Adaptive sleep loss in polygynous pectoral sandpipers

Science. 2012 Sep 28;337(6102):1654-8. doi: 10.1126/science.1220939. Epub 2012 Aug 9.


The functions of sleep remain elusive. Extensive evidence suggests that sleep performs restorative processes that sustain waking brain performance. An alternative view proposes that sleep simply enforces adaptive inactivity to conserve energy when activity is unproductive. Under this hypothesis, animals may evolve the ability to dispense with sleep when ecological demands favor wakefulness. Here, we show that male pectoral sandpipers (Calidris melanotos), a polygynous Arctic breeding shorebird, are able to maintain high neurobehavioral performance despite greatly reducing their time spent sleeping during a 3-week period of intense male-male competition for access to fertile females. Males that slept the least sired the most offspring. Our results challenge the view that decreased performance is an inescapable outcome of sleep loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Charadriiformes / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Female
  • Male
  • Reproduction*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*
  • Sleep / physiology*