Wild Elephant Matriarchs Slept Just Two Hours A Day Or Less In 35-Day Study

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Two elephant matriarchs have shocked scientists worldwide with their sleeping patterns. The two supermoms in Botswana's Chobe National Park qualify as insomniacs, sleeping about two hours a day and not in an interrupted slumber.

One would expect the elephants to be exhausted after traveling nearly 19 miles in 10 hours without rest. Not so for these high-stamina creatures who also stayed up for a record 46 straight hours, based on the small study conducted by the UCLA Center for Sleep Research and the nonprofit research group Elephants Without Borders. 

"The elephants were studied for continuous 35 day periods [from a distance]," Jerry Siegel, director of the Center for Sleep Research, told NBC News. "Elephants move with their herd and move very frequently, so animals sleeping a lot would be left behind."

The two matriarchs moved their herds over the savanna without sleeping in the same location and without crossing paths. Equipped with GPS trackers and 'actiwatch implants', researchers observed that both matriarchs kept standing for two days straightm napping in short bouts of sleep of about 20 minutes over the course of a night -- or less if she senses poachers or other predators closeby. 

With these amazing observations, the study raised far more questions than it answered. 

"Perhaps elephants in larger family groups sleep longer due to increased protection of having other elephants aware of their surroundings," said Preston Foerder, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "It's also possible that they take turns sleeping. Elephants are in a fission-fusion social group, meaning that groups tend to split up and come back together."

Josh Plotnik, CEO of Think Elephants International, an organization that studies elephant intelligence, told NBC News that matriarchs are responsible for overseeing all of the herd's decisions about where to go for food and how to avoid predators. That responsibility alone could affect their sleeping patterns. 

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