Why don’t humans hibernate?

Human hibernation doesn't exist for many reasons, but the reason why is not quite as immediately obvious as you might think.

23rd September 2010
Why don’t humans hibernate? (iStock)

Asked by: Harry Tanner, Hampshire

Hibernation is a response to cold weather and reduced food availability. Most animals that hibernate are quite small and, as the weather gets colder, they reach the point where they simply can’t eat enough food to sustain their body temperature.

Humans don’t hibernate for two reasons. Firstly, our evolutionary ancestors were tropical animals with no history of hibernating: humans have only migrated into temperate and sub-arctic latitudes in the last hundred thousand years or so. That’s not quite long enough to evolve all the metabolic adaptations we would need to be able to hibernate.

Much more importantly though, we discovered fire, clothes, shelter, hunting and agriculture, all of which are much more effective ways of surviving the cold. Any ancient tribes that tried to sleep their way through the winter would quickly have been ousted by the guys with the fur clothes sitting around the camp fire in the next cave along.


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