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What We Can Learn about Sleep from Animals

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Can animals offer insight into human sleep? Here are some fun facts you might not know about the similarities between animals' sleeping habits and ours.

Dogs Suffer from Narcolepsy, Too

Research published in the journal Sleep looked at canines, mice, and humans who suffered from narcolepsy. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, they focused on hypocretins, which are neurotransmitters released in your brain when you're awake that increase neuron activity. This neuron activity promotes wakefulness and suppresses rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. In humans with narcolepsy, it is thought the immune system attacks these hypocretins, causing them to die off and make it difficult to stay awake. The animal and human narcolepsy sleep study showed there are declines in hypocretins in narcoleptic humans, dogs, and mice, and therapies that address preserving hypocretins might be an option in human narcolepsy.

Ducks' Brains May Help Explain How Humans Sleep in New Environments

People often struggle to get quality sleep their first night away from home. Harvard Medical School researchers found humans snoozing in a new environment rely on unihemispheric sleep, which is when one brain hemisphere sleeps while the other is awake, which is done to protect against potential dangers. Ahhhh, that explains a lot. This research was inspired by a study in the journal Behavior in Brain Research showing ducks do the same thing! Shallower human sleep and increased responsiveness of the left hemisphere serves to protect the sleeper in a “potentially dangerous," or simply unfamiliar, environment, according to a study published in Current Biology. You can read more on our other blog post about why sleep in a new place is tough and how to fix it.

Fruit Fies Can Tell Us about How Sleep Deprivation Impacts Obesity

Research published in Current Biology has found fruit flies sleep at night like most humans, and can be caffeine sensitive, and that there's a link between sleep deprivation and metabolic problems, like obesity and diabetes. One study looked at the gene translin, and conducted starvation-induced sleep suppression experiments. The researchers determined this gene was crucial for helping hungry fruit flies sleep when they'd otherwise be foraging for food. The researchers hope understanding how certain genes regulate sleep-feeding interactions may provide insight into links between the human brain and metabolic regulation. Here's some tips to help you if you're craving junk food.

Birds and Mice Also Require REM Sleep

“Birds, just like mammals, have two types of sleep," says Niels C. Rattenborg of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany. “They have REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. The brain waves are remarkably similar to humans." But those periods of sleep differ greatly – maybe (brain) size does matter. : )

"Episodes of REM sleep in birds are very short, typically less than 10 seconds at a time, whereas in mice it would be tens of seconds or one minute, and in humans it could be up to 45 minutes toward the end of the night," says Rattenborg.

According to the Sleep Number white paper about Quality sleep: The center of a healthy life, REM is when your body is in dream-state sleep, and is even more active than when awake. It's important because it's when information is relocated from short-term to long-term memory; and when the brain is building creativity, complex learning, problem solving and executive functions, including intuition, insight, spatial orientation and perceptual skills. Sufficient amounts of REM sleep can be the difference between being in a good mood or a bad mood and making good decisions versus bad decisions the next day.

Other Mammals Might Be Dreamers

Humans might not be the only mammals that dream of food. One study examined how rodents' brains lit up during sleep after being shown food they weren't allowed to eat, according to results published in the journal eLife. Based on where neurons were firing in the brain during sleep, scientists think part of rodents' brains, the hippocampus, planned out how to get the food while they slept.

While periods of rest are essential to restoring brain function in humans and animals, the amount of sleep and type of sleep varies across species. Learn more about how to sleep smarter and sleep better with SleepIQ® sleep tracker technology.

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Sweet dreams!

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