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Giraffes Barely Sleep, and When They do, it’s on Their Butts

By the time you kick the bucket, chances are you’ll have spent 20-26 years asleep. Our human brains need a lot of time to reboot, but some animals manage to go about their days with far less rest time. Take the giraffe: until the mid ’50s, researchers believed that giraffes didn’t sleep at all. We now know this isn’t true, but the tall mammals are one of the most sleepless animals on Earth.

A quick google will tell you that giraffes only sleep 30 minutes per day, but this isn’t quite accurate. On average the long-necked mammals fit about 4 hours of sleep time into a 24 hour period (and slightly less in the wild). While that stat might not sound as impressive, what it means is that a giraffe will spend just 4 years asleep in its entire lifetime. Because of this, few people have actually encountered a slumbering long-neck in the wild.

During an in-depth sleep study conducted over 152 nights, researchers from the University of Zürich found that when giraffes do sleep, they’re either standing, or lying down, faces nestled into their own butts. (No judgment here, if our necks were long enough, we’d be getting comfy on our trunk-junk as well.) That position is used most by babies, and it’s darn adorable.

giraffe-sleeping-2016-5-28Source: Gabe Taviano/Flickr

giraffesleep-2016-5-29Source: Anton Raath/Flickr

There’s a common misconception that no predators eat giraffes. When the going gets tough, lions, among other big cats, have been known to hunt the giant prey. A giraffe’s saving grace during an attack is some serious get-up-and-go. These animals can clock speeds up to 37 miles per hour in a sprint, but when you’re nearly two stories tall, getting up from the ground is an awkward and time-consuming procedure. The youngsters can get away with lying down because they’re closer to the ground to begin with (not to mention under the watchful eye of mom).

And that’s eye, not eyes. Adult giraffes rarely sleep for more than five minutes at a time, and have been known to occasionally keep one eye open. This high-alert power nap strategy is used by many other animals, including dolphins, fruit bats, and birds like mallard ducks and chickens.

We all know what happens when we get our spines in a bunch while we sleep, so how to giraffes manage to pretzel up while avoiding “kinks” and pain? This all comes down to the internal structure of the notorious neck. Just like we do, a giraffe neck has 7 vertebrae, but with more space between them, each vertebra is coupled with an extremely flexible joint. This allows for a large range of motion in every section of the neck. For an extra boost of support, a system of thick, anchoring muscles, and a particularly strong Nuchal ligament (the one that goes up the back of your neck) help take weight of the off the shoulders, to prevent any strain on the shoulder girdle.

Forget downward dog, let’s see team yoga try “about-face giraffe.”

Images:Tambako The Jaguar/Flickr  Anton Raath/Flickr, Gabe Taviano/Flickr

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