We can learn much from our animal friends.
Sadly, most of the really the fun stuff (like sitting on power lines or trying to fly off a roof or in anything that’s not huge, pressurized, and shitting fuel across the sky) is generally admonished against attempting. But aside from dancing across the clouds, hunting a blissfully unaware still breathing dinner from afar, or screwing shamelessly in public, one of the most envious pastimes might be enjoyed by the likes of our grizzly pals.
And that, obviously, is: hibernation.
You’re probably already thinking about doing it. Especially if you’re part of the majority of people who I know who do that thing where you stop working sometimes during the week, or take annual extended breaks, or whatever other things I don’t understand but try really hard to.
Indeed, now that it’s the holidays, you get the egg nog flowing and work is just a faraway nightmare you try to dull with alcohol like a PTSD flashback. “Why can’t all of life be like this?” you wonder as you wrap yourself up in a fleece blanket which is now accruing a layer of your body moss, and try to recall if you’ve showered since you got off work on Friday. “Why can’t I just hibernate till it’s warm again?” Yes, appealing as this torpid non-activity may seem, you and I can’t do it, captain. We don’t have the power.
In fact, here’s just 4 reasons you and I can’t hibernate.
Not enough oxygen to our headsies = we go deadsies.
When you’re hibernating, blood flow gets reduced drastically. Creatures who zonk out through winter can handle this because their metabolism lowers to 2 percent of its summer rate. That means they require less oxygen. We can’t go that low, so we’d just get a stroke – and probably a permanent hibernation. The good news? Science can – and is trying to – put that fact to use by using this cooling mechanism in post-stroke patients. So it’s not all bad news.
Obviously, we couldn’t hibernate if we wanted to. But some of us are that dedicated to laziness that we’ll sure as shit try. And what’s the door prize for sitting on your derriere for too long? Your bones start crumbling. Bears don’t have to deal with this ‘cause they recycle their bone at 25% of the usual levels when they’re enjoying snooze-cation in a cave. The silver lining to this news, as ever, is happening in a lab. In this case, Colorado State’s working on a way to find out how to control this hormone to curb cracked hips by the time your kids’ kids have kids.
Part of the appeal in hibernating, for many, lays in the prep work: Eating.
If you or I try to wolf down the amount of food a Grizzly does in the Fall to get ready for the big freeze Z’s, we’d land ourselves a nice case of diabetes. Bears avoid this when they gain 100 pounds plus ‘cause their fat cells actually become more sensitive to insulin (whereas ours eventually stop responding). Thus, they can keep processing and storing sugar just fine. Bad news for people who are still hopeful about settling for back-to-back binge comas this winter. Great news for diabetics, though, if we can figure out how to implement that insulin-controlling protein into modern medicine.
We already covered that if your heart beats slower, you get less oxygen. If it gets super slow like some hibernators’ do (one beat per minute in arctic ground squirrels, for instance), then your or my body doesn’t handle it so well. While a tree rat can handle the reduced rate by using fat as fuel instead of sugar, our bodies screw us over in similar circumstances. We go from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism, which means a release of lactic acid, which can start killing off cells after levels rise too high. The good news? That’s exactly what happens during heart surgery. It doesn’t sound good – that patients die easily because they’re drowning in their own lactic acid. But Duke U. and Alaska Fairbanks are already studying how they can use sleepy squirrel’s fat as fuel in those lactic acid inducing low-O2 sitches – like your ribs being pried open while a surgeon tinkers with your ticker.
So there you have it. You’d better just start appreciating those precious death-mimicking 0 to 8 hours (trying to include all the people I know here – from myself to the Disney princess morning risers) you get every night. Cause you n me got screwed on the unconscious staycation.
Still, there’s hope for we who want to prolong the quality of life so long as we must be conscious for the cold parts.
Thanks to these creatures with paws who can press pause on life.