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Human… hibernation? My crazy, ridiculous idea about very very ancestral skills

 
Maieshe Ljin
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Apparently all mammals probably can hibernate, theoretically. That is, the mechanism is there, although in humans, it’s buried.

Here’s an article on it: https://www.ox.ac.uk/research/could-humans-hibernate-0

For the sake of resilience I find this very interesting. And if it were possible to facultatively hibernate as a human being, like a chipmunk, I think it might lead to radical and possibly quite positive changes to human existence.

People today are at a loss as to how to do so, but I’m not sure whether it is so much that there are no natural or self-induced pathways as that perhaps they’re forgotten through millions of years of tropical habituation followed by the use of fire. There are stories of meditators who enter into states of torpor similar to that of hibernation, although I suspect that extreme mental ability might not be necessary. In a way, I’m suggesting it could be a habit that it’s possible to forget or learn again, and maybe once entered initially, it becomes easier.

Article on mechanisms of torpor. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2788021/

How would this be attempted? I’m guessing to set aside a few days, begin initially fasting for a couple, and then one evening, curling up, going to sleep, and simply staying there while awake with a feeling of nothing to eat, nothing to do, nowhere to go but here. Like any habit, it would take some effort initially to stay still. My imagination is that it is a deep non-sleep rest, as the science contrasts torpor definitively against sleep. Animals in hibernation actually warm up periodically in order to enter into states of sleep. I entered into a state of waking rest today and noticed that occasionally I would stop breathing for some moments, then resume slower, quickening again. Then breath would stop for a slightly longer time, and the process would start over again. I didn’t notice a change in heart rate though. I also notice that in such periods of waking rest, the body temperature does seem to lower slightly. Certainly not enough to constitute hibernation though! Maybe some day I’ll have a few days to experiment more deeply.  

Perhaps this could work to treat obesity. Woodchucks regularly become obese in autumn so as to have the energy to regulate their body temperature during hibernation. But there may also be a time when food is scarce and humans in temperate climates have to consciously conserve energy. Our species is still expanding exponentially, both in population and per capita energy use, and has been since its incipience, but this can’t last forever. We are destroying what sustains us, and some day will face the consequences and need to adapt and evolve into something new. I also have hopes and suspicions that a hibernating humanity could be wiser, kinder, healthier, and more egalitarian.
 
Ezra Beaton
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Societally this looks to most like a lazy person, but adjacent to the biological idea of hibernation is the idea that it's okay to just survive for the winter. Eat, stay warm, and do nothing else.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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If one could hibernate, the challenge is where would one do this. Without being disturbed, or becoming an easy snack for non-hibernating creatures.

Bears manage this in dens, and generally nobody with any sense messes with them.

Squirrels do this in short bursts, conserving energy in the cold and emerging to forage.

I really don't know how humans, with their big-brain energy requirements, could manage this on an individual basis. Those of us who live in environments with massive changes in light, temperature and food availability have kept the lights on through all seasons.
 
Ned Harr
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I believe various space programs and adjacent tentacles of research endeavor have been scratching at this puzzle for quite some time, but running into problem after problem.

As an outsider with no solid understanding of that research, it seems to me there are two kinds of obstacles: 1) inducing and reviving from torpor, and 2) preventing catastrophic side effects like atrophy and bed sores. (Not sure if psychological side effects belong more in the first or second category.)

It certainly doesn't appeal to me, and I say that as someone who's been experiencing terrible insomnia all week!
 
James Bridger
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A couple things....
1. Most "hibernating" animals aren't actually hibernating. True hibernation involves a huge slow down of metabolism, with stuff like 1 breath a minute, 4 hearbeats a minute, lower body temp, etc. Most animals that "hibernate" are really just taking a long nap. Bears are taking a nap, Groundhogs and frogs hibernate.

2. The most practical issue I see is that while a wild animal can just curl up in a ball in a hole in the ground, humans can't really do that. We have other responsibilities like bills, houses to take care of, livestock/pets, etc. That, I think, is the biggest hurdle...finding a way to do it that doesn't shift burden onto others. Even in space travel movies, there is someone (ground control, robots/computers, etc) is monitoring and taking care of other stuff.
 
Maieshe Ljin
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Thank you for your responses. It is true that people have always kept their fires burning during this time of year, whatever their climate. I’m speculating that perhaps rather than as a result of adaptation, it may be a result of abundant energy resources and ancient mental and physiological habits inherited from the tropics. And James, as to paying bills, taking care of livestock, etc., I don’t imagine this would appeal to someone unless they had a very different lifestyle with different responsibilities. Thank you for also bringing up the difference between different animal dormancies. I was using “hibernation” in a loose sense, that of “torpor”, and emerging every few days. Humans probably haven’t used torpid states since long before we were human, so any state of torpor would likely be relatively shallow.

I can imagine that anyone who is thinking of torpor as a habit would have to be far out on the margins of society, unable to practically procure the necessities of food, energy, society, etc. during the winter (or summer, in the cases of aestivation) months.
 
Maieshe Ljin
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And if anyone (aside from yogi(ni)s) has actually tried to go into states of torpor, then I haven’t heard of it. An internet search I did only came up so far with artificially inducing torpor in rats and mice.
 
r ranson
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In farming societies,  we used to have something like this during the hunger gap each spring.

Fields are planted, there is nothing much to do but wait for the lambing and almost zero food left from winter.  Very little food to forage. Not even the hens are laying.  

A lot of cultures dealt with this by fasting for 4 to 6 weeks.  In Europe,  this evolved into Lent.  A time of low consumption and low energy expenditure.

Before farming,  most humans travelled with the food so there wasn't much predictable lean time for a scheduled fast or hibernation ritual.   Less food meant energy expenditure.

 
K Kaba
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I used to joke that I hibernate. I'd put on a chunk of weight (20 to 40 lbs or more!) every fall, and it'd leave every spring without me doing anything intentional about it. I slept a lot more in winter if I had the option, especially on days that weren't sunny.

I'm guessing in my case it was tied to low vitamin d and insulin resistance. My "hibernation" pattern went away maybe five or six years ago when I started working on both issues, other than a couple groggy weeks around early December.
 
John F Dean
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Of course, I wouldn’t have to worry about putting on extra weight first.  

Douglas raised a good point.  Sleeping, even a light sleep, for an extended period of time involves a certain degree of assumed safety.  I am thinking of two legged predators.
 
Bethany Brown
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Ezra Beaton wrote:Societally this looks to most like a lazy person, but adjacent to the biological idea of hibernation is the idea that it's okay to just survive for the winter. Eat, stay warm, and do nothing else.


I love this
 
Anne Miller
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This topic reminds me of the classic short story by Washington Irving.

Rip Van Winkle falls asleep and when he awakes 20 years later to a very changed world.

To me, I feel today's society is much too busy to take time out of their lives to fall asleep and miss everything that is going on.

Maybe folks who live in places where it stays dark most of the winter.

I understand that somewhere between the North Pole and Norway is where it is the darkest.

Thanks for sharing the thoughts, everyone.
 
Jeff Lindsey
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I have read several sources that medieval northern European people slept as much as 14 hours a day in the winter months. If true, that's about double the modern average, I think.

They would have definitely saved on all sorts of energy consumption, and maybe it had great health benefits.

Start there and work up. If you can do 14 hours a day, surely you can train up 14.5.  Maybe you'll eventually be hibernating.

Sweet dreams!
 
Riona Abhainn
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I must be in good touch with my northwestern European ancestors, because I can sleep perpetually other than eating and going to the toilet.  I need more sleep than most people because my brain works and processes differently.  I need at least nine hours a night though I can take much more.  If I go more than 2 nights with less than nine hours of sleep I start falling asleep in the wrong places at the wrong times if I have to sit still.  This has caused issues for me basically my whole life and made me wonder what's :wrong" re. my sleep?  I got tested, I don't have sleepapnia.  I'm finally in a life situation in which I can get the amount of sleep I need and I'm incredibly thankful for that.  

But, no matter how many hours of sleep I get I never wake up feeling rested, it just doesn't happen to me.  Its problematic, but I like thinking its some sort of weird throwback adaptation, so thank you for making me feel empowered
 
Donn Cave
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Our Neanderthal cousins probably passed the winter in some degree of torpor.  And look what happened to them.  You want some friends who can look out for you while you're passed out.
 
Andy Ze
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If the hibernation doesn't extend your lifespan, then I wouldn't be interested. Don't want to spend my life napping!
 
Riona Abhainn
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I do wish I could get by with less sleep, that would make me happy, but it is what it is and I just do my best.
 
Jane Mulberry
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It's an interesting concept! I don't think we're designed to truly hibernate, but we probably are designed to get a lot more sleep than most of us do, especially in winter.

Traditionally, I understand that people able to set their own schedules would probably stay up for only a few hours after dark in winter and not get up until daylight, so would get about 12 hours rest in bed. In summer, getting up at first light to garden and do farm chores before it got too hot meant a more biphasic sleep pattern with a long afternoon nap at the hottest part of the day making up for reduced sleep at night. Different cultures would have different sleep patterns based on their climate and needs, but people generally got more sleep than modern western society tends to consider "normal".

 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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I don't know if it's possible.
If I were in that situation, I would not go 'hibernating' in some sort of 'den' in a snowy freezing climate. I would do like many birds: travel to a warmer climate, to live there during the 'winter' (which doesn't feel like winter there). And then return in the cooler climate in Spring!
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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One thing to support my vision ...  
I know about pre-historic (mesolithic, neolithic) people in Europe: they traveled much more than we can imagine. There's proof of bodies found in Northern Europe (buried there with grave gifts) of people who came from a much more Southern region and must have been traveling back and forth several times.
I'm not an archaeologist, but I read some scientific articles about this.
 
Michael Helmersson
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This topic crosses my mind every winter, lately. I realized that 90% of the energy I expend in winter is for the purpose of surviving winter. I shovel snow for access to firewood stashes, I shovel paths for access to town (to get food to fuel my work). and I acquire more firewood for the following winter. It occurred to me that it would make more sense for us to have a tiny earth-bermed winter home with minimal heating requirements and to say goodnight to the outside world for a few months. Without serious physical activity, we'd need far fewer calories, which could be had from stored/preserved food that we harvest. We could disassemble our yurt in the fall and have everything stowed away safely until we emerge in the spring.  

I think a lot of my inspiration for this line of thinking is this guy's video:

 
Wendy Webb
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It's a fascinating subject. For years I have recognized that my body wants to follow the seasons here in Canada. Rhythms that, for the most part, work in conflict with society's ideas of "normal" behavior... by nature my sleep patterns want to follow the sun/light; sleeping until the sun rises,  waking when it does. As someone else mentioned,  work and other responsibilities are often in conflict with this. I struggled to wake in winter to go to my "9 to 5" job and had little energy left after work, because it was dark when I got home. In spring and summer I was up at dawn doing various chores to fill in the time until I went to work, and continued after work where I left off. For the past year, that has all changed because I no longer have a "job", and I'm finally free to follow my own internal schedule.  And yep, all this past winter I woke late, when the sun did,  and slept early, and as spring has approached I'm up earlier each day and working on projects all day long until at least suppertime or later. The other thing I've noticed is that, through the warm weather, my focus has always been on outside activities and come fall I start losing interest in these and my mind is automatically turning toward reading articles on long term storage, etc. I get restless in the fall if I don't have at least 6 months food tucked away in my storage and freezers and yet, I don't worry about this much through the summer.
I know what I'm describing isn't unique and applies to many of you as well, especially in terms of seasonal activities.  My point is... I think many of us are still following the inborn instinct and inherited pattern of behavior of our predecessors. It is only the modern scheduling of societal rules laid on top that creates conflict with this.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Perhaps it is our interconnectedness that gets in the way. The need to work to get a salary.
I am not sure I would like the state of torpor or hibernation. When a person is seriously wounded, doctors can put him or her in a medically induced coma.
This, however, must be done under supervision, presupposing that someone has to stay awake to assist the sleeper...
After a serious accident, I was unable to move for a long time. Worse, they could not put a cast on my leg and every movement caused excruciating pain. I was given a self dosing of morphine, which made this bearable. This lasted from June 6th to July 4th.
I almost lost a leg. It had to be debrided every other day and scheduling meals around these operations became a serious concern. I lost a tremendous amount of weight at a time when I wasn't particularly fat [I have regained my healthy appetite since then, unfortunately].
The inability to move had another consequence: Constipation. After 4 days, I tried for over 20 minutes to pass... something. A very sweet nurse I will never forget ended up relieving me... manually. I remember being quite apprehensive when I noticed that she had long fingernails. Even gloved, it took over an hour to get relief. After that, they gave me some medication to assist. Since I wasn't eating much [I had lost all appetite due to the trauma and the scheduling of multiple surgeries] that didn't help my weight. [No meals and little water for 6 hours before and 6 hours after] That was the only time when I weighed less than 110 Lbs. The only way to weigh me was to weigh the entire bed with me in it and subtract what they knew to be the weight of the bedding. They came in and were quite worried as we got into July.
On July 4th, Independence Day, I finally got a cast... and then, the Doctor wanted me to stand up just to get in a wheelchair. Yeah! right! When pigs fly! is what I thought. I had lost so much muscle that I could not stand up on my own. 2 strong nurses assisted me to get in the wheelchair. The three of us where huffing and puffing when I sat down in the wheelchair.
This is the closest that I came to hibernation. Even with the morphine drip, and try as I did, it wasn't hibernation; more like forced rest, but it helped me to see why we do not hibernate, even if some folks can, with a lot of training, get into a trance that could pass for prolonged torpor/hibernation.
Meals and meal preparation are another problem: Bears are capable of putting on a lot of extra weight to spend the winter in their den, and they burn it off while sleeping, apparently without losing muscle mass, but we do. I don't know what they do for pooping, which is also a problem of horses [another mammal] who will have serious digestive issues if they stay laying down too much.
I'm not sure we should wish to be able to hibernate, although it would be great to be able to spend a really restful night, every night, at will! Maybe that is what we should wish for. I know I would fare much better if I didn't wake up around 4:30 every morning, summer or winter [and sometimes, I just can't fall asleep until 1 or 2 am]. Self hypnosis helps, sometimes...
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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I found this interesting article in Quora on sleep. As it turns out, the sleeping habits we have now have more to do with the industrial age work scheduling than the sleep pattern requested by our bodies:
https://www.quora.com/How-many-hours-did-medieval-people-sleep
It does make sense to me that the 2 phase sleep, which is recorded in several European languages may have been the norm: Go to sleep at dusk, then wake up in the middle of the night, have a snack, visit etc. then go back to sleep again. I rarely sleep the whole night through.
On the other hand, my husband naps for an hour or so after lunch every day without fail. I just can't sleep during the day, but that's me.
TV, radio, lights, cell phones, the Internet do tend to keep us up at any and all hours. Before we had those, we probably had more restful sleep, whether it was in one block of darkness or two.
 
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