We know that some birds and mammals hibernate, but what is not known is whether humans have ever had this ability. There is evidence that humans tend to sleep longer and move around less in winter, in response to the cold and the need to conserve energy.
A facinating article on the subject- The Biology of Hibernation: Can Humans Hibernate? -argues that it may be possible given the correct circumstances and training:
“While we don’t have the need to hibernate for protection against the elements as animals do, did we once have the biological mechanisms to regulate our metabolic activity and temperature for long periods of time? Do we still have those mechanisms—and just not use them? The closest most humans come to hibernation these days seems be through meditation, sleep, and starvation. All three states are characterized by many of the same things as hibernation—decreased metabolic activity, decreased oxygen consumption, muscle relaxation, and decreased hormone production.”
Of particular interest to me as a sleep disorder specialist is the fact that restricted oxygen intake is a factor in hibernation, given that sleep apnoea causes exactly this problem for sufferers. Could there be an increased hibernation reflex in sleep apnoea patients?
According to Wikipedia there are many research projects currently investigating how to achieve “induced hibernation” in humans for medical and other purposes:
“The ability for humans to hibernate would be useful for a number of reasons, such as saving the lives of seriously ill or injured people by temporarily putting them in a state of hibernation until treatment can be given (compare induced coma). In addition, hibernation would be useful for humans during various proposed plans for interstellar travel in the future. Similar to human hibernation, suspended animation deals with the slowing of life processes in general, by external means and without termination.”