Does Inadequate Sleep Affect Equine Memory?

As a prey species, horses have evolved to sleep in unique ways that will allow them to be nearly constantly vigilant about predators. One way they can stay on alert is dozing while standing up. Though they don’t enter the necessary rapid eye movement (REM) phase in this position, they are able to fulfill some sleep requirements. To get deep REM sleep, the horse must lie down.

Though horses can cope with short periods of REM sleep, it’s imperative that they are able to enter this regenerative sleep phase. Dr. Linda Greening and colleagues from Aberystwyth University created a study to determine the cognitive effects on horses if environmental factors precluded them from entering the REM sleep cycle. 

The researchers tested environmental effects on equine sleep patterns using two light regimes and two different depths of straw bedding. The team then tested each horse to see if his cognitive performance was affected by sleep patterns. 

The team placed 10 adult horses into two groups for the five-week experiment. Each group had either the lights on or off overnight and straw bedding at nearly two inches or nearly six inches for six days. The horse then measured the horse’s response to a cognitive test. 

The team found that the horse’s sleep stages were affected by both the lighting and the depth of bedding. Horses that were bedded more shallowly spend more time standing, meaning they didn’t enter the REM sleep cycle. 

The lighting and bedding did not have a significant impact on the memory test, which included placing four buckets around the arena and asking the horse to remember which one contained feed. 

Read the full study here.

Read more at Equine Science Update

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