Which pet is the laziest, cats or dogs? Which animal in general is the laziest? Is it a sloth? Do chimpanzees, gorillas, and monkeys sleep the same way we do?
For a behaviour as universal and common as sleep, we can learn a lot from looking at animal sleep cycles and sleep habits. In fact, by observing the sleep patterns of animals, scientists have learned more about human sleep. These insights have helped solve issues and enhance sleep quality.
Of course, learning about animals is always fun too! You can teach your child or nieces and nephews about animals with this fun trivia.
You’ll read about cats, dogs, and other common animals, big and small. By the end, you’ll also meet some crazy animals from the animal kingdom that may surprise you with their sleep activity.
How do animals sleep compared to humans?
Humans sleep to rest the body and brain, regain energy, and boost the immune system. On average, scientists recommend eight hours of continuous deep sleep within a 24-hour period. The amount of sleep time is meant to induce rapid eye movement/REM sleep, which is the most restive state a person can experience.
When you experience REM sleep, your body temperature drops slightly, brain activity slows down, and the brain sleeps. Combine that with a regular circadian rhythm and eight hours of sleep and you should be energetic when you wake up in the morning.
In contrast, animals sleep for rest too, but many other factors affect the amount of sleep that specific animals need. Their sleep varies according to their size, energy needs, food consumption, position in the food chain, and native habitat.
Carnivores, for example, spend more periods of time sleeping than herbivores. Herbivores need to stay awake for longer to meet their energy needs. Amphibians, marine mammals, primates, and birds all have their unique sleep patterns.
Unique sleep characteristics
Due to the different factors that play into animal sleep, animals go through their own kind of activity and sleep patterns. Activity patterns refer to the times that any species stays awake and asleep.
Humans are diurnal, which means they are awake during daylight and asleep during night time. Some animals, like owls, can be nocturnal and are awake at night. Animals can also be crepuscular, which means being active during twilight. Finally, animals can be metaturnal/cathemeral, meaning they stay awake and sleep as needed. We definitely didn’t know there were that many kinds of sleep!
We can also look at sleep patterns, which refers to the phases that humans and animals sleep. Humans have monophasic sleep—a single large block of time at night for rest. Animals either have biphasic—a short snooze in the day and a long one at night, or polyphasic—several short sleep phases throughout the day.
The animal brain, half on and half off
Do you wish you can sleep with half of the brain and stay active with the other half? Animals can do it, and it’s called unihemispheric sleep or slow-wave sleep. Species that can do this seem to have developed this ability so they can protect themselves from predators and keep their families together during migrations. It reminds us of the saying “sleep with one eye open!”
How much do pets sleep?
Let’s start with our favourite furry friends, our pets! Cats and dogs snooze for around 12 to 16 hours a day in several short phases, making them polyphasic sleepers. Age and size may alter that average, but your fur-babies are probably knocked out for most of the day.
Because of their polyphasic sleep, this makes cats and dogs primarily metaturnal. When they do sleep, they also go through REM and non-REM cycles. In fact, all mammals go through the sleep cycle, although some spend more or less time in the REM stage. Most significantly, REM sleep plays a large part in the growth of baby animals.
Do fish and marine mammals sleep?
Fish seem to swim constantly in their aquariums, never growing tired, but they actually sleep in their own way. They either float in the water or hide in rocks and nests. Their heart rate decreases, and they enter into a restive state.
Larger marine mammals are a different story. Whales and dolphins need to keep swimming in the water to stay safe from predators. They also need to be alert to a certain level so that they can surface for air. To do both of these, whales and dolphins can stay half asleep and half awake, which is unihemispheric slow-wave sleep.
How about birds, reptiles, and amphibians?
Birds, reptiles, and amphibians sleep in their own way too. Birds sleep for an average of 12 to 13 hours. House birds usually sleep in their perches or houses, while reptiles and amphibians like snakes and frogs simply sit or lie motionless. You may even find them with wide-open eyes, but they are actually asleep. They don’t have eyelids, so they can’t close their eyes.
How do other animals in the kingdom sleep?
The ones similar to humans
Primates may have the most similar sleep behaviour to humans. They are monophasic and diurnal sleepers like us. They mainly lie down in their nests up in the trees to sleep, just like suspended beds, except for monkeys that sleep upright.
The ones opposite to humans
Many animals either sleep too much or too little. For example, dolphins in their younger years don’t sleep at all, and frogs may rest their eyes here and there but stay awake for months on end.
Meanwhile, giraffes sleep around 30 minutes per day, and walruses remain active up to 84 hours. Horses, elephants, deer, and sheep are other examples of minimal sleepers.
As for those who oversleep, sloths and koalas may come to mind, but they only sleep as much as dogs in reality. The brown bat, the large hairy armadillo and the North American opossum hold the title of heavy sleepers. They sleep for 18-20 hours on average every day.
Do animals have sleep issues?
With the highly varied sleep behaviours in the animal kingdom, you may wonder if animals experience issues with lack of sleep or oversleep. Studies are lacking in the specifics, but observations seem to suggest so. Animals only tend to recover more quickly than humans since they either don’t need the sleep or sleep long enough to regain the z’s they lost.
Sleep is universal
It has been a long trip through the animal kingdom, yet many lessons can be learned from animal sleep behaviours. What’s more, it’s fun to learn more about animals! What was your favourite animal here?