Scientific American‘s 60-Second Science recently covered the neurology of parenthood, revealing how sleep deprivation for caregivers extends to insects as well:
Researchers found that worker bees who care for the brood get less sleep than their sisters, because bee babies produce chemicals that keep their caretakers awake. The findings appear in the journal Current Biology. [Moshe Nagari et al., Bumble bee workers give up sleep to care for offspring that are not their own]
In these colonies, a queen lays the eggs, and worker bees called nurses care for the resulting hatchlings. To start, Nagari confirmed that when nurses were housed with larvae, they slept significantly less than bees who didn’t have babies to attend to.
“So our first intuition was that the larvae are constantly signaling to the nurse bees that they are hungry, and this signaling is what’s keeping the nurse bees awake.”
So the researchers replaced the larvae with pupae, a developmental stage that doesn’t require constant feeding.
“And to our surprise, we found that nurse bees with pupae slept even less than the bees that were housed with feeding larvae.”