How does hibernation work?

In the cold, dark season, many suffer from tiredness, listlessness and sleep disorders. But why don't humans actually hibernate? Here you can find out how the famous hibernation works and what we can do when we are awake to get through the cold days well rested and motivated.

Table of Contents

  1. Winter & our sleep
  2. Why do animals hibernate?
  3. How hibernation works
  4. Can humans hibernate?
  5. Sleep better in winter
  6. Conclusion

1. The winter & our sleep

Cloudy weather, cold winds and frosty snowfall not only affect the mood, but usually make one thing above all: tired! Our sleep behavior depends on a wide variety of internal and external factors. So it is quite natural that our need for sleep also varies at different times of the year and we in winter generally need a little more sleep - because there is a lack of daylight, which has a significant impact on our body clock . Our body then produces fewer happy hormones and releases more melatonin, which leads to the well-known daytime sleepiness and promotes the development of the famous winter depression. The lack of daylight, cold temperatures and little exercise disrupt our sleep-wake cycle and stand in the way of a healthy, restful sleep.

Like us humans, animals also have an internal clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. For many wildlife, hibernation is an effective way to weather the challenges of the cold season and survive the dark winter days unscathed despite low temperatures and scarcity of food. Of course, we humans are not dependent on this, but scientists assume that humans are at least genetically 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 strenuous phases of cold and hunger until sufficient food is available again. Under the influence of increasingly cold temperatures and the low availability of food, hibernation is therefore particularly important to ensure survival. With the help of hibernation, animals can react more flexibly to the extreme external conditions and reduce their energy requirements in order to need less food and get through the cold days by using up previously stored fat reserves.

Various research shows that the chromosomes in the genes are better protected in "hibernators" and that hibernation is actually a very effective means of species conservation. It not only protects from cold or starvation, but also protects against predators.

3. How Hibernation


Strictly speaking, hibernation is not real sleep at all, but 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 organism of the affected animals then switches to what experts call "torpor". The body's metabolism is shut down 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 the brain waves of an animal also change during hibernation and that the brain waves typical of night sleep in particular are absent. It could also be proven that during hibernation the sleep phases known to us are not passed through and neither non-REM nor REM sleep can be identified.

Feldmaus erwacht aus dem Winterschlaf und sitzt im Schnee

Contrary to popular belief, an animal's hibernation is repeatedly interrupted by waking phases. The central nervous system monitors bodily functions during the twilight state and wakes up the animal, for example, if the body temperature drops too much. In contrast to waking from a normal night's sleep, however, the waking times last longer and are mainly used for searching for food and for reproduction. Whether a creature spends several months or just a few hours in torpor varies from species to species.

4. Can man hibernate?

Some experts suggest that humans too hibernated long ago and are genetically capable of entering a torpor-like state. Of course, we are no longer dependent on this today, because we do not have to protect ourselves from food shortages or the freezing temperatures in order to survive the cold season. Nevertheless, we humans should also react to the external circumstances in winter and support our body to function optimally despite increased tiredness and an increased need for sleep.

5. Sleep better in winter

Junge Frau am Morgen in der Sonne im Bett

In order to remain healthy and efficient 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 at a glance:

➥ Consume a lot of daylight & avoid artificial light sources
Light is an important clock generator and helps to regulate the hormone balance. In this way you support a balanced mood, a healthy sleep-wake cycle and restful sleep.

➥ Get enough exercise and stay active
Exercise keeps the circulation going, improves the metabolism and has a positive effect on health and sleep.

6. Conclusion

  • In winter, the natural need for sleep increases because a lack of daylight, cold temperatures and little movement disrupt the sleep-wake cycle.
  • Hibernation is an effective way to overcome cold and food shortages and survive the winter.
  • We humans no longer need hibernation today, but we should make sure we get enough sleep, especially in winter, in order to remain healthy and productive.

Greetings and see you soon!

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