Dramatic shifts in extreme weather conditions likely to affect sleep patterns, study finds

Warming planet disrupts sleep patterns of wild boar as animal study insights likely to apply to humans with possible implications for neurological disorders in later life

Changing seasons and dramatic shifts in extreme weather conditions are likely to affect sleep patterns, a new study involving Irish researchers has found.

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

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

The study recorded the sleeping behaviour of nearly 30 wild boar in two locations in the Czech Republic over a period of three years.

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It is the longest and most detailed analysis of sleep in wild animals to date, the authors say.

They believe the study, undertaken on wild animals, will be helpful in understanding human sleeping patterns and how to improve sleep and quality of life.

The study reveals profound individual differences. Short-sleepers can sleep up to 46 per cent 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.

“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,” Dr Isabella Capellini, reader from the school of biological sciences at Queen’s University Belfast said.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Dr Capellini said sleep for all individuals was poorer during hot and humid days.

“If we find it in a natural environment in wild animals, it’s more likely to be in humans. Some may pay a greater cost for disruptions to natural sleep,” she said.

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.

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

“A lot of sleep variability we see in human populations has always been difficult to understand because we live in an environment that’s very artificial and may create distractions in our sleep,” Dr Capellini said.

“Now the question is if the individuals who sleep less and poorly are also paying a greater cost when environmental conditions are not good.”

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