Sleep researchers want to know how birds are able to migratethousands of miles every year on very little sleep. Theystudied sparrows in their laboratory and found the birdsreduced their sleep time by two-thirds during the periodwhen they would ordinarily be migrating but still functionedwell. But during times when they wouldn’t have beenmigrating, sleep deprivation impaired their performance.
Psychiatrist Ruth Benca studied captive white-crownedsparrows that usually migrate at night between Alaska andSouthern California twice a year. In their laboratory cagesduring the migratory season, the birds became active andrestless at night, moving around and flapping their wings,and slept about one-third as much as usual. They movedquickly into REM sleep, the deep, restorative sleep stage,and were fully awake when they weren’t sleeping. They didn’tneed to nap during the daytime to make up for lost sleep. Ifresearchers can’t figure out how to help insomniacs to getmore sleep, they would like to learn how to help them tofunction on the little they do get.
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