Science
The Art of Hibernation

During this mid-winter season, one filled with lots of snow and ice, I’m contemplating the art of hibernation. What I mean by that is I plan to spend as many hours as possible under a down comforter reading a book, and then drifting off and having one delicious day dream after another.

I think most people in our culture would be saner, nicer, and happier if they got more sleep—not only in the hibernating season, but all year round. In the category “most people” I’m including my two teenagers and my husband. They’re all bears when they don’t get enough down time.

I’m in the same category, too.  So I try to follow my grandmother’s advice to get plenty of beauty sleep. To clarify, she would define beauty in a different way than looking like a fashion model. In her world beauty is as beauty behaves. Exhaustion is never pretty, in any sense of the word.

There are clear health benefits of regular dream time. As a dream geek who believes the current trend of  culturally-endorsed sleep deprivation is the bane of wise decision-making, I was thrilled when Arianna Huffington spoke in her TEDwomen talk about literally sleeping your way to the top.

I know from personal experience that sleep is a creative juice booster.  In the winter it seems perfectly natural to take a cue from nature, and simply rest even more.

When I brag about my robust sleep schedule, sometimes friends ask me if I’ve got the winter blues, or they get prescriptive and tell me I need a dose of mood-altering chemicals. Sure, I’ve heard and read about seasonal affective disorder. (Just stringing the acronym together makes me depressed, so I won’t write it here.) I’m horrified to report that when I did a little googling about hibernation I ran across an article about “hibernation syndrome.” I reject this diagnosis for anyone, especially myself. I don’t feel defective. I’m taking my vitamin D and hiking the woods. (Saturday was sunny and brisk, perfect on the snowy state park trail.) It’s just when I get back from my outdoor jaunts or workouts at the gym to keep hypertension down and bone density up—I am health conscious—I want to curl up on my chaise with a cat on my feet.

Speaking of bears (see paragraph two), they’re famous for hibernating as long as 100 days. For some great information about what goes on during an American black bear winter, read the Secrets of Hibernation by Peter Tyson. On a side note, some biologists say bears don’t technically hibernate. Their body temps stay close to normal while they nap for months at a time. They may not move, eat, or poo, but for those who like to differentiate, bears go into a state of winter lethargy or practice winter denning. Whereas, smaller mammals go into true, blood-chilling hibernation.

What this sci-fi geek loves most about hibernation and winter denning is there is considerable research being done with the intention of applying similar metabolic changes to humans to help them cope with space travel.

Because there are physiological and psychological advantages to snoozing through multi-year-long trips, induced hibernation may be just the thing for future astronauts.

As long as I’m writing a novel that includes one person waking from a long cryogenic sleep, I claim by right of authorial research to liberally practice the fine art of hibernation.

1 Comments
Rebecca C

February 1, 2011 8:39 pm Reply

“culturally-endorsed sleep deprivation is the bane of wise decision-making”

Agreed 100x over. My dad only sleeps a few hours every night, working on one project or another until well after is probably safe (e.g. working with power tools when he can’t keep his eyes open). And he is retired!

On the other hand, my husband and I are very careful to get a full 8 hours sleep, occasionally as much as 12 hours (admittedly, we know it won’t last once we have kids :P). And we are the ones who our culture considers abnormal?

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