It’s not going out on a limb to say all moms, at some point or another (or all of the time) are sleep deprived. Unfortunately, young children don’t always sleep the way we hope they will. New research shows that bees have the solution. They hardly sleep when taking care of young ones, and it doesn’t seem to bother them.
Bees normally sleep much like we humans do, but apparently there’s an exception. The Hebrew University research shows that worker bees tending pupae sleep much less than other bees do, even when caring for offspring that aren’t their own.
“Our findings show that sleep is more plastic and less rigid than is commonly accepted,” says corresponding author Guy Bloch. They also highlight the value in studying sleep in diverse species in nature, not just a handful of “model organisms” in the lab, the researchers say.
When bees are sleeping, they stop moving, take on a typical sleep posture, and become less responsive to noise or touch. When humans, rodents, or flies are sleep deprived, it compromises their health and performance.
But the new study suggests there may be ways around that in some cases. Bloch and colleagues had earlier shown that bees adjust their activities depending on their role in the colony, with foragers showing a strong circadian rhythm and “nurse” bees tending the brood around the clock. They wondered how that sleep loss affected them.
The evidence suggests that substances produced by the pupae drive the reduction in sleep. Surprisingly, however, when the pupae and their substances were removed, those bees did not show the expected sleep rebound. It suggested that they weren’t sleep deprived in the expected way.
The findings add to emerging evidence showing that under some natural conditions, animals can give up sleep, the researchers said. For example, they noted that birds sleep less during their seasonal migrations. Some male birds and fruit flies will forgo sleep to give themselves more time to mate. And some cavefish have evolved to sleep less compared with related species of fish that live in open water habitats.