Night Tube: What Will Happen To The London Underground Mice?

Sarah Jayne Bell
By Sarah Jayne Bell Last edited 21 months ago
Night Tube: What Will Happen To The London Underground Mice?
Tube mouse. Photo by Ann Wuyts from Londonist Flickr pool.

London's most fearless rodents are about to get very grumpy.

"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.

Last Updated 16 August 2016


Err, nice article, apart from the fact that mice are nocturnal

Wayne George-Perez

When ur tired u'll sleep through any noise

Lubna Samara

Hi, you've neglected to mention the legions of Londoners who are very adversely afflicted by loud tube noises on a daily basis, and who've had this problem for many years. Their lives are about to become intolerable with the introduction of the 24 hour service. TFL's idea of dealing with this very real and troubling issue is to deny it exists. Be great if you could help in any way!

Isaac Moore

Be thankful that you don't have giant subway rats like we do in New York City.


Not just mice! Residents living above the tube lines will also suffer shortened lives. The importance of good quality 8 hours of sleep a night to human health is well-known, yet the health of thousands of Londoners is being sacrificed so that the alcohol etc industry can up its profits. The 24 hour economy will grow, along with street noise and air pollution levels, and those profiting are to be exempt from any 'polluter pays' measures. Instead ordinary hard working Londoners' taxes will have to cover the extra NHS and local care services costs and the extra Met policing costs. The alcohol etc industries will not have to compensate the London residents for the damage to their health and their lives; not that any money could compensate for these kinds of impacts.