Celebrity groundhog Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his hibernation burrow on Feb. 2 for the annual ritual of predicting how much longer winter will last. Few animals get pulled out of slumber to make public pronouncements, but scientific data suggests that all animals probably do sleep—including the most unexpected creatures, such as fish, birds, worms, and flies. Sara Aton (B.S. ’01) can attest to dozing cats, mice, and even cuttlefish, all of which she’s studied as they snoozed. She marvels that biologists once thought bugs and birds and worms never slept.
“I think there’s this pervasive misconception that your brain is just turning off when you go to sleep, because there’s no obvious output. Outside of a coma, you can’t think of a less interesting behavior to study than sleep, right?” Aton says. “Sleep is something that, as humans, we spend a third of our life doing. And yet biologists and the neuroscience community didn’t have a lot of interest in it.”
But now that we know better, new questions arise: Do animals all rest for the same reasons?After studying sleep for the past decade, Aton is convinced that it matters—a lot.
“I’m much more protective of, for example, my son’s sleep than I would have been had I not been in this field,” she says.
Read about Aton's research on what role sleep may play in this article on the LSA News site.