Scientists find sleep states of wolves and dogs don’t quite match

(ORDO NEWS) — Studying the sleep patterns of wolves versus dogs could give us insight into how evolution and domestication may have affected sleep – and that’s the point of the new study.

The study involved seven tame, socialized wolves, which meant they could be calmly and safely put into natural sleep without the risk of arousing or harming the animals.

The researchers then used non-invasive electrode measurements using an electroencephalogram, or EEG, to track brain activity while each wolf was napping.

This is the first study of the sleep habits of wolves, the dog’s closest wild relative.

“Although comparative studies of dogs and wolves have already been carried out in several areas, including behavioral and genetic studies, the neural processes of wolves remain a largely unexplored area,” says ethologist Anna Balint from the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary.

“We have successfully measured all stages of sleep – drowsiness, deep sleep and REM – that have previously been observed in dogs.”

Trying to track wolves in the wild is obviously quite difficult due to where they live and how often they move – and tracking them while sleeping is even more difficult. Thus, this is the first reliable data that researchers rely on.

The results obtained from wolves were compared with data obtained previously from family dogs.

The researchers noticed a lot in common: Our canine friends and wolves seem to spend the same amount of time in different stages of sleep, and older animals of both species register less “slow-wave” brain activity, or deep sleep, than younger ones.

But there are also variations. Wolves register more REM sleep, which in humans is associated with dreams. And the older the animal, the greater this difference.

“This finding is particularly intriguing, as the amount of REM sleep is associated with various effects, including neurodevelopment, stress, domestication, and memory consolidation,” said MTA-ELTE ethologist Vivien Reicher, first author of the study.

Over time, we learn more and more about how and why animals sleep. As a human being, sleep can have a big impact on many aspects of our mental and physical health, but questions still remain about how much sleep we actually need.

So by studying how dogs changed their sleep patterns in response to domestication, we can learn how human sleep evolved. Thanks to advances such as electricity and the light bulb, our species has moved from a wilder, more open and less sheltered life to more controlled days that are less dependent on nature’s rhythms.

Due to the small sample size and uneven age distribution of wolves, scientists will not draw any broad conclusions from the results, but they are an interesting starting point for future research.

“We anticipate that the use of our robust and easily applicable methodology in different laboratories could form the basis for an international multi-site collection of similar samples, allowing generalizing scientific conclusions,” says MTA-ELTE ethologist Márta Gácsi.

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