Torpor (or Hibernation) is a state of inactivity characterized by low body temperature, slow breathing and heart rate, and low metabolic rate. Many animals in nature hibernate to conserve energy during periods when sufficient food supplies are unavailable. To achieve this, hibernators will decrease their metabolic rate, which then results in a decreased body temperature. Hibernation may last several days, weeks, or months depending on the species, ambient temperature, time of year, and individual’s body condition.
Doctors in patient care for extreme trauma are currently applying this idea. Medically induced Torpor (called Therapeutic Hypothermia) is a medical treatment that lowers a patient’s body temperature in order to help reduce the risk of the injury to tissue during a period of poor blood flow. Examples include patients that suffer from cardiac arrest, stroke, trauma and brain injuries, as well as infants that are premature or had a complicated delivery. Lowering the patient’s temperature by even a couple of degrees (to 34oC or 93oF) can produce the same effects that are seen in animals, including slowed breathing and heart rate, and a decreased metabolic rate. This reduced metabolic rate means a lower need for oxygen by cells in the human body, protecting them from damage during the medical emergencies listed above.