The first of its kind study suggests that changing seasons and dramatic shifts in extreme weather conditions are likely to impact sleep patterns.

Recent research indicates that the hotter summer temperatures potentially impair sleep quality, and therefore, overall health and wellbeing in wildlife.

This research, published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, was led by Queen’s University Belfast in collaboration with researchers at Czech University of Life Sciences and Swansea University.

Sleeping wild boar. Photo credit: Václav Přibáň
Sleeping wild boar. Photo credit: Václav Přibáň

In the longest and most detailed analysis of sleep in wild animals to date, researchers recorded the sleeping behaviour of nearly 30 wild boar (Sus scrofa) in two locations in the Czech Republic. The data was collected across three years using cutting-edge, minimally invasive biologgers.

Sleep serves vital physiological functions and is an essential component for a healthy mind and body for humans and animals, allowing for recovery and recharge.

Frequently, individuals that sleep less than average tend to develop neurological disorders later in life, indicating that short sleep durations entail long-term costs.

How sleep in wild animals is influenced by environmental conditions is poorly understood to date. Queen’s undertook this study to determine if, and how, the change in seasons and weather conditions are influencing the wild boar sleep.

In turn, researchers believe the findings may prove helpful in telling humans a thing or two about our sleeping patterns, to help us adapt our sleep to improve our quality of life.

The findings show that the sleep quantity, efficiency and quality are all significantly reduced on warmer, humid days, whilst colder temperatures, as well as greater snow cover and rainfall, promote an increase in sleep quality.

Furthermore, the study reveals profound individual differences. Specifically, short-sleepers sleep up to 46% less than long-sleepers, but do not compensate for their short sleep through greater quality, suggesting they may pay higher costs of sleep deprivation in the long-term.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Isabella Capellini, Reader from the School of Biological Sciences, Queen’s University said: “Given the major role sleep plays in overall health, our results signal that global warming, and the associated increase in extreme climatic events are likely to negatively impact sleep, and consequently health, in wildlife, particularly in nocturnal animals. This too could potentially apply to humans.

“Altogether, our results suggest that individuals sleeping consistently less, or less efficiently, are likely to gain fewer benefits of sleep and may have long-term detrimental effects when sleep deprived.”