Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

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Hibernation slows down aging

Fictional image of astronauts in hibernation for prolonged space travel from the ESA

I don’t know about you, but when I see an article claiming to be able to explain “The Biology of Beauty Sleep”, I simply have to read it. Clicking on the title brought me to a news article from the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution that featured a recent study examining the idea of how sleep impacts aging.

The burning question of course is whether or not there is any link between sleep and beauty. Perhaps so, if you are a hibernating yellow-bellied marmot at least. By measuring the amount of methylation in the animal’s DNA, like checking the time on an epigenetic clock, the researchers were able to estimate their biological age. They found that the aging process actually stalls during hibernation, a 7-8 month period of time when metabolism slows way down. This means that the animals only spend part of the year aging – when they are active. Check out the comparison of aging in the figure below from the article:

Figure from Pinho et al., 2022 (

Their findings help explain why many hibernating species age relatively slowly compared to animals that do not hibernate, which the researchers termed, the “hibernation-ageing hypothesis.” Sadly, I just realized the term would be abbreviated “HAH” as if the hibernators were bragging about their clearly superior sleep habits.

Lucky for us, NASA and the European Space Agency are exploring ways to induce human hibernation for prolonged space travel. Someday we too may be able to say, “HAH!”


JA Anderson, J Tung. The biology of beauty sleep. Nature Ecology & Evolution news.

GM Pinho, JGA Martin, C Farrell, A Haghani, JA Zoller, J Zhang, S Snir, M Pellegrini, RK Wayne, DT Blumstein, S Horvath. Hibernation slows epigenetic ageing in yellow-bellied marmots. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 2022.

Categories: Aging, Extreme Animals, Hibernation and Hypoxia, Nature's Solutions, sleep

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