"I wish I could enter hibernation," is a very popular expression of mine during the winter months. The wall of bitterly cold air that hits my face as soon as I step outside and the endless dark oppressive days; wouldn't it be much better to just sleep through these like many animals do? I am telling you, they have figured it out.
What exactly is Hibernation? I am sure most of us know that it signifies a winter sleep that many mammals and other species of life enter during the coldest part of the year. But this deep sleep is a rather complicated process.
Hibernation essentially means a depression in the metabolic rate in animals. The biological processes in their body are slowed down, which means all the organs work slower. The body temperature is lowered, the breathing is slower and the heart rate as well. Usually the animals survive by using their body fat. The initiation of this process is apparently not just triggered by the environment, meaning it gets darker and colder, but the animals that can enter winter sleep have a particular compound in their body called Hibernation induction trigger.
Animals that hibernate include bats, some species of ground squirrels and other rodents, mouse lemurs, the European Hedgehog and other insectivores, monotremes and marsupials. Even some rattlesnakes, such as the Western Diamondback, are known to hibernate in caves every winter. Insects enter another state of dormancy called Diapause and some birds, which are not migrating birds utilize Torpor (or a temporary hibernation). It is commonly believed that bears hibernate as well, however that is not entirely correct. Bears do enter a certain degree of hibernation, however their body temperature drops only a few degrees and they can easily wake up from this so called "denning". Some hibernating animals, such as ground squirrels can lower their temperature all the way down to the freezing point, or similar to their environment. They appear cold to the touch, motionless and can not be woken; thus often when found in this state can be mistakenly assumed dead.
Interestingly, there are many research projects investigating currently a potential hibernation induced in humans. The benefits of mankind in being able to enter this state of dormancy would be beneficial, mainly when dealing with life threatening diseases or in the subject of space exploration, when large distances have to be covered.
However, I can think of many more exciting reasons to when winter sleep would appeal to me, such as surviving the long Scandinavian winter; saving money in doing so and even loosing some extra body fat as well.
Now, wouldn't that be something!