I came across this story about a man who, it was claimed, hibernated every winter for 25 years. From 1913 to 1942, Arthur Gehrke of Watertown, Wisconsin went to bed in November and did not get up until the following April. He did not like cold weather. (Watertown Historical Society)
I don’t think Mr. Gehrke was actually hibernating. He was fortunate to have had a wife to feed him every day and to take care of his business. But it got me wondering, can humans hibernate? I mean, is it possible? I found this:
Could humans hibernate?, The Conversation, March 2016
It would be useful for space travel. A trip to Mars might take years.
As a neuroscientist, I am currently part of a team of experts organised by the European Space Agency to work out whether and how we might be able to put humans into a state of stasis. It’s still an open question but, at least in theory, we can’t exclude that it might be possible.
Hibernation or torpor is a state of reduced metabolism.
The chemical reactions in an organism’s body that keep it alive slow down. Heart rate, breathing and energy consumption all dramatically decrease and body temperature can also fall.
It’s not just over the winter that animals enter torpor. And it’s spontaneous, something we don’t yet understand.
Some animals, such as mice and hummingbirds, enter a state of torpor on a daily basis if they need to save energy.
This next bit was most surprising to me. Hibernation is actually a state of sleep deprivation! And animals have to come out of it to sleep!
Animal hibernators regularly come out of torpor for a period of hours or days but often spend that time asleep, before returning to hibernation. Similarly, animals emerging from daily torpor also usually enter a deep sleep.
It is that aspect of torpor, how to protect the brain, how to cycle between low-oxygen (torpor) and high oxygen (sleep), how to preserve memories while “in a state of almost complete neuronal depression,” that seems to be the biggest challenge. Lowering body temperature, heart rate, breathing, etc. we can do, in fact we are doing, with drugs. But how might that be damaging the brain?