A reader recently asked about animals and sleep. We human animals spend a lot of time talking about sleep — or, more accurately, talking about how poorly we sleep. How many hours you got (or didn’t) last night. The latest thing in herbal-infused sleep masks and organic fabric blackout shades. How to de-funk your CPAC machine. Best melatonin-valerian blend or the new-to-market drug (please don’t let me wake up in my pajamas cruising Safeway’s cookie aisle). Having suffered poor sleep since childhood I am sensitive to the issue (there was a clown painted on black velvet hanging across from my bed and you just didn’t want to close your eyes while he was watching), but I’m also aware that while we’re the ones to moan about it we’re not the only animal with what might be considered peculiar sleep patterns.
While snails can snooze for 2 years uninterrupted, sloths are the oft-touted champs. (That name is not accidental!) But a sloth’s 14-hours daily average is actually about the same as that of adult dogs (and less than puppies). Cats are better at it, spending on average 16 or more of the 24 hours catnapping, but even that does not approach the real pros. The Big Hairy Armadillo (a South American species) sleeps 20-plus hours every day, perhaps simply to avoid hearing themselves called big and hairy. Koalas sleep only (only!) 15 hours at a time but they also get points for doing little more than serious resting for the remainder of the day. For those of us who routinely raid the ‘fridge after midnight we already know that sleep is linked to eating habits. Just like that predawn nosher, many grazing animals can be found active and awake for most of the day to allow enough time to locate and consume the necessary calories, which is why giraffes and elephants, for example, typically sleep only 30 minutes to a few hours. Some frogs may not sleep for months at a time, a slowed but awake metabolism helping them survive winter, finally getting some zzz’s and bugs after the thaw.
Like sleep duration, sleep habits also vary considerably. While cows and sheep sleep in herds, safety in numbers, ever-adorable otters sleep ever adorably holding hands. Heck, I bet they’re even cute when they snore.