Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Why Do Horses Sleep?

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Why Do Horses Sleep?

Article excerpt

"Do Horses Gallop in Their Sleep?" by Matt Cartmill, in The Key Reporter (Autumn 2000), Phi Beta Kappa Society, 1785 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Fourth Floor, Washington D.C. 20036.

Is consciousness unique to humans, or do other animals also possess it? Scientists--who are generally reluctant to deal with so subjective a thing as consciousness--are divided on the question. But Cartmill, a professor of biological anthropology and anatomy at Duke University Medical Center, thinks that the form of unconsciousness known as sleep offers some clues to the mystery.

Like humans--and unlike most animals--horses and other mammals (as well as birds and possibly some reptiles) engage in "true sleep, involving a shift from fast to slow waves in the forebrain," Cartmill notes. Because such sleep is "dangerous, complicated, and time-consuming," there must be "a payoff." It's not to conserve energy, he says, since "mammalian sleep uses almost as much energy as wakeful resting." And it's not to avoid predators, since "birds and mammals that are too big to hide still have to flop down and fall asleep every day, right out there on the prairie, exposed to every predator in the world. …

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