I ran across an article the other day describing the history of some human populations essentially false hibernating during the winter, mostly to conserve not only fuel energy, but human energy. People slept together most of the day, waking only briefly to eat a little hard bread, drink some water and carry out basic body functions.
In 19th century France:
Economists and bureaucrats who ventured out into the countryside after the Revolution were horrified to find that the work force disappeared between fall and spring. The fields were deserted from Flanders to Provence. Villages and even small towns were silent, with barely a column of smoke to reveal a human presence. As soon as the weather turned cold, people all over France shut themselves away and practiced the forgotten art of doing nothing at all for months on end.
In the mountains, the tradition of seasonal sloth was ancient and pervasive. "Seven months of winter, five months of hell," they said in the Alps. When the "hell" of unremitting toil was over, the human beings settled in with their cows and pigs. They lowered their metabolic rate to prevent hunger from exhausting supplies. If someone died during the seven months of winter, the corpse was stored on the roof under a blanket of snow until spring thawed the ground, allowing a grave to be dug and a priest to reach the village.
The same mass dormancy was practiced in other chilly parts. In 1900, The British Medical Journal reported that peasants of the Pskov region in northwestern Russia "adopt the economical expedient" of spending one-half of the year in sleep: "At the first fall of snow the whole family gathers round the stove, lies down, ceases to wrestle with the problems of human existence, and quietly goes to sleep. Once a day every one wakes up to eat a piece of hard bread. ... The members of the family take it in turn to watch and keep the fire alight. After six months of this reposeful existence the family wakes up, shakes itself" and "goes out to see if the grass is growing."
Even in more temperate areas of France, the same behavior was seen:
In Burgundy, after the wine harvest, the workers burned the vine stocks, repaired their tools and left the land to the wolves. A civil servant who investigated the region’s economic activity in 1844 found that he was almost the only living presence in the landscape: "These vigorous men will now spend their days in bed, packing their bodies tightly together in order to stay warm and to eat less food. They weaken themselves deliberately."
After the Revolution, government officials complained that farmers were "abandoning themselves to dumb idleness," instead of undertaking "some peaceful and sedentary industry." Income acted only as a deterrent. The people of Beaucaire on the Rhône made enough money at their summer fair to spend the rest of the year "smoking, playing cards, hunting and sleeping."
Do humans have the capability to hibernate? Sadly, no:
It would appear that while humans have some of the tools for hibernation, we have not evolved them to be used for long periods of time because we have not been required to. Perhaps if we were at the mercy of the elements, we would have evolved to be able to hibernate, to be able to lower our body temperatures and severely reduce the amount of energy we use and where such energy comes from.
It seems, however, unlikely that we will ever have the need to hibernate in the future, considering our wealth of indoor heating systems and warehouses full of winter coats. For now we’ll have to settle for bundling up, hunkering down, and waiting out the winter fully conscious, and, sadly, awake.
So, what better way to spend the winter to save energy, but to get some well deserved (and probably needed) extra sleep? Do you find that you sleep a lot more during the winter? I know I definitely can easily squeeze in a short nap pretty much every afternoon if I have time for it.