Tuesday, September 21 , 2021

Sleep the winter away

People who aren’t a fan of winter, maybe need a holiday to Spain. It is a pleasant idea, leave the grey far behind and spend the winter months in the sun (translated to Dutch: Overwinteren). Animals seem to have the right idea: hibernate. 

Response to cold weather 

Finding enough food in winter can be difficult. There is not much food. Some animals like for example hedgehogs, jumping mouse, squirrels, chipmunks, and lizards solve this problem by hibernating. Bears are the largest hibernators.  Depending on the species, days or weeks pass by without the animal waking to eat and drink. Some animals go into a deep sleep while others slow down but remain active. It is a response to cold weather. As the weather gets colder the animals can’t eat enough food to stay warm, that’s why they need a winter sleep. But there are also animals in hot climates who undergo a form of hibernation. This is called aestivation and works in a similar way and enables the animals to survive drought and extreme heat. 

Storing body fat 

What is happening? The animal’s body temperature drops, heart and breathing rates slow down so that it doesn’t cost a lot of energy during times of scarcity and stress. Before that the animals eating extra much food and storing it as body fat. They use extra fat as energy while sleeping. Every animal hibernates different. Squirrels can wake up every four days to eat a little food if it is available and visit the bathroom while black bears can sleep seven months with no water and food. Larger species like black bears eating a large amount of food and storing the energy in fat deposits. 

What about humans? 

Not everyone can pay for a holiday to Spain. So why don’t humans hibernate? No smartphones, notebook 17 inches (translated to Dutch: laptoptas 17 inch), Netflix or even a wine cooler (translated to Dutch: wijnkoelkast) for a while. It seems like a good idea, doesn’t it? But we don’t need to. Our technology and biology keep us comfortable all year round. However, scientists are working on researching the potential benefits for humans. For example, Nasa is reducing astronauts’ body temperature on the way to mars to induce “hypothermic states”. 

The ability to hibernate would be useful for people, for example to saving the lives of seriously injured or ill people by temporarily putting them in a state of hibernation until treatment can be given. A real hibernation is still far away for people. Until then, we have to do it whit hot chocolate during the winter months. 

 

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