Now, it can strike as a somewhat comical query, doesn't it? Like many of you, I, Caspian, had always associated hibernation with creatures like bears, squirrels and dormice, not humans. But then, each winter, as the festive cheer fades away and the cold drudgery takes over, I find myself wanting to curl up in a cosy den until the warm embrace of spring returns. In fact, this flurry of thoughts made me wonder, do we humans technically hibernate?
In this article, let's pay homage to our childlike curiosity and embark on a joyful, chortle-filled journey into science, biology, and more than a few dad jokes. Well, you're reading this, so you might as well stick around. It wouldn't be an adventure without a little absurdity, right? Waddle into the penguin's land with me and let's jump right into our icy investigation!
When we speak of hibernation, we imagine creatures tucked away in hidden retreats, sleeping their days away in a cosy, untouched calmness.But before we get carried away and start googling 'DIY human hibernation dens,’ let's get our facts straight about what hibernation actually is.
In scientific terms, hibernation is a state of inactivity and metabolic depression in endotherms. This means the body slows down its metabolic processes to conserve energy, resulting in a lower body temperature, slower breathing, and heart rate. This period of deep sleep allows animals to survive winter months when food is scarce, and temperatures are low. Unlike our snug sleep under a warm quilt, hibernation is survival at its most primal.
While hibernation is associated with intense, prolonged periods of inactivity, there are variations on the theme. Torpor, for example, is a short-term period of reduced metabolism which can last for a day or less. Aestivation is like summer hibernation, used by desert animals to beat the heat and drought by staying underground until conditions improve. Brumation is seen in reptiles, with reduced metabolic processes, but with occasional waking periods. Fun fact: even some birds enter torpor to survive cold nights. Who knew, right? So, zooming back to our main query- do humans hibernate?
Unfortunately, the short answer is no, we humans do not hibernate. While we might wish we could hunker down under a blanket and snooze until spring, our bodies just aren't built that way. As exciting, or perhaps, as dreadful as it sounds to cocoon away from the world for a while, we stand on the wrong end of evolution.
We humans, unlike true hibernators, cannot shut down to a state of minimal consciousness or slash our metabolic rate to such extreme lows. In simple words, we cannot survive the drastic drop in body temperature that hibernation entails. Also, unlike animals that hibernate and live off their fat stores, our vastly more complex brains demand a steady supply of glucose which cannot be stored in large quantities. So as much as I, or my kids, Oliver and Piper, love to laze around on winter days, the possibility remains strictly in the realm of fantasy.
So, if I can't just hibernate when the mercury plummets, can science provide a facsimile of this incredible survival strategy? Well, with the advancements in medical sciences, inducing a state similar to hibernation isn't as far-fetched. Enter the world of therapeutic hypothermia and suspended animation.
Therapeutic hypothermia or targeted temperature management is a medical treatment that lowers a patient's body temperature to help reduce the risk of ischemic injury. This is already used post cardiac arrest or brain injury. Similarly, suspended animation is a concept of slowing metabolic processes and reducing the need for oxygen. Though it's still at experimental stages, it opens a doorway towards the horizon of human adaptation and resilience against adverse conditions.
While we are still light-years away from sci-fi movies where humans hibernate during interstellar journeys, the fact that science is looking into our dormant potentials is fascinating. Apart from fantastical space travels, induced hibernation could be a potential lifesaver in critical medical situations, disaster management, or be the next leap in anti-ageing technology.
So, as we bundle up this winter and peek hopefully at our onesie wishing it could be our very own hibernation pod, let's cherish the fact that we can still enjoy the thrill of a snow fight, bask in the warmth of a hot chocolate, and appreciate the seasonal beauty of our world in all its icy magnificence.
Until then, let's keep this discussion alive around our dinner tables, just as I do with my young adventurers, Oliver and Piper, enlightening them and nurturing their curiosity. Who knows? The future might hold the key to human hibernation. The prospect of telling your annoying colleague that you'll see them in spring, as you turn in for your hibernation, doesn't sound terrible, does it now?