Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Baby owls sleep like baby humans: Owlets spend more time in REM sleep than adult owls

Date:
August 2, 2013
Source:
Max Planck Institute for Ornithology
Summary:
Baby birds have sleep patterns similar to baby mammals, and their sleep changes in the same way when growing up. This is what a biologists found out working with barn owls in the wild. The team also discovered that this change in sleep was strongly correlated with the expression of a gene involved in producing dark, melanic feather spots, a trait known to covary with behavioral and physiological traits in adult owls. These findings raise the intriguing possibility that sleep-related developmental processes in the brain contribute to the link between melanism and other traits observed in adult barn owls and other animals.

As they get older, baby owls change their sleeping patterns. The older they get, the less time they spent in REM sleep.
Credit: quasarphotos / Fotolia

Baby birds have sleep patterns similar to baby mammals, and their sleep changes in the same way when growing up. This is what a team from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Lausanne found out working with barn owls in the wild. The team also discovered that this change in sleep was strongly correlated with the expression of a gene involved in producing dark, melanic feather spots, a trait known to covary with behavioral and physiological traits in adult owls. These findings raise the intriguing possibility that sleep-related developmental processes in the brain contribute to the link between melanism and other traits observed in adult barn owls and other animals.

Sleep in mammals and birds consists of two phases, REM sleep ("Rapid Eye Movement Sleep") and non-REM sleep. We experience our most vivid dreams during REM sleep, a paradoxical state characterized by awake-like brain activity. Despite extensive research, REM sleep's purpose remains a mystery. One of the most salient features of REM sleep is its preponderance early in life. A variety of mammals spend far more time in REM sleep during early life than when they are adults. For example, as newborns, half of our time asleep is spent in REM sleep, whereas last night REM sleep probably encompassed only 20-25% percent of your time snoozing.

Although birds are the only non-mammalian group known to clearly engage in REM sleep, it has been unclear whether sleep develops in the same manner in baby birds. Consequently, Niels Rattenborg of the MPIO, Alexandre Roulin of Unil, and their PhD student Madeleine Scriba, reexamined this question in a population of wild barn owls. They used an electroencephalogram (EEG) and movement data logger in conjunction with minimally invasive EEG sensors designed for use in humans, to record sleep in 66 owlets of varying age. During the recordings, the owlets remained in their nest box and were fed normally by their parents. After having their sleep patterns recorded for up to five days, the logger was removed. All of the owlets subsequently fledged and returned at normal rates to breed in the following year, indicating that there were no long-term adverse effects of eves-dropping on their sleeping brains.

Despite lacking significant eye movements (a trait common to owls), the owlets spent large amounts of time in REM sleep. "During this sleep phase, the owlets' EEG showed awake-like activity, their eyes remained closed, and their heads nodded slowly," reports Madeleine Scriba from the University of Lausanne (see video in the link below). Importantly, the researchers discovered that just as in baby humans, the time spent in REM sleep declined as the owlets aged.

In addition, the team examined the relationship between sleep and the expression of a gene in the feather follicles involved in producing dark, melanic feather spots. "As in several other avian and mammalian species, we have found that melanic spotting in owls covaries with a variety of behavioral and physiological traits, many of which also have links to sleep, such as immune system function and energy regulation," notes Alexander Roulin from the University of Lausanne. Indeed, the team found that owlets expressing higher levels of the gene involved in melanism had less REM sleep than expected for their age, suggesting that their brains were developing faster than in owlets expressing lower levels of this gene. In line with this interpretation, the enzyme encoded by this gene also plays a role in producing hormones (thyroid and insulin) involved in brain development.

Although additional research is needed to determine exactly how sleep, brain development, and pigmentation are interrelated, these findings nonetheless raise several intriguing questions. Does variation in sleep during brain development influence adult brain organization? If so, does this contribute to the link between behavioral and physiological traits and melanism observed in adult owls? Do sleep and pigmentation covary in adult owls, and if so how does this influence their behavior and physiology? Finally, Niels Rattenborg from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen hopes that "this naturally occurring variation in REM sleep during a period of brain development can be used to reveal exactly what REM sleep does for the developing brain in baby owls, as well as humans."

Video: http://www.frontiersinzoology.com/imedia/2039187711104100/supp2.mp4


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Madeleine F Scriba, Anne-Lyse Ducrest, Isabelle Henry, Alexei L Vyssotski, Niels C Rattenborg, Alexandre Roulin. Linking melanism to brain development: expression of a melanism-related gene in barn owl feather follicles covaries with sleep ontogeny. Frontiers in Zoology, 2013; 10 (1): 42 DOI: 10.1186/1742-9994-10-42

Cite This Page:

Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. "Baby owls sleep like baby humans: Owlets spend more time in REM sleep than adult owls." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 August 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130802094840.htm>.
Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. (2013, August 2). Baby owls sleep like baby humans: Owlets spend more time in REM sleep than adult owls. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130802094840.htm
Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. "Baby owls sleep like baby humans: Owlets spend more time in REM sleep than adult owls." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130802094840.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

Newsy (July 25, 2014) An online quiz from a required course at Ohio State is making waves for suggesting atheists are inherently smarter than Christians. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins