Humans may need our 8 hours of sleep every night to keep ourselves healthy and keep our brains functioning, but that’s certainly not universally the case across the animal kingdom. While all animals sleep, they don’t experience sleep in the same way that humans do. Giraffes sleep for less than two hours a day, while some bats can sleep for up to 20 hours, and some sharks never completely sleep at all. But, while humans and animals may sleep in very different ways, there are still things we can learn from animal sleep habits.
1. Half-in, half out
Some species of animal—like dolphins, whales, and ducks—only sleep with half their brains at a time. This happens so that they will always be alert and able to pay attention to potential dangers, and is called unihemispheric sleep. This can happen to humans too, if we are in a situation that we deem unsafe or potentially threatening. Even if you’re just sleeping in a new apartment for the first time, your brain may not shut down all the way, and you won’t sleep well for the first few nights or so. Fortunately for us, this stops happening after a while. For some animals, like ducks, it’s a way of life.
2. Sleep deprivation
Sleep deprivation shows up in animals in much the same way it does in humans. In animals, sleep deprivation manifests as grouchiness, irritability, lethargy, and the animals become harder to wake up when they do get to sleep. In fact, when scientists studied fruit flies, they found that after a few days of sleep deprivation, fruit flies will simply become nonresponsive when tapped or even shaken. They aren’t dead, they’re just really tired.
3. REM sleep
Birds and mice experience periods of REM sleep just like humans. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep for birds happens in 10 second intervals, and for mice can occur in periods of one to two minutes. In contrast, humans should experience REM sleep for 45 minutes towards the end of the night. REM sleep is when your body dreams, and this is actually a state of higher brain activity than when you are awake. The fact that even animals experience REM sleep should really highlight just how important it is to get good shuteye, so you can get those precious minutes of REM sleep.
Some species of animal like bears and hedgehogs go into a very deep sleep during the winter called hibernation. During this time, their body temperature drops drastically, and they can sleep for 3-4 months at a time without waking up. When they do wake up, they are very groggy and disoriented for a few days while they adjust to being awake again. While humans can’t hibernate—even though we may sometimes wish we could—we can still take some sleeping tips from the bears. Eat first, snuggle in deep, and don’t let anyone bother you until you’ve gotten all the sleep you need to function the next day. Or next year!
Still having trouble sleeping? If you’re not getting the sleep you need, make an appointment with Sleep Science Clinics. Our team of experts will help you get the sleep you need.