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Winter is the Perfect Time to Hibernate

June 30, 2014

Winter is the Perfect Time to Hibernate

With frost forming on the lawn last night, snow reappearing on the mountains and threats of the ice giants returning, I've started getting more and more jealous and animals that hibernate.

While there are not that many animals that hibernate in South Africa, with the exception of the cat which only ever emerges at food times, the northern hemisphere is full of animals that have the right idea when it comes to winter: curl up somewhere warm and only emerge once the temperatures have returned to a reasonable temperature. These animals are able to reduce their heartbeats, temperature and food requirements to extremely low levels, allowing them to remain motionless and warm in their burrows for extended periods of time. Sadly humans don't hibernate, but our bodies still encourage us to sleep more during winter than during summer.

Some studies are suggesting that melatonin, a hormone created by the pineal gland, might be responsible for us being more tired during winter. Increased melatonin levels in your bloodstream result in you becoming tired and losing the ability to focus, resulting in you becoming sleeping and heading off to the warmth of the bedroom. The pineal gland secretes melatonin when it is dark as bright lights inhibit the production and with winters obviously having more darkness than light, this results in people requiring more sleep during winter. Studies have also found that younger children have more melatonin levels and that these levels steadily decreases as you get older.

There are several other reasons why we might need more sleep in winter ranging from colds, depression and even a decrease in exercise.

Stories of human hibernation are around ranging from legends peasant towns out in the frozen Russian steppes that would go into a form of hibernation to avoid starvation during winter to Indian fakirs who could go into trances that lasted for days without them requiring sustenance, to the extraordinary story of Anna Bågenholm who survived being trapped under ice for 80 minutes in freezing water.

However, right now the idea of being trapped anywhere near ice has persuaded me to to crawl into bed and try to hibernate until spring arrives or somebody brings me some dark chocolate.

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