While London’s humans are celebrating the 24 hour weekend the mice on the Tube are less than happy, as far as we can tell! It has been estimated that around half a million mice are living across the Underground network and they are about to become a hoard of grumpy mice.
Many have come to know – and even love – the mischiefs of the mice who stream off the tracks and out of the tunnels as the stations close at night, in search of discarded morsels of Maccy D. And until now, they’ve had a good few hours to conduct such galavanting in peace. But the new system means they will have to re-structure their sleep and foraging cycles, or “circadian rhythms”.
“Tube mice are amongst the toughest of their species”, says Professor Bill Wisden from Imperial College London. “They forage for food on the tracks, survive the deafening noise of the tube trains, and evade TfL’s efforts to eradicate them. Soon they will also be sleep deprived.” The eminent sleep scientist sounds worried.
Mice on the Victoria, Jubilee, Central, Northern and Piccadilly lines are unlikely to get any sleep between Friday morning and Sunday evening once the night tube starts. “24-hour tube operation will mean that the mice will evolve to be more stress resistant,” says Bill. “Tube mice will have an even shorter and more brutal life.”
Mice are surprisingly similar to humans when it comes to sleep. Our brains have the same chemicals for ‘stop’ and ‘go’. Studying mice is a useful way to understand how and why humans sleep. Bill and his team discovered that mice with normal levels of histamine (the ‘go’ chemical) but reduced GABA (the ‘stop’ chemical) became manic. They moved faster than normal mice and ate less.
Little is known about tube mice compared to their cousins in the Imperial labs. Bill is concerned that the new train schedules will disrupt their body clocks and brain chemistry. He speculates that “tube mice will either become super tough, or they will move to the District line”.
Sleep disruption isn’t only a problem for mice. Shift workers, such as tube drivers, also suffer from sleep deprivation as we move to a 24-hour society. This presents long term challenges to health, and short-term challenges for safety. Negotiations are continuing between TfL and unions over pay and conditions for workers on the Night Tube. We’ll be watching with interest, and keeping an eye out for manic mice in the months to come.
So it’s the constant switching between the week and weekend schedules that could leave the mice – and Tube drivers – most cheesed off. It seems like London’s super rodents will be sharing the permanent “Friday night feeling” so well known to the human commuters or they will move to the District Line!