Insight from the animal kingdom
As veterinarians, it behooves us to look to the animal kingdom for deeper insight into the importance of sleep. Granted, we are not sloths, requiring 18 hours of sleep per day. But all creatures great and small need sleep.
The first sleep deprivation study, performed on puppies in the 1890s by a Russian physician, proved sleep is mandatory for survival. When kept awake continuously, every pup died within days.6 The lethality of sleep deprivation has since been confirmed in rats, cockroaches, and fruit flies.
To be fair, while fruit flies average 5 hours of sleep per day, a singular female paragon in one study snatched just 4 minutes of shut-eye per day without meeting a hideous end.7 (If only the US military could bottle that superpower…) As for the other insomniac heroes of the world, namely transoceanic migratory birds, more refined, kinder studies have nailed down the specific mechanism of their seeming sleeplessness. Electroencephalograms fitted to great frigate birds of the Galapagos verified the long-held assumption that they fly with one (and sometimes both) hemispheres of their brain asleep.8