Arianna Huffington, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington post is making waves with her recently published book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming your life one night at a time. She believes that we’re in the middle of a sleep deprivation crisis and that because we’re not honouring our need for sleep, we’re undermining our health, decision-making, work lives and personal well-being. Her theory: sleep more and you’ll get more done!
This may sound completely counter-intuitive but as with all things, nature knows best and when we look around we see animals upholding their need for sleep. Wild dogs, bats, rhinos, terrapins and not least the lion.
Lions are lethargic for the majority of their lives and spend about 20 hours of the day resting. This may seem like sheer laziness but in terms of survival, it makes complete sense. In order to survive, lions have to hunt and eat meat as well as protect territories. These intense periods of activity require a lot of energy and it is not unusual for a male lion to cover as much as 20km in a night if need be. Should they move about during the heat of the day, when they really don’t need to, they would essentially be wasting this precious energy and in fact be creating a situation where they would need to hunt more regularly.
Even huge animals like elephants, find time to sleep in between their incessant feeding. It is quite a sight to find an adult elephant, flat on the ground, having a doze. They can’t however rest like this for much longer than 30 minutes at a time, due to the pressure it puts on their organs. Because of this, elephants are also capable of sleeping standing up or resting against embankments and prominent termite mounds, which also make it easier to get their big bulk moving should they need to.
Impala, on the other hand, do not have it as easy and because they are a primary food source for Africa’s predators, have to be much more alert. They have therefore adapted to sleep for only a few minutes at a time. While some impala sit down to rest for these short bouts, others in the herd remain upstanding and alert. Should they spot any potential danger they will sound the alarm, waking the resting portion of the herd. An interesting fact researchers have discovered about cattle, which also are hoofed mammals, is that although they can sleep standing up, they dream only while lying down. Perhaps the same is true for wild hoofed mammals such as impala and nyala?
What I find quite remarkable are the animals that take rest and sleep to a whole new level and who hibernate or aestivate. Aestivation is a state of dormancy, similar to hibernation, characterised by inactivity and a lowered metabolic rate. This state is entered into in response to lowered temperatures and more importantly, arid conditions. At Londolozi, in winter, some of our animals like snakes, tortoises, chameleons and frogs enter this state because there is not enough moisture in the environment to sustain them. They therefore have to rely on the internal nutrient reserves built up during the rainy season. Each have their own adaptations for dealing with this period of inactivity, and while some do not move at all, others like snakes may emerge from their resting place to bask in the sun for short periods of time. A frog for example, produces a sticky mucous membrane which then ‘sets’, holding the limbs in place and reducing the surface area exposed to the elements, meaning it essentially cements itself to the surface and doesn’t have to use vital energy to ‘cling’ to the leaf or bark.
Sleep is defined as the “natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored”.
When we go to sleep, our muscles relax, our heartbeat and breathing rate slow down slightly, our body temperature drops a couple of degrees and measurable changes occur in our brain-wave patterns. Added to this, Huffington argues, “sleep allows us to connect with a deeper part of ourselves”. When we sleep, all the things that consume our minds during the day, like jobs, relationships, time and so on, are quieted. This, Huffington argues is a “small miracle [because] it allows us, once we return from our night’s journey, to see the world anew with fresh eyes and a reinvigorated spirit — to step out of time and come back to our lives restored.” So maybe the next time someone challenges your need for a ‘cat nap’, you can argue that if it’s good for lions, then it’s good for you too.