According to Laboratory Equipment, researcher Cory Williams and his team of the University of Alaska believe it’s so critical that they are willing to brave cold temperatures and snow as they focus on the clock of one particular animal, the arctic ground squirrel.
While many humans rely on clocks to stick to a schedule of waking up, heading to work, eating and getting tucked, in the animal world, mechanical clocks don’t exist. On the other hand, internal clocks, or circadian rhythms, cue both humans and animals alike as to when to wake up and ensure that body functions are happening at the correct time, such as feeling sleepy.
In colder climates, some mammal species go into hibernation for the winter, spending months with decreased physiological activity as body functions are slowed to conserve energy, including their internal clock. What makes the arctic squirrel so fascinating to researchers is its ability to survive its frozen den in state of hibernation, as its core body temperature can drop as low as -3 C.
In studying the association between the time it takes for the squirrel to emerge from hibernation and to regain their normal body temperature, this the first research to show a complete absence of a functioning internal clock in a species that hibernates. No evidence was found of a functioning circadian rhythm, even when researchers manipulated their light exposure and hibernation condition.
So what does this all have to do with how we humans sleep? Williams and many other researchers around the world hope that by studying hibernation, they’ll gain a better perspective of our own rhythms. Completely solving the mystery of circadian rhythms may help prevent and treat many serious health issues that have been linked to poorly operating internal clocks, including heart disease and cancer.
We love sharing what’s new in the world of animals and sleep as researchers rely on them to fix our sleep problems and make each our nights more efficient. What fascinates you the most about the mystery of shut-eye?