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Sleep Is Not So Important
A new study by california researchers suggests that sleep serves different purposes for different species.
People relish the thought that sleep is necessary to let the busy brain and body take a break, but a new study by California researchers may put this notion to bed-at least as applied to other species and perhaps for humans, too.

The scientists say there is such a range in sleep patterns among species that it makes no sense that a set amount of sleep is always important for optimal health.

"This is just not the case," said Dr Jerome Siegel, a professor in residence at the University of California, Los Angeles Neuropsychiatric Institute and chief of neurobiology research at the Sepulveda Veterans Administration Medical Centre in Los Angeles. "Conventional wisdom is that sleep has a single vital function across animals. But our studies show that some animals go for long periods of time without sleep with no ill effects."

The UCLA team has completed an analysis of the amount and quality of sleep in various animals. The findings appear Thursday in the journal Nature.

"Evolution has determined sleep times to regulate activity rather than to fulfill a vital function," Siegel said.

That doesnt mean, he added, that humans will ever sleep as little as giraffes, for example, which require two to four hours a night at most.

Meat-eating species sleep the most and grazing animals the least, he, said. Dolphins can reduce their sleep by 90 percent for months without problems. Horses and elephants also require only a few hours of slumber during the day. By contrast, bats, lions and tigers can sleep their days away, clocking 15 to 20 hours of slumber.

Animals with short sleep cycles are light sleepers. Those that sleep a lot are harder to rouse. "Any theory of sleep function should deal with this incredible range in sleep patterns," Siegel said.

So what, perhaps, is sleep for? "Its to help the animal better adapt to their environment," Siegel said. "Sleep allows them to conserve energy and remain safely hidden until the next meal."

He said that there has been a growing concern that decreased sleep could harm the individual.

But Siegel said that studies have shown that humans sleep somewhat less than animals with similar physiological features -an average of seven or eight hours compared with 10 to 12 for other primates. This suggests that humans may have evolved in order to have more waking time to better compete with other humans.
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Posted on : 11/11/2005
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