Home Science Chinstrap penguins sleep for seconds at a time thousands of times a...

Chinstrap penguins sleep for seconds at a time thousands of times a day

Chinstrap penguins sleep for seconds at a time thousands of times a day

Why are some organisms unable to withstand the overwhelming pressure of sleep? or what role does sleep play for each species? are some of the questions that scientists analyzing current biodiversity are trying to answer. Sleep phenotypes in the animal kingdom.

The act of sleeping appears to be ubiquitous in most species and an evolutionary necessity to promote rest. In this state we lose mobility and the ability to sense and respond to our environment. In addition, it leads to the animals becoming more numerous vulnerable to predators.

What is the function of sleep if it has been preserved for millions of years? To answer these and other questions, Paul Antoine Libourel, Scientists at the Neuroscience Research Center in Lyon, France, and his team use biosensors to track the behavior of species on land, water and in the air. In his latest work, published in the magazine Sciencethey found out that the Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus) performed synchronized microsleep periods of four seconds during nest building.

“The dream is one cumulative process. The more you lose, the longer it will take to get it back. Here we show that penguins can sleep extremely well fragmented, suggesting that they can live (protect eggs, search for food, etc.) even if their dream is not consolidated in a single session. This shows the adaptive nature of this phenomenon,” Libourel explains to SINC., Co-author of the study and member of the SLEEP team.

This behavior demonstrates the adaptive nature of sleep.

Paul-Antoine Libourel (Lyon Neuroscience Research Center)

If the microsleep of these Antarctic-breeding birds cumulatively fulfills the functions of a long sleep, it could provide an adaptive strategy for some species under ecological conditions that require constant vigilance, as in this case.

“We assume that with one extremely fragmented sleep It can help the animal stay alert while sleeping. This could serve both to combat predators and to combat colony unrest. The penguins that reach the sea and return to their nest create a lot of noise and movement,” argues Libourel.

Vladyslav Vyazovskiy, a scientist at the University of Oxford (UK) and co-author of an article giving his view on this study, tells SINC: “Further research is needed to reach the authors’ conclusion that sleep can provide benefits .” accumulate. This has not been studied and remains only a hypothesis. This is an interesting idea, but an alternative suggestion would be that the fragmentation of sleep does not prevent it from fulfilling its functions.”

More research is needed to reach the authors’ conclusion that the benefits of sleep can add up.

Vladyslav Vyazovskiy (Oxford University)

Microdreams when they hatch

During breeding season, a single parent often protects the nest from birds of prey and other intruders while their partner forages for food for several days. For this reason, a longer period of sleep would endanger their young.

“We believe that this particular type of sleeping could be motivated by the predation pressure of Antarctic skuas on their eggs and chicks, but also possibly by noise and disturbance from conspecifics in the colony. What we don’t know are the mechanisms that drive and synchronize eye closure and sleep,” emphasizes Libourel.

Chinstrap penguin. / Paul Antoine Libourel

To track down the animals, the experts conducted a Remote electroencephalogram monitoring and other non-invasive sensors that enabled recording the behavior of free-roaming and nesting penguins as well as continuous direct and video observations. This allowed them to identify strange patterns in the penguin’s sleep.

Remote monitoring using electroencephalogram and other non-invasive sensors was performed to monitor the animals.

They found that the birds did not take long periods of sleep and instead fell asleep frequently, equating to a total sleep duration of more than eleven hours per day 10,000 microdreams which only lasted four seconds on average.

“We know that other penguin species (which have been recorded for shorter periods of time in isolated conditions) exhibit a state of sleepiness that the authors describe as a mixture of sleep and wakefulness. However, even if a transitional state could be considered microsleep, no other species has been reported to continuously maintain such sleep fragmentation,” explains the CNRS scientist.

Benefits and sleep outside of the breeding season

The work shows that penguins sleep in microsleep during the breeding season. But when they meet in the sea or while feedingThe authors of the paper do not know whether sleep is more stable outside of the two months of the breeding season.

“It would have been great if the authors had recorded the same penguins under different conditions: after breeding season and in a safe enclosure without predators and at optimal temperature. Maybe the birds would sleep completely differently,” suspects the scientist from the University of Oxford.

It would have been great if the authors had recorded the same penguins in different conditions

Vladyslav Vyazovskiy

This microsleep can be dangerous, for example if it occurs while driving. However, it is not clear whether they are long enough to offer the same thing restorative functions which are known to have the longest periods.

“All species can probably induce microsleep, including humans. There is evidence that frigatebirds sleep for short periods of time during flight. Very few animals have been studied, particularly in the wild, and it is possible that the pattern described is the case more of a rule than an exception“, concludes Vyazovskiy.


Paul Antoine Libourel et al. “Nesting chinstrap penguins accumulate large amounts of sleep by microsleeping for seconds.” Science (2023).

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