Did Humans Hibernate?

This was an interesting article, though it looks like more testing needs to be done on the idea. I sometimes joke that I wish people hibernated because I don’t want to have to bother with all the snow removal that has to be done in the northeast during winter.

When I started reading this, I wondered why hibernation would be possible for some humans but not for others such as Inuits who live in very harsh conditions for most of the year, but that was addressed eventually:

The answer, say Arsuaga and Bartsiokas, is that fatty fish and reindeer fat provide Inuit and Sami people with food during winter and so preclude the need for them to hibernate. In contrast, the area around the Sima site half a million years ago would not have provided anything like enough food. As they state: “The aridification of Iberia then could not have provided enough fat-rich food for the people of Sima during the harsh winter - making them resort to cave hibernation.”


Weird to think of animal’s bones being damaged by hibernation. I guess the lifespan was short enough not to make their existence unbearable.


Well I’m really glad that we no longer do that. Sounds incredibly terrible. Life is already so short. If you sleep just 8 hours a night, and love to be 90 that means you slept 30 full years away. Can’t imagine losing significantly more.

Yeah… it probably contributed to shorter lifespans even without a shortage of food.

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A pertinent question this year might be “Should humans hibernate?!” XD

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I read the article and did not (yet) buy it. The researchers had inspected bones and found marks that they interpreted as vitamin D deficiency, seasonal growth spurts/arrests, age structure that might be caused by hibernation-related mortality and some other signs they see as evidence of hibernation-related changes in bones.

An alternative interpretation could be seasonal food shortage during winter. The authors reject this because starvation would not cause vitamin D deficiency. This is a bit strange interpretation as living in a cold climate would mean that the humans would need proper clothing (skins) when moving outside the caves. Exposed skin might freeze in the ice age conditions, suggesting that the humans did not have much of their skin exposed when moving outside. If the humans did not get much vitamin D from food (possibly severe food shortage), this should lead to vitamin D deficiency even without hibernation.

The skeleton of some small mammals shrink during winter because of food shortage. I’m not an expert but assume that seasonal food shortage might cause degradation of bones also in humans, especially if the food shortage is severe. So, hibernation is not the only explanation for the signs found by the authors.

What I find probable is that the humans have slept more and moved outside less during cold winter conditions, even without hibernation.

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The damage from hibernation is one of the many reasons that we’ll never colonize deep space.

Since im not expert on this and i dont know much about biology can someone enlighten me how could we survive with no food after so many days of hard sleep? Thanks

Probably the same way animals do – by eating as much as they can and then slowing their breathing, heart, and metabolic rates to conserve energy.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003552120300832 is the original article (requires subscription access). True hibernation, where there is a major drop in metabolic level, seems extremely unlikely. Extensive winter sleeping, like many bears, is more plausible, but other causes of the observed pathologies would need careful consideration.

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