Antarctic chinstrap penguins sleep on average… 4 seconds!

They are on the front page of the American scientific journal “Science” for this performance. A study, led by a scientist from Lyon, reveals that although these birds are masters of fragmented sleep, they still sleep more than 11 hours a day.


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A family of Antarctic chinstrap penguins (illustrative photo).  (imagebroker/David Hosking/Newscom/MaxPPP)

Even stronger than sailors and their 15-30 minute micro-naps during sailing races: the Antarctic penguin! For a study [texte en anglais] Led by Paul-Antoine Libourel, researcher at the CNRS in Lyon, the scientists observed 14 penguins called “chinstrap penguins” living on King George Island in Antarctica. They installed electrodes on their backs to identify when the birds were sleeping, standing or lying down. And they realized that these penguins never slept for very long, 34 seconds at most and on average 4 seconds. When they are at sea, they even doze off on the waves, between two attempts to catch a fish.

These birds live almost continuously in this state of micro-sleep since they fall asleep approximately 600 times per hour, or 11 and a half hours of sleep in 24 hours. These naps are shorter and more frequent during the nesting period, when birds are protecting their eggs and chicks. At that moment, a cacophony reigns around them. One of the researchers summarizes: “It’s noisy, smelly and crowded”. Attacks by seabirds or attacks by other penguins must be avoided; parents must therefore remain alert and vigilant at all times.

10,000 micro-sleeps per day

Scientists already knew that birds sleep more fragmented than mammals. Here the question of the development and health of penguins arises. 10,000 micro-sleeps per day lasting only a few seconds, this is the first time that such fragmented sleep has been observed in a living being. According to scientists, penguins immediately succeed in falling into “slow” sleep, the deepest sleep. Humans cannot do this. Is this slow but short sleep restful and quality? Is it sufficiently recuperative? We still need to work on it, explains the study. But a priori, the researchers are surprised, the penguins observed in this study seem to be in good shape.

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