What is Suspended Animation? Actually, You’ve Seen it a Lot!

If you are reading this blog then you must be really wondering what Suspended animation means.

I know it’s weird, but even though you may not know what exactly the term describes, you have seen it way more than you can possibly count.

For example, have you ever heard of sleeping beauty? In case you have,(which is the case most probably) then you sure know that a curse has put the princess to sleep for a hundred years just to wake up then completely unharmed.

What about Doctor Who? In case you’re a “Doctor Who” fan, then you sure know the Timelords can enter a suspended state whenever they want. This suspended state is very similar to death.

However, after many years, when they wake up, they wake up completely unharmed as if they just took a nap.

I am very positive that you have seen such similar concepts in a lot more stories and science fiction series or movies.

So, does it ring a bell? The concept of putting a body in a dormant state while conserving the body throughout the years of dormancy is called Suspended animation.

For you to get the complete picture about this awesome and interesting concept, in this blog I am going to define and explain Suspended animation, why is it important, how could it be established, and point out some interesting real-life suspended animation cases.

What is “Suspended Animation”?

Suspended animation is the ability to temporarily pause the biological processes of any living thing allowing the body to get into a hypometabolic state in order to conserve it for the future time.

This means that a suspended body would have significantly less respiration and blood circulation when compared to a normal and healthy person.

This could be done using either internal or external means but in any case life itself is not terminated.

What’s challenging about this process, is that during the period of which the body is conserved, molecular and cellular deaths caused by oxygen deprivation should be avoided. This is quite difficult considering the fact that major metabolic processes would be hindered almost completely.

Why is Suspended Animation Important?

At the moment you might be thinking, why does this subject even matter? Well, allow me to provide you with a few reasons which would make the subject way more important than you thought it would.

1. It Makes Long Space Trips More Possible and Safer.

Whenever astronauts are travelling through space for a specific mission, there are two major risks that may force them to abort their mission.

Getting exposed to galactic cosmic rays and using up vital surviving resources are the two major risks astronauts face in space.

What Are The Dangers of Cosmic Rays.

We all know how harmful exposure to gamma and X rays is. The major problem is that cosmic rays can do more damage to astronauts than gamma and X rays.

The health effects vary considerably, but they all have one thing in common, they are all severe and dangerous!

Suspended Animation as a Solution.

Think about it for a while, if high-frequency ionizing energy stroke a hypometabolic, very low metabolic rate, body, which metabolic reactions are going to get altered or which molecules are going to get ionized?

So, if suspended animation provides us with a solution to such a complicated and dangerous problem, then I guess this makes it a very important matter.

Vital Resources for Surviving.

Now when it comes to vital surviving resources, I’m referring to food, water, and oxygen.

Imagine the following, you are camping in a forest with your family and friends and suddenly you came to the realization that you do not have enough food to stay for the two more days you’ve been planning to stay. What would you do?

Well, considering that you are still on planet earth, you could easily get possible food from the forest, or simply just drive back home and end the camp earlier than what has been planned.

Astronauts Problems With Survival Resources.

Unfortunately, this cannot be that simple for astronauts who are travelling in outer space.

Everything they have is very limited including food, water, and oxygen. These are the most important materials for survival during space travel.

This explains why conserving such important resources is very important but, it is just a pain to keep thinking about all the time during your travel.

Suspended Animation as a Solution.

If you have a long a trip and you’re afraid of limited survival resources, just sleep all the way throughout the trip.

If you have a low metabolic rate, you will need a lot fewer nutrients than you usually need in normal circumstances.

That’s how astronauts in the suspended state wouldn’t care about either food, water, and even oxygen.

2. Helps a person in surviving accidental hypothermia.

What is Accidental Hypothermia?

Accidental Hypothermia is a very unfortunate event that leads the person to be surrounded by ice-cold material. Such as the case of getting trapped under ice.

With time the person is going to lose heat to the surrounding since his core body temperature is a lot higher than his surroundings.

Therefore, conduction will cause a severe drop in core temperature and this is what hypothermia is.

How Does Suspended Animation Help a Person to Survive Such an Unfortunate Event?

Simply, hypothermia causes a sudden drop in metabolic rates of the body.

A low metabolic rate drastically reduces the amount of essential nutrients the body needs to stay alive.

So, hypothermia causes the body to survive on its own nutrients when it cannot get any external nutrients.

This allows for a prolonged period of sustain under ice while the awaiting rescue team shows up for the rescue.

3.Allows scientists to understand hibernation mechanism.

If you are a fan of the animal kingdom, then you must be fascinated by how some mammals have the ability to survive the winter harsh conditions by hibernating.

Understanding how suspended animation works is the main key for understanding the mechanism of hibernation. After all, the two concepts would appear to be very similar.

The matter of the fact is, an animal enters a hibernating state by a series of suspended animation which scientists prefer to call each suspended animation episode as, torpor.

4.Saves lives of patients in hospital emergency wards.

What Happens During Treating a Critically Injured Patient?

Have you ever seen how chaotic is a hospital emergency ward?

Allow me to rephrase that question, have you ever seen a bunch of surgeons panicking on top of a patient that has recently entered the emergency ward of the hospital they are working in?

(I know it’s controlled chaos, but still, it is chaos).

If you actually have seen such a scene, then you sure know that the chaos the happens during treating a patient with severe blood loss, for example, is because doctors are trying to do three insanely difficult tasks all at the same time.

What Are These Three Tasks?

Actually, these three tasks are the tasks they should all do on every critical injury case.

These tasks are identifying the problem, fixing the problem, and keeping the patient alive during the time the two previous tasks are being worked on.

How Does Suspended Animation Help Doctors in Treating Critically Injured Patients?

The answer is quite simple. By inducing hypothermia, the time doctors have to save critically injured patients get extended.

This does not only give time for doctors to react accordingly but rather it helps the patient in significantly extending his survival rate.

What Are The Types of Suspended Animation?

There are three types of Suspended animation, which are classified based on the induction methods. These types are:

  1. Temperature-induced
  2. Chemical-induced
  3. Genetics- induced

1. Temperature-Induced Suspended Animation.

Lowering the core temperature of a living organism is going to reduce significantly its metabolic rate.

However, only if this organism can withstand low temperatures, he can survive the procedure and be brought back without suffering any damages.

Can It be Applied on Human Beings?

While this method of induction showed great success when tested on animals such as dogs and pigs, it cannot work on human beings.

Unfortunately, human beings are not capable of surviving suspended animation.

This is simply because the human body is not designed to withstand extremely low temperatures the way other mammals do.

This means, using extremely low temperatures on human beings is going to result in a lot of defects and severe cellular viability loss is which is life-threatening.

2. Chemically Induced Suspended Animation.

As the name suggests, in this type of suspended animation, the process is induced with chemicals.

As we all know, mice do not hibernate but rather, they have different adaptations for winter harsh conditions.

However, an experiment held by the laboratory of Mark B. Roth at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, showed great success as mice got placed in a container that contains 80ppm, 80 parts per million, hydrogen sulfide for a 6-hour duration.

The core temperature of the mice dropped to 13 degrees, while the metabolism got decreased by 10-fold.

A lot of similar researches has been conducted, most of which have ended with great success.

3. Genetically Induced Suspended Animation.

In this type, suspended animation is induced by genetic factors.

Unfortunately, the mechanism of which this can work is not clear but.

However, a lot of researches are being conducted in order to understand the mechanism of this puzzling induction method.

Currently, researches are being conducted on Tardigrades in order to isolate the genes that are responsible for their metabolic transformation which help them survive for decades in dry conditions.

Tardigrades are puzzling and unique creatures, they have the ability to transform into glass in order to survive dry conditions.

This explains why scientists are studying Tardigrades’ genetic makeup in order to understand genetically induced suspended animation.

Suspended Animation Real-Life Cases.

1. Anna Bågenholm Case.

Who is Anna Bågenholm ?

Anna Bågenholm is a Swedish radiologist that had a very unfortunate accident during her skiing holiday in Norway.

The radiologist crashed into a frozen stream and became trapped under ice.

What Signs Did She Show After Being Taken Out?

Rescuers arrived at the site of accident 80 minutes after the accident

When they took out her body, her heart and breathing were already stopped.

Furthermore, her body core temperature was recorded to be 13.7 °C.

Actually, this temperature was the lowest ever observed temperature in a victim of accidental hypothermia.

How did Suspended Animation Help Her?

However, after very careful rewarming and 10 days of intensive care, she woke up.

In normal circumstances, she would have drowned but, the cold temperature of the ice has preserved her body and kept her a life.

In other words, suspended animation, temperature induced in this case, saved her life.

2. Erika Nordby, Canada’s Miracle Child.

What Happened With Erika Nordby?

Honestly, the story of Erika Nordby is one of the best stories I ever got the chance to read.

Erika Nordby was just one year old when she left her home walking on her own at early morning hours wearing nothing but a diaper. The temperature outside was around -24 °C.

Her mother got worried about her since she hasn’t shown up for a while since the time she left her with her babysitter, and when she looked for her daughter she discovered that her little child has left the house.

The mother immediately followed her daughter by tracking her footsteps and eventually found her in a snow bank. The mother immediately took her inside her home and called an ambulance.

What Signs Did She Show When Her Mom Got Her Back Home?

The one-year-old child’s heart was not beating and she was not breathing.

As soon as she reached the hospital, doctors have presumed her dead, as she had no pulse for more than two hours.

The presumably dead body was then placed under a warming blanket and then, a miracle happened, or more likely, suspended animation has happened.

Did She Really Die? Or Was It Suspended Animation All That Time?

When her body warmed up, her heart started beating again.

How did the doctors explain that? The cold the little girl was exposed to, have put her body in a hibernation-like state. That, in turn, has protected her body from serious damage.

The little girl started walking again after 6 weeks of physiotherapy sessions and skin grafts. All of that is thanks for suspended animation.


Suspended animation is a great process, which has helped a lot of people with critical injuries and accidental hypothermia accidents.

Furthermore, the drastic changes the medical field is going to have if the process was understood perfectly, are going to be immensely huge and amazing.

Suspended animation has been involved in a lot of science fiction movies and TV series. However, there was no credit given to the process.

Sadly, this has led to a lot of people to know nothing but a few about this amazing topic. That’s why I’ve decided to write about it.

Therefore, people in public must acknowledge this topic. This is going to induce more efforts for understanding this insanely interesting and important topic.

Did you like What you’ve read?

Thank you so much for reading all the way to the end.

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