The positive welfare of commercial animals presents many benefits, making the accurate assessment of welfare important. Assessments frequently use behaviour to determine welfare state; however, nighttime behaviours are often ignored. Sleep behaviour may offer new insights into welfare assessments. This study aimed to establish a baseline for sleep behaviour in laying hens and to then apply mild short-term disturbances and observe the subsequent effects. Twelve laying hens were divided into four batches and were surgically implanted with electroencephalogram (EEG) devices to record their brain activity. The batches were subjected to undisturbed, disturbed and recovery types of nights. Disturbed nights consisted of systematic sequences of disturbance application (wind, 90 dB noise or 20 lux light) applied one at a time for 5 min every 30 min from 21:00 to 03:00 (lights off period: 19:00-05:00). Sleep state was scored using EEG data and behaviour data from infrared cameras. Over all the types of night hens engaged in both SWS (58%) and REM sleep (18%) during lights off. When applied, the disturbances were effective at altering the amounts of wakefulness and SWS (Time × Type of Night, p < 0.001, p = 0.017, respectively), whereas REM sleep was unaltered (p = 0.540). There was no evidence of carry-over effects over the following day or night. Laying hens may be resilient to short-term sleep disruption by compensating for this in the same night, suggesting that these disturbances do not impact their long-term welfare (i.e., over days). Sleep behaviour potentially offers a unique means of assessing an aspect of animal welfare that, to date, has been poorly studied.
- REM sleep
- recovery sleep