As winter approaches and thoughts turn to the dark, frigid days ahead, we may fantasize about hiding somewhere and waking with the crocuses in March. Hedgehogs, ground squirrels and bears do it—bedding down for months in musky burrows. Hibernation sounds appealing, but aside from the obvious benefits of not having to arrive at work before sunrise and dodging snow-shoveling duties, it would not be very pleasant. During hibernation, core temperature drops, systems slow and the body gradually exhausts itself—hardly a restful way to pass the season. The human hibernation of popular culture misses this point entirely. In the Brothers Grimm version of Sleeping Beauty, the princess wakes fresh-faced and cheerful after a hundred years of slumber. Rip Van Winkle stirs from his 20-year snooze, in Washington Irving’s 19th-century yarn, with a stretch and a nose for breakfast. More recent fiction presents human hibernation slightly more realistically—and unpleasantly—in long-distance space travel. In 2001: A Space Odyssey three scientists heading to Jupiter lie sealed in white sarcophagi, only to perish as the malevolent shipboard computer shuts down their life support. Space travelers in Passengers and Interstellar lie insensate in similar hibernation pods, prepared to emerge as the curve of some distant planet fills the portholes. Yet in reality, human hibernation would probably look more like the torpor of ground squirrels than the technological entombment of space fiction. Claude Piantadosi, an expert on space survival, points out that a major aim of inducing hibernation would be to reduce cargo. Having astronauts fuel up before leaving would achieve this most efficiently. A hibernating traveler outbound to Mars would metabolize only 8½ pounds of stored fat during the seven-month journey, saving 550 pounds in food, water and oxygen. But like any other hibernating mammal, an astronaut would need to move around occasionally to prevent atrophy of muscles, bones and brain. Space sarcophagi would hinder both of these goals: not only are they heavy, they severely inhibit movement. Comfortable, well-monitored berths would serve the hibernating traveler better. However it happens for enchanted princesses or space travelers, we humans aren’t going to sleep through the winter. So we’ll get up early and we’ll shovel the snow, but we’ll also need to find ways to enjoy the dark and the cold. Doctors sometimes induce a form of short-term hibernation in patients; during brain surgery they may cool the body for up to an hour in order to stop blood circulating. TwitterFacebookPinterest Doctors sometimes induce a form of short-term hibernation in patients; during brain surgery they may cool the body for up to an hour in order to stop blood circulating. This story is from Kinfolk Issue Twenty-Nine Buy Now Related Stories Arts & Culture Issue 36 Rebecca Horn The German conceptual artist Rebecca Horn has spent a half-century using fans, feathers and curious masks to extend the human body. Arts & Culture Issue 28 A History of Regret The case against what ifs and if onlys. Arts & Culture Issue 27 In Defense of Loneliness Harriet Fitch Little shines a light on one of life’s most concealed emotions. Arts & Culture Issue 26 Possession Obsession Sometimes decadent, often secret, but never just one: the compulsion to collect. Arts & Culture Issue 49 Karin Mamma Andersson Inside the moody, mysterious world of Sweden’s preeminent painter. Arts & Culture Issue 49 Jenny Odell The acclaimed author in search of lost time.