Unbelievably, Monday saw the autumnal equinox – the astronomical start of fall in the Northern Hemisphere and spring in the Southern Hemisphere.
Even after 10 years in beautiful coastal Georgia, I still adore the fact that it is warm enough to enjoy the pool and beach while much of northern Europe and the U.S. is preparing for winter. All we have to do is get through the last few weeks of hurricane season!
Regular readers will know that since we bought a “smart bed,” I have been fascinated by the subject of sleep. Sharing a home with three dogs, and with the changing of the seasons upon us and the onset of hibernation for some species, I decided to look into how animals deal with winter and sleep.
Some animals respond to winter by migrating or adjusting their daily patterns, just like humans do. Others hibernate. But hibernation isn’t as easy as going to sleep for a couple of months.
Although there are varying degrees and periods, hibernation always involves certain changes for animals. Their body temperature decreases, their breathing slows and their metabolic rate drops.
Everyone knows that bears famously hibernate, but did you know other winter hibernators include bumblebees, hedgehogs, ground squirrels, bats, turtles, snakes, woodchucks, fat tailed lemurs and moths? Whether they hibernate or not, every creature sleeps in some fashion or another. Even worms, according to scientists, get regular shut-eye, despite not having any eyes to close. I am especially impressed with migratory birds who have evolved the ability to sleep mid-flight using micro naps that last just a few seconds.
Horses and livestock are able to achieve good quality sleep standing up. Elephants need half as much sleep as humans – just three to four hours – whereas tigers and lions need 15 hours. Domestic house cats need even more, around 16 hours per day. The laziest of all animals? The brown bat, which needs to be asleep for 19 hours out of every 24.
Closer to home, the average amount of sleep for adult dogs is 12–14 hours per day, although it really depends on a number of factors, such as breed and age. Puppies sleep 18 hours per day or more.
Unlike people, who are usually awake all day then sleep at night, dogs don’t have a regular sleep regimen. They catch several short naps during the day.
I guess that is why our dogs are always ready to go at 6 a.m. – even if it is the weekend. Some unknown wit once said “I love sleep because it’s like a time machine to breakfast.” My dogs would agree.
While all species sleep, not all species dream. Scientists believe only mammals and birds are capable of dreaming.
I know my dogs have occasional vivid dreams, sometimes whining, barking, snuffling and even moving their paws, running while lying down.
However, aquatic mammals, such as dolphins and killer whales, do not dream because the brain paralyses the body during REM sleep, which is not ideal if you must come to the surface of the water to breathe. They manage this situation by being “unihemispheric” – only half of their brain sleeps at any one time. The other side will then take over, like shift work.
A few animals, however, do have it both ways, such as the fur seal. These interesting animals, which split their time between land and sea, only dream when they are on land.
There is a lot more information at sleepfoundation.org.
One man who really understood our beloved canine friends is iconic American cartoonist Charles M. Schultz, who brought that loveable dog Snoopy to life.
He said “Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon!”
God bless America, and enjoy your autumn.