Curr Biol, co-auth.: group Fanken

Reindeer in the Arctic reduce sleep need during rumination

Melanie Furrer 1Sara A Meier 2Maxime Jan 3Paul Franken 4Monica A Sundset 5Steven A Brown 2Gabriela C Wagner 6Reto Huber 7


Timing and quantity of sleep depend on a circadian (∼24-h) rhythm and a specific sleep requirement.1 Sleep curtailment results in a homeostatic rebound of more and deeper sleep, the latter reflected in increased electroencephalographic (EEG) slow-wave activity (SWA) during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.2 Circadian rhythms are synchronized by the light-dark cycle but persist under constant conditions.3,4,5 Strikingly, arctic reindeer behavior is arrhythmic during the solstices.6 Moreover, the Arctic’s extreme seasonal environmental changes cause large variations in overall activity and food intake.7 We hypothesized that the maintenance of optimal functioning under these extremely fluctuating conditions would require adaptations not only in daily activity patterns but also in the homeostatic regulation of sleep. We studied sleep using non-invasive EEG in four Eurasian tundra reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) in Tromsø, Norway (69°N) during the fall equinox and both solstices. As expected, sleep-wake rhythms paralleled daily activity distribution, and sleep deprivation resulted in a homeostatic rebound in all seasons. Yet, these sleep rebounds were smaller in summer and fall than in winter. Surprisingly, SWA decreased not only during NREM sleep but also during rumination. Quantitative modeling revealed that sleep pressure decayed at similar rates during the two behavioral states. Finally, reindeer spent less time in NREM sleep the more they ruminated. These results suggest that they can sleep during rumination. The ability to reduce sleep need during rumination-undisturbed phases for both sleep recovery and digestion-might allow for near-constant feeding in the arctic summer.