Let me tell you a little about induced hibernation, commonly referred to by its science fiction name, hypersleep. Hypersleep is not like what they show in the movies.

In the movies the protagonist lays down in a plexiglass coffin, maybe with some benign looking electrodes stuck to her head. She’s in a sports bra and underwear. Something the director thinks looks practical enough for the ass-kicking military officer to wear but sexy enough for the male fanbase to like. It’s dry and clean and the characters go in and out of hypersleep easily enough. Sometimes for the sake of plot, there are complications like memory loss or grogginess that lasts long enough for drama to occur.

That’s all bullshit.

In reality, going into hypersleep is a horrible and gross process and is nearly just as bad coming out.

First of all, why do we need hypersleep?

The short answer is space is really big and we move very slowly. We think of lightspeed as fast. It’s not. Inside a solar system, FTL drives cannot be used at all. They give off way too much radiation. They are only safe to use in the interstellar medium (IM) allowing the heliopause of a star to protect the solar system from the effects of the FTL drive.

So inside a solar system, a ship is still bound by normal physics. Given the limits of fuel storage for sub-light systems and everythings else, it takes about three months to exit the heliosphere of the Sol system. Then in IM space, current FTL systems will do 1 LY in about 10 days. That sounds fast, until you realize just how big space is, and adding up sub-light Sol system exit time, IM FTL time, and sub-light solar system re-entry time to get to our nearest extra-solar planet some 4.25 LY away is a nine month trip. Then turn around and come back again.

Do that with no resupply and you understand why putting people to sleep for 18 months saves a lot of food and energy.

That makes the misery of going into hypersleep worth it. But like I said, it’s not like they show in the movies.

Hypersleep works by slowing the human metabolism through a combination of drugs and temperature. Medicine has recorded accounts of people falling through frozen lakes and getting trapped under the ice for several minutes to nearly an hour and then recovering after being rescued. In these cases, the water dropped the person’s core temperature so much, and lowered their metabolism to such a slow rate that even going very long periods without breathing, brain death due to hypoxia didn’t occur.

That’s the basics of hypersleep. The person is cooled to about 5 degC (40F) while a cocktail of drugs keeps those temperatures from killing the body.

The thing is, the metabolism keeps going. It has to or the body dies. The metabolic rate is reduced by 90%. So a human being on a nine month trip experiences 30 normal days worth of metabolism.

That’s what the rest of the drugs are for. The body is not supposed to sleep for 30 days, so a chemically induced coma keeps the person under while their metabolic rate is slowed.

Here is where this gets gross.

You are in a coma for 30 days. You need to eat and drink or you die. That is done intravenously. It’s not uncommon for deep spacers to have a PICC line installed for parenteral nutrition. Respiration is done with a mechanical ventilator, because the muscles do not have enough energy for the person to breathe on their own in hypersleep.

Then comes the excretion of metabolic waste. You guessed it, a urinary catheter is installed.

This is the full life support system for a comatose patient.

But it gets so much worse.

The bacteria in your gut also get slowed down by the cool temperatures, but they keep doing their thing too. Food in your fridge will rot if left too long.

So part of the prep for hypersleep is the worst colonoscopy prep you’ve ever had. Everything has to come out. Plus antibiotics are added to reduce the gut bacteria count.

If you don’t flush your guts out, the bacteria inside will do what they do, and generate gas. Eventually intestinal pressure will exceed your body’s ability to hold it in while asleep and you will shart in your hypersleep chamber. Then all that bacteria laden matter will be on you and start to digest you from the outside. If you are lucky, you die of sepsis while asleep and don’t feel it. If you’re not lucky, you wake up covered in gangrenous sores and get rushed into emergency surgery.

That brings us to the outside of the body. You’re covered with bacteria. Anyone who has ever read about bad old-folk’s homes where people are neglected knows about bedsores.

So after you flush yourself out, you then wash yourself with an aggressive antimicrobial soap and then cover yourself with an antimicrobial gel to prevent infection.

You are just meat and we have to keep you from rotting like a steak left in the back of the fridge for a couple of months.

So there you have it. The day before you go under for a long haul, you drink four liters of colonoscopy poop juice and scrub your skin nearly raw. You lay down in a bed, naked, covered with something that is a cross between Neosporin and cosmoline, and have tubes placed in most of the holes of your body, with a few new holes added.

Then when you wake up, you have to taken off all of these tubes, and spend the first week awake remembering how to breathe without a ventilator, pee under your own control, and eating nothing but yogurt and probiotic protein and nutrient drinks until your gut flora normalizes and you can digest food again.

It’s just like waking up from a month long coma, which is exactly what it was for your body.

And why did you accept that? Because it beats starving or suffocating to death halfway through a deep space journey.

That’s why you get paid the big bucks.

But it could be worse. You could be the ship’s surgeon, who after doing this to everyone else, has to use the automated systems to do it to himself as the last person down and the first person up.

That’s why he get paid the really big bucks.

Not like in the movies at all, is it.

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By J. Kb

8 thoughts on “Hypersleep sucks (another sci-fi short)”
  1. Lets do this to all the tree huggng environmental wackjobs and send them off to colonize a planet nd leave us knuckledraggin rednecks alone…

  2. Hmmm… one of the sci-fi epics I’m not writing involves human cargo packed in sleep tubes for multiple months. But the ship’s crew is up and about, as are the revival specialists (at least a couple of them, to revive the other medical staff).
    One of the base assumptions is that interstellar travel is expensive, volume carried through hyperspace is expensive, and basically the only “passenger” ships would be carrying colonists – a few hundred in sleep tubes, and the rest yet unborn, in gene banks of one sort or another. Establishing a viable colony gets Interesting, and (as in some of Niven’s tales) the system of government that emerges may be entirely unlike what was intended.

    1. Hogan’s “Voyage from Yesteryear” is a quite good take on what you describe, including the “unexpected government” bit.

      Meanwhile: nice story J!

  3. Nicely done. You may have a second career writing hard sci-fi.

    BTW, might recommend one of the Great Courses:
    https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/how-science-shapes-science-fiction
    Also available as a course on their streaming service, Wonderium. Worth the time to listen if you want to write some hard sci-fi..

    Also, keep checking in on Larry Corriea’s blog. Right now he is running a Writer’s Dojo podcast series. If you are interested in developing realistic worlds, and characters, I would take Larry’s advice.
    (example: https://monsterhunternation.com/2021/09/15/writerdojo-episode-5-the-discipline-of-idea-management/)

  4. Nicely done.

    In your universe, I would suggest a really good way to get improved drive systems – ftl and sublight both – would be to send the relevant types of physicists on mandatory extra-solar excursions as part of their jobs.

    That’s what’s known as “motivation.”

  5. “Melanie” has been pretty busy! managed to evade your spam filters multiple times.

    Wonder if “she” wants to speak to my wife about the work they “did” on her computer last week….?

  6. In the grim darkness of the 41st millenium the Emperor on Man guides us through the warp to enable interstellar travel.

    Got on my level abd join the Imperium of Man willingly or be subjugated!

    Unless you are some sort of Xenos scum!

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