The short answer? In theory, yes.

The long answer? It's complicated. Let me explain. Scientists, like myself, who study this amazing physiological feat have reached the same conclusion: That is, all hibernating mammals use the same genetic architecture to hibernate. Hibernation happens from genes being turned on and off—much like a light switch—in very unique patterns throughout the year to modulate physiology. And, importantly, these genes are shared among the entire mammal family tree. They are not genes that evolved specifically for hibernation. Therefore, it seems as though all mammals—including humans—might actually have the genetic capacity for hibernation. It's literally written in our DNA.

There have been a singular examples in the media that suggest that this theory might hold water, including documented cases of people entering into something that looks intriguingly like hibernation. For example, back in April 2014, a young man stowed away in the wheel well of an airplane from California to Hawaii. At that altitude (and those bone-chilling temperatures and low oxygen levels) he should have died (and won the Darwin award posthumously). But, he didn't. He walked away from that very lucky incident just fine and dandy. Was it human hibernation? It's a very compelling notion and seemingly quite feasible once you boil it down to the As, Ts, Cs, and Gs that make up our genetic code.

However, here's where it gets messy. We still don't really understand the unique combinations of expressed genes that make hibernation happen, nor do we even know where to begin in terms of expressing those patterns in humans. What sorts of outside forces are needed to get the correct pattern to make hibernation happen?

The whole issue is convoluted by how our environment affects genes that are being expressed. Animals that hibernate are at the mercy of their environment, using hibernation to avoid periods of cold weather or resource scarcity, when other behaviors like migrating to warmer environments or staying active during the winter might be more energetically costly for them. Humans have used our massive brains to figure out how to manipulate our environments. We build shelters, we use various means to provide warmth, and we have grocery stores that cater to our every need even in winter. So, our environments would never prime our genome to respond to the winter months in such a way, even despite having the capability to do so.

But—and this is a big "but"—if we figured out how to induce hibernation in humans, using this shared genetic architecture, it literally would be the "coolest" thing to ever happen to mankind. Hibernation has many important biomedical applications. For example, if a soldier is wounded on a battlefield and needs emergency medicine, inducing hibernation for the short-term would be beneficial for transportation to a medic. Same goes for patients waiting for organ transplants. Understanding how hibernating animals regulate metabolism throughout the year, avoid atrophied muscles from up to eight months of disuse, survive lack of circulation to peripheral tissues, and other similar issues, these are very intriguing lines of investigation. And finally, my favorite, being a total sci-fi nerd: human hibernation would be extremely useful for long-distance space travel! 

Bear hibernation by the numbers

7.5 months

The highest number of months bears have been known to hibernate

30 lbs

The number of pounds a bear can gain per week in preparation for hibernation 


The body temperature bears maintain during hibernation

40-50 bpm

The number of beats per minute bears average in the fall at the start of hibernation

8 bpm

The numer of beats per minute bears average in the winter at the height of hibernation  

4,000 calories

The number of calories a day supplied on average by the break down of fat tissue in bears during hibernation

North American Bear Center, PBS Nova