Understanding Equine Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is an important, but not fully understood, equine health condition.
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Today’s culture fuels busy lifestyles with dwindling opportunities to sleep, so it should come as no surprise that a 2011 Center for Disease Control study estimated more than one third of American adults suffer from sleep deprivation. But did you know horses can suffer sleep deprivation as well? At the 2012 Western Veterinary Conference, held Feb. 19-23 in Las Vegas, Nev., one researcher presented an overview of this important, but not fully understood, equine health condition.

Before delving into sleep deprivation, however, it’s important to understand sleep in general. Joe Bertone, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, professor of equine medicine at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif., reviewed with the veterinary audience the basics of equine sleep.

What is Sleep and What Influences It?

"Sleep is commonly defined as a period of immobility in which individuals seem unresponsive to their environment," Bertone explained. But even though it’s fact everyone needs sleep, the reasoning behind it isn’t yet clear: "Sleep is now accepted as a behavior with clear physiologic necessities that are not understood, but when lacking have clear dysfunctional impact

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Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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