In the cold, dark season, many suffer from fatigue, listlessness and sleep disorders. But why don't humans actually hibernate? Here you can find out how the famous hibernation actually works and what we can do when we're awake to get through the cold days well-rested and motivated.
Table of contents
- Winter & our sleep
- Why do animals hibernate?
- This is how hibernation works
- Can humans hibernate?
- Sleep better in winter
1. Winter & our sleep
Dull weather, cold winds and frosty snowfall not only affect the mood, but usually make one thing above all: tired! Our sleeping behavior depends on a wide variety of internal and external factors. So it's completely natural that our need for sleep varies at different times of the year and that we in winter generally need a little more sleep - because there is a lack of daylight, which has a significant influence on our internal clock . Our body then produces fewer happiness hormones and releases more melatonin, which leads to the well-known daytime tiredness and promotes the development of the famous winter depression. The lack of daylight, cold temperatures and little exercise disrupt our sleep-wake rhythm and stand in the way of healthy, restful sleep.
Like us humans, animals also have an internal clock that regulates the sleep-wake rhythm. For many wild animals, hibernation is an effective way to defy the challenges of the cold season and survive the dark winter days unscathed despite low temperatures and food shortages. Of course, we humans are not dependent on this, but scientists assume that humans are at least hereditarily predisposed to be able to hibernate. But what exactly happens during hibernation?
2. Why do animals hibernate?
We use less energy when we sleep than when we are awake. Some animals take advantage of this to overcome the stressful periods of cold and hunger until enough food is available again. Under the influence of increasingly cold temperatures and low food availability, hibernation serves particularly to ensure survival. With the help of hibernation, animals can react more flexibly to extreme external conditions and reduce their energy requirements in order to require less food and get through the cold days by consuming previously stored fat reserves.
Various research proves that the chromosomes in the genes of “hibernators” are better protected and that hibernation is actually a very effective means of preserving the species. It not only protects against death from cold or starvation, but also protects against predators.
3. This is how hibernation works
Strictly speaking, hibernation is not a real sleep at all, but rather a sleep-like state. It resembles calm or rigidity and can have different triggers, such as increasingly cold temperatures, changes in daylight or a certain body fat limit. In winter, the organisms of the affected animals then switch to what experts call the “torpor” stage. The body's metabolism is reduced by up to 90%, breathing and heart rate slow down and the body temperature drops to a few degrees above zero. Scientific studies also show that an animal's brain waves also change during hibernation and that the brain waves typical of night sleep are missing. It has also been proven that during hibernation the usual sleep phases are not passed through and neither non-REM nor REM sleep can be recognized.
Contrary to popular belief, an animal's hibernation is repeatedly interrupted by periods of wakefulness. The central nervous system monitors the body's functions during the twilight state and wakes the animal up, for example, if the body temperature drops too much. Unlike when awakening from normal night sleep, the waking times last longer and are mainly used for searching for food and reproduction. Whether a creature spends several months or just a few hours in torpor varies from species to species.
4. Can humans hibernate?
Some experts suspect that we humans also hibernated long ago and were genetically capable of entering a torpor-like state. Of course, we no longer have to rely on this today, because we don't have to protect ourselves from food shortages or freezing temperatures in order to survive the cold season. Nevertheless, we humans should also react to the external circumstances in winter and support our bodies to function optimally despite increased tiredness and an increased need for sleep.
5. Sleep better in winter
In order to stay healthy and productive during the day, so that a strong immune system can protect us from numerous pathogens and our psyche does not suffer, sufficient relaxation and restful sleep are very important. In addition to the right sleeping equipment and good sleep hygiene, an individual morning routine can also support your sleep. You can find detailed information and tips for sleeping in winter here. The most important thing at a glance:
➥ Consume a lot of daylight and avoid artificial light sources
Light is an important pacemaker for the internal clock and helps regulate the hormonal balance. This way you support a balanced mood, a healthy sleep-wake rhythm and a restful sleep.
➥ Exercise enough and stay active
Exercise keeps the circulation going, improves metabolism and has a positive effect on health and sleep.
In winter, the natural need for sleep increases because a lack of daylight, cold temperatures and little exercise disrupt the sleep-wake rhythm.
Hibernation is an effective way to overcome cold and food shortages and survive the winter.
We humans no longer need hibernation, but we should make sure we get enough sleep, especially in winter, to stay healthy and productive.
Greetings and see you soon!