Can Humans Hibernate?


| 4 Comments
I was reading a post about bears hibernating and was curious about if humans had ever lived under circumstances where hibernation may be beneficial to survival. The depths of winter weren't always about christmas and snowball fights, they used to be a gruesome struggle for survival. Food was scarce, shelter was essential, and sickness claimed many. So why didn't humans just get fat and take a nap in a cave or hole somewhere?

hibernation.jpg
After some research I came across a 70 year old Indian Yogi, or practitioner of yoga, by the name Satyamurti who meditated in a small underground pit for 8 days. During these 8 days his heart rate became so low that it barely registered on recording instruments and his body temperature dropped from 37C to 34.8C matching the temperature of his surrounding environment. Drop in metabolism and decrease in body temperature are two very important parts of hibernation.

Another case of human "hibernation" occurred during winters of chronic famine among Russian peasants. It is recorded that at the first snowfall peasants would lie down by their stoves and go to sleep only waking up once a day to nibble of hard bread, that was baked in the fall, and have a sip of water. This routine would last the entire winter until spring would come and they could continue their routine labor. This hibernation was not only economical it was peaceful, removing all the stress and struggle of the winter and everyday life. It also shows that if necessary humans can train themselves to sleep for extended period of time in order to survive.

 There have also been many cases of people being either lost or stranded in frozen environments and surviving much longer than they might be able to in warmer climates. This was due to their hypothermia which protected them from severe brain damage, and nearly stopped their metabolisms. Drifting in and out of consciousness many have survived despite the odds stacked against them.

Why is this? Are these changes in lifestyle an adaptation for survival? If these circumstances continued for generations could humans develop a mechanism for hibernation similar to that of a bear, mole, or ground squirrel?

As of now it is assumed that humans can not hibernate, at least not for extended periods of time like other mammals, because the mechanisms for hibernation that we do have are not evolved to a point of making hibernation a plausible long term option.

 Is there a future in human hibernation? Under the worlds current conditions full of heated shelters and winter coats it is highly unlikely that we will ever find hibernation truly essential for survival. 

But could hibernation be something that is not completely involved with evolution? Could it be more closely related to Lamark's idea of an acquired skill that comes from a previous generation? In the case of the Russian peasants they became accustomed to a hibernation like lifestyle because it was considered a normal social behavior, something they didn't inherit but learned to accept from birth. 

What do you think; Darwin, Lamark, social interactionism, or a strange mix of more than one ideology?   


4 Comments

I think it is HIGHLY unlikely that humans would hibernate in the future. I think if anything, they would have already done it before technology increased as much as it did. In this day and age, though, technology is so advanced and only getting more advanced as time goes on. However, it's interesting to think about what today's world would be like if humans hibernated throughout the winter. We probably wouldn't have nearly as many processed foods because we wouldn't really need things to keep during the winter. Technology would probably not be nearly as advanced as it is now for two main reasons. One being each year would basically be cut by 25% or more, decreasing the time for technological increases to be made. The second one being there would be no real pressing need for a lot of heat. I bet our environment would be a lot cleaner too because we wouldn't burn nearly as many fossil fuels because we wouldn't need to be burning oil during the winter months to be heating our homes and our cars would be out of use for a portion of the year.

I think it is unlikely that humans will be able to hibernate like bears do, but there are a few theories to alternative and similar ways we could do this and use it to our advantage. In this article it is suggested that finding a way to have a human hibernation would assist us in furthering our journey into the final frontier: outer space. Since it takes an increasing long time to travel to different plants in our solar system and human do not have a long enough life span to survive it, hibernation may be a part of the answer. Although, humans in hibernation cannot live off their own body fat as bears can. In addition, cardiologists are still trying to understand how bears can have their heart rates so low during hibernation (if a human's was that low it would be seen as dangerous and abnormal). However, I think it is a notable possibly. We talked in class about the mysteries and appeal of space and possible life, what if finding a way so humans could hibernate and survive long space travels assisted us in finding out more information regarding these questions and mysteries?

Given that we are, in a sense, animals, I would say its definitely possible that hibernation could be a part of human behavior. Your question about how hibernation comes about got me to several sites that mentioned how warmer weather can disrupt the hibernation patterns of animals. That would then support the idea that these are learned behaviors from previous generations. I would wonder though if something can be done out of habit for such a long period of time that it eventually leaves some kind of imprint in the brain or affects that animal group's instincts. This article also reminded me of an episode of House where a guy found out he had bipolar disorder. For years he drank and partied so he would be up all night and then sleep in the day which were apparently the hours when his disorder most came out, but because he slept through it most of the time, it went undiagnosed. So it does seem that these behavior patterns can be developed in response to the environment in which you live.

Human hibernation is always something I've associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder. People affected by that condition tend to eat more, bulk up, not want to go outside, and want to sleep more. I've always thought that it would be interesting if humans could hibernate.
However, in the current time, I think that it is unlikely for us to actually go into some form of hibernation. If humans hibernated, specifically college students, would they be missing out on a whole multitude of stuff that could be beneficial to them? Is there a specific reason as to why we don't actually hibernate? Are we just meant to keep living from day-to-day with only breaks for naps or sleep? Hypothetically speaking, if people were frozen in cryogenic chambers, would they be considered to be in hibernation as well?

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