Student Post: More on (not) sleeping with the fishies

My fish have (theoretically) been sleep deprived for three days. I can’t tell much of a difference. If anything they seem more active than the other fish, but they do have to constantly outswim a rotating ruler and their tank is pretty small. There is also a bright lamp on a timer that turns on and off every 30 minutes, so even if I can’t prevent sleep I know they’re regularly disturbed.

This is what the set up looks like:

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I’m testing the sleepless group against control fish in a behavioral assay. I wanted to use a T-maze adopted from Mark Antimony’s experiment but the initial results were dismal. It took some fish over ten minutes to find the food reward (during which I once left to find a food reward of my own. Sweet sweet NutterButters…).

So… I modified the test. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that now I’m prodding the fish with a pen and timing how long it takes them to “escape” (go to a protected side of the tank). The results are definitely cleaner than the ones from the maze, but I still don’t think I’ll be able to describe a difference between the groups. What is cool is to see the way fish learn. Individuals generally get faster each trail; I think that trend should be significant.


  1. CG in Tucson says

    I’m not sure this whole ruler/waterboarding thing is going to work on fish, but maybe you’ll get some interesting confessions from the sleep-deprivation part.

    Better skip making videotapes, tho. Even if you call a press conference now to say you’re destroying them, there won’t be time to charge you and convict you while lameduck is still around to pardon you.

  2. Stegve says

    I don’t know what you are trying to prove or discover, but the whole thing seems rather cruel.

  3. k says

    Maybe you can measure the thickness of their slimecoat? I hear that it gets thinner due to stress, leading to disease which is why some people put a little salt in their goldfish tanks/koi ponds. Make it a little irritated so they make a thicker slime coat.

  4. says

    Now if you’d just used undergrads, you could tell if they’re sleep-deprived or not. Of course, they probably wouldn’t fit so easily into the tank…

    Interesting experiment.

  5. Fish keeper says

    I’ve heard that forcing fish to move constantly using a current in a small tank can have detrimental effects on their hearts, which could confuse results that are supposed to show the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation. I don’t actually know anything about sleep cycles in fish, but perhaps if the experiment were repeated it would be better to find a way to, say, disrupt them every five minutes instead of continously.

  6. jimvj says

    Well, that does it. I’m forming the

    Prevent Zebra-fish Manglers Educating Young Eager Researchers Society.

    For every zebra-fish so mangled we shall cook one extra calamari dish.

  7. Che says

    I think this experiment is unethical. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. If you want to see the effects of sleep deprivation you should use human volunteers.

    Also read “The Plague Dogs” by Richard Adams.

  8. says

    Have you considered getting someone else to do the pen-prodding assay, someone who doesn’t know which group of fish is “sleep-deprived”? That is, you could make your experiment blind.

  9. Bride of Shrek says

    Ah, bright lights, sleep deprivation and some person constantly harrassing you and not leaving you alone. Add a disco ball and some Bon Jovi and you’ve just described my nightclub-filled misspent 20’s.

  10. says

    Now if you’d just used undergrads, you could tell if they’re sleep-deprived or not. Of course, they probably wouldn’t fit so easily into the tank…
    Interesting experiment.

    Let me know if you find any undergrads who aren’t sleep-deprived.