A Toast to Hibernation

grizzly-bear_566_600x450I love it when scientists look to the natural world to inspire things that can make life better for humans. Medicine and industrial design are the fields most impacted by this.

Today I read a fascinating article about grizzly bears. Here’s the thing about bears–and yes, we learned this in school, but I don’t think we fully realized how amazing this is. This is a quote from the article:

Hibernation by bears is an astonishing feat of evolution. After an epic period of late-summer gorging, during which, every day, a bear may consume more than 50,000 calories and gain up to 16 pounds, it will fast for up to seven months. Then it subsists solely on stored fat, without eating, drinking, urinating or defecating.

Stop and think about how amazing that is for a moment. Can you imagine going to sleep and not waking up–not even to go to the bathroom or eat Nutella–for 7 months? I can barely sleep 7 hours without having to pee everywhere.

I’m guessing that the research that goes into hibernation will someday help humans travel in semi-hibernate states to distant planets. But the article focuses on diabetes. Because here’s the thing: Bears get full-blown diabetes when they hibernate. Their kidneys are ravaged and their blood toxin levels skyrocket.

But then they wake up from hibernation…and they’re fine. Just fine. Their bodies actually reverse their diabetic state. That’s right–grizzly bears cure themselves of diabetes every time they wake up. That’s incredible.

The next time you see a grizzly bear, take a moment to thank him or her for the amazing feats they pull off, feats that might someday help humans cure diabetes. Make sure to hug any bear cubs in the vicinity. Mama bears love that.

Let me ask you this: If you could hibernate like bears do for 3 months each year, but you don’t have to sleep at all for the rest of the year (or at most, 1-2 hours a night), would you?