeks through to brighten our days. And with less sunlight comes more melatonin and less serotonin. Sunlight tells our bodies to quit secreting melatonin, which makes us sleepy at night. Without a sun to lift you out of bed, cloudy skies persuade you to savor just...five...ten…more…minutes…hours in the comfort of your bed. In contrast, sunlight encourages serotonin, which can help improve your mood. With no sunlight, you might understandably have a little less enthusiasm and passion for the day ahead.
3) The feels. Perhaps not as scientifically motivated, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the psychological effect a storm can have on you. Outside of seasonal affective disorder, or depression linked to a specific season which can vary from person to person, most people will be quick to point out their mood changes with the weather. A 2008 study found that higher temperatures can help lift one’s spirits, while wind or lack of sun can bring someone down even lower. Likewise, other research has shown a link between heavy rainfall and feelings of decreased satisfaction with life. All the more reason to never leave bed, right?
4) The smell? Yes, even the scent of a rainy day can help sedate you. When it’s dry out, plants secret oils which mix during rainfall with a chemical called geosemin in soil to create a “musky” smell, similarly to when you are gardening. And if you’re lucky(?) enough to see some a thunderstorm, lightning can interact with the air to create ozone, with an odor reminiscent of chlorine or bleach. These scents are often comforting in their earthy familiarity, further relaxing you into the most natural of human conditions: sleep.
So it’s very possible you’ll find yourself buried under blankets catching z’s while it rains cats and dogs. But do you truly sleep better when it rains? Surprisingly, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Research shows sunny days bring more restful nights. The reason is simple: storms are often unpredictable in their sonic accompaniment. Cracks of lightning, rattling windows, gusts of wind, and growling thunder are disruptive, all but determined to keep you from enjoying uninterrupted sleep.
But don’t let that keep you from trying! Because let’s face it: Rainy days are made for snoozing. Take advantage this April. When it rains, it snores.