Brumation is the reptile equivalent to hibernation. Animals hibernate to survive the winter Months, they sleep for long periods after building up sufficient body fat to 'feed' their body during their hibernation. The animal's heart rate will slow to as little as 5% and they will remain dormant the whole time.
Brumation differs from hibernation in that snakes do not actually sleep, they simply become less active. Snakes generally brumate during the winter Months when they are unable to eat, due to the lack of a heat source which is needed to aid digestion, however, they will need to drink water regularly during this time.
In the wild, brumation is triggered by cold weather and decreased sunlight. The snake is likely to eat more than usual leading up to brumation, and then brumate for anything up to 8 Months, but this is not a problem for the snake as they are able to survive without food for just as long.
Snakes in captivity do not usually need to brumate because they have a source of heat and light all year round, however, serious snake breeders adjust their snake's enclosures to encourage brumation for breeding purposes due to the fact that snakes generally start breeding in the spring, when they come out of brumation.
Personally, I do not brumate my own snakes as they are my pets and I enjoy petting them all year round. I will occasionally place one of my adult male snakes in with a couple of females, and leave them to it, and if nothing happens, that's fine, but if they do breed successfully, great, I can then take good care of the female until she lays her eggs, and then look forward to hatching day :)
If you decide to brumate your snakes, only do so if you believe that they are in very good health, allowing a poorly snake to enter brumation could possibly result in the snake dying during the period.
Most breeders do not keep their snakes in their normal enclosures during brumation, but instead prepare semi-large containers with locking lids for their snakes to stay in. If you decide to use such containers, you should place them somewhere cool and relatively dark, avoiding direct sunlight, or if you wish to keep them in their regular vivariums, try to simulate less daylight by covering their vivarium with a towel.
During brumation, the snake's enclosure should have at least 10cm (4inches) of substrate which will enable the snake to burrow, and their water bowl should be cleaned and refilled daily. The enclosure should be kept at a maximum temperature of 15°C (60°F.) The ideal temperature for brumation is 13°C (55°F.)
The first step to take is to start feeding your snake more often than usual, doing this for a few weeks will give your snake extra fat & nutrition, then completely stop feeding them for a further 3 weeks prior to brumation. During this time, your snake should pass all of their bodily waste. Completely removing all waste before brumation is vital for the snake's health, if you are not convinced your snake has done this, offer them bathes in lukewarm water as this often encourages bowl movements.
Once you are happy that your snake is fit & well and has passed all of their waste, you can place them in their brumation enclosure. You should then start lowering the temperature of the enclosure by a few degrees every day until the desired temperature is reached. Your snake can then be left to brumate for the next 8 weeks. Some snake breeders can get their snakes to successfully breed after only six weeks.
At the end of the 8 weeks you need to start raising the temperature of your snake's enclosure by a few degrees each day until the temperature returns back to where it was 8 weeks previous. Once this is done, you can return your snake to their original enclosure.
Male & female snakes coming out of brumation should remain in separate vivariums until they have eaten and shed their old skin, which could take up to a further 3 weeks, but as soon as they have performed their post-brumation shed they should be ready to mate.