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Can Animals Help Us Get a Better Night’s Sleep?

Asian elephant

Do you know the connection between how animals sleep and you? (image via wikipedia)

The animal kingdom provides a wide variety of sleep habits, sleep cycles, sleep patterns, and sleep positions to study.  Looking at how animals sleep may provide research teams with new insights that can be used to help humans improve their sleep quality and get a good night’s sleep.  In fact, even though animal sleep habits and patterns can be wildly different from each other and from humans, studying how other species sleep may offer benefits beyond just improving our sleep like alternative treatments for brain injuries and illnesses.

Here are some interesting, fun, and unusual facts about the animals we love and sleep.


Unusual Sleep Patterns

  • Dolphins and some birds sleep with only half their brain at a time.
  • Seals also sleep with half their brain at a time because they must keep their nose above water which requires them to keep moving one flipper.  One side of the brain keeps the flipper moving while the other side sleeps.
  • Some migratory birds can sleep while flying.

Interesting Sleeping Positions

  • Birds and cows may sleep with their eyes open.
  • Cows sleep standing up.
  • Bats sleep hanging upside down.
  • Some dormice balance on a small twig to sleep which provides a built in alarm clock and alert system as any movement will wake them up.
  • Flamingos tuck their heads into their backs to sleep.
  • Ducks like Mallards can be seen sleeping in a line with awake sentries posted at each end to watch over the sleepers.


How Much Sleep?

  • In the animal kingdom, one of the champions of sleep is the brown bat which spends an average of just under 20 hours a day asleep.
  • Pythons are close behind with 18 hours a day.
  • Human infants on average sleep about 16 hours a day while their adult selves are good with only 8 hours.
  • Our cats and dogs sleep an average of 12 and 10 hours respectively.
  • Lions sleep almost 14 hours a day unlike giraffes that average less than 2 hours a day and can actually go without sleep for days at a time.
  • Asian elephants get just under 4 hours sleep each night.


Fun Facts

  • Generally the animals that get the least sleep like giraffes and elephants are the larger grazing animals that spend the majority of their time eating in order to get enough food to sustain them which limits the amount of time they have to sleep.
  • Big advances in understanding narcolepsy in humans came from observing dogs with similar behaviors.


Even though these sleep habits and patterns vary significantly from ours, we can learn a lot about how sleep happens and why we sleep from studying the sleep habits of the other inhabitants of our planet.


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