Do Turtles Sleep? (When, Where, And How Long?)

Image of a woman sleeping in bed

Turtles are fascinating creatures with pleasant personalities. However, these tame, friendly animals have very specific habitat and nutrition needs. Turtles suffer immensely if their basic needs are not met. So, the more you know about your turtle, the better equipped you will be to address any health problems. Let us start with one of the most basic but crucial factors affecting turtles – sleep! Do turtles sleep?

Yes, turtles do sleep. Their exact sleep requirements depend on the type, age, and activity level. Nonetheless, all turtles need more than five hours of sleep every day. They also like to rest and nap. But if your turtle sleeps longer than usual, it can be a temperature or health-related issue.

Let us look at the sleeping habits of these exotic reptiles in detail to understand what is normal and what is not.

How Do Turtles Sleep?

Turtles’ sleep differs from that of humans or other animals. It is more like a resting state. Most of the turtles retract in their shells when they sleep. They do these to hide and protect themselves from potential predators. However, sea turtles do not retract as their shells are soft.

In the wild, turtles are well aware of the predators. Hence, they find a suitable secluded place with an acceptable temperature to sleep. These little creatures then stop moving and sleep by withdrawing themselves into the shell.

Wild turtles usually prefer sleeping near piles of rocks as they make them invisible to potential predators. If they do not find rocks or holes to hide, they prefer a place with dense vegetation to feel secure while asleep.

Freshwater turtles sleep by burying themselves into the sand or mud at the bottom of the pond. They thus get the required amount of oxygen from the water while asleep.

Semi-aquatic turtles like map turtles dig themselves a complete or partial hole into a marshy area for sleeping. Sea turtles search underwater structures to sleep. In deep water, they sleep at the surface or at the bottom of the wedged rocks near shore waters.

In captivity, there is no danger of predation. So turtles take naps as and when required. Pet aquatic turtles may sleep at the surface of the water or even in their basking spot. They may even sleep in their enclosure by burying themselves in the sand.

When And Where Do Turtles Sleep?

All turtles choose a comfortable place to sleep and rest. It may be on the surface of the water or in the basking spot. Your turtle may even choose to rest in weird places like buried in the sand in its enclosure.

Aquatic turtles like to rest on the surface of the water or in their basking spot. Meanwhile, box turtles and other land turtle varieties withdraw into their shells and relax in a quiet spot. Some turtles, like painted turtles, bury themselves in sand or mud to sleep.

When turtles sleep, they will be still, and their eyelids will be closed.

You can encourage your turtle to develop a regular sleeping routine by turning off the lights in their tank every night. It will help them adapt to the availability of light and sleep at night.

Aquatic turtle owners may wonder if their pet can drown if it sleeps in water. The good news is that this is highly unlikely as turtles can go for several hours without breathing. Since they have a slow metabolism, they can comfortably sleep and rest in water. They also have adaptations for extracting oxygen from water. So, your turtle will be alright even when it spends several hours in water.

Aquatic turtles resurface when they need fresh air. Unless there are obstacles that prevent them from reaching the surface when they need, turtles will not drown.

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How Long Do Turtles Sleep?

The sleep duration is different for every species of turtles. The sleep needs will also depend on the age of the turtle and its habitat conditions like temperature and climate.

Aquatic turtles need four to seven hours of sleep every day. Larger land turtles usually need more sleep, and they spend most of their time sleeping. Baby turtles also need more sleep than adult turtles.

Apart from the time they spend sleeping, turtles rest for several hours every day. So, if your pet is still in a comfortable spot in its habitat, it could be resting, if not napping.

In the wild, turtles hibernate for months at a stretch when the temperature falls. Hibernation allows them to preserve their energy and withstand the unfavorable climatic conditions.

Although pet turtles do not need to hibernate, they may spend more time sleeping or resting than usual in cold weather.

Do Turtles Sleep At Night?

Yes, turtles sleep at night as they are diurnal animals. In the wild, turtles sleep for 5 to 6 hours at night, and then they wake up. If they wake up at night, they prefer to hide or go out in search of food.

Sea turtles stay awake at night when they want to lay eggs. Female turtles come to the shore to lay their eggs, where they do it by digging a hole in a suitable place. Rarely, some turtles in the wild sleep during the day. They do this only before or after laying the eggs.

In the wild, turtles sleep at night and wake up during the day since they need sunlight to bask. Basking helps in the development of their shell and bones. Another reason is that turtles can’t see clearly in the dark. Hence, they prefer to sleep at night.

In captivity, turtles follow the same routine as that of their owners. They sleep at night and stay awake during the day. This helps them to bask in broad sunlight during the day. Besides, they get fed during the day.

Is There A Problem If Your Turtle Is Always Sleeping?

The sleep needs of turtles vary by species and age. Additionally, it will also depend on the turtle’s personality and preferences. It is just like the activity levels and resting needs differ for each person. So, your turtle may be as active or as lazy as it chooses.

Nonetheless, you can evaluate your turtle’s general sleeping pattern by observing it for a few days. It will help you to quickly spot any changes that you should investigate.

As your turtle grows, it will be more active than when it was a baby. Juvenile turtles are awake for longer durations than babies and adult turtles. However, as age catches up, your turtle will take longer rest breaks. So, it is normal for an older turtle to slow down its activity level.

Although turtles spend several hours resting and sleeping, there could be a problem if your turtle is suddenly sleeping all the time. Excessive inactivity is usually caused by a change in temperature.

Turtles have a natural tendency to go into hibernation mode in cold weather. So, your pet can show signs of hibernation in similar environmental conditions. If the temperature of the turtle’s tank or surroundings has fallen, you may notice it sleeping for much longer.

Continuously monitor the temperature of your turtle’s tank or enclosure to prevent it from hibernating. Maintain the water temperature for aquatic turtles in the range of 70°F to 75°F. You can use a water heater to regulate the temperature in the cold months.

Despite your best efforts, your turtle may still show some changes in sleeping behavior when the weather changes. It may become lazy and eat less food. If the changes aren’t too extreme, you need not worry. However, if you notice any other symptoms or suspect an underlying health issue, check with a vet promptly.

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What Should You Know About Turtle Hibernation?

Wild turtles face a lot of challenges in their natural habitats. They must hunt for food and stay safe from predators.

So, nature has designed them with adaptations to cope with unfriendly environmental conditions to help them survive. When the weather becomes cold, food becomes scarce. Thus, a turtle may have difficulty finding the food it needs.

In such conditions, hibernation helps these creatures survive. Hibernation is a deep sleep for several days or even months at a stretch. It allows the animals to preserve their energy until the conditions are favorable for them to hunt and find food again.

Pet turtles do not have to worry about food nor predators as they live in protected, secure environments. So, they do not need to hibernate. Nonetheless, their instincts can kick-in when the temperature falls. Unfortunately, hibernation can be dangerous for a pet turtle as it should be in optimal health to survive hibernation. Only an experienced vet can help you determine if your pet can withstand this difficult phase.

If you decide to let your pet turtle hibernate, you should monitor it closely. You should know what to expect and be able to recognize the signs of distress. There is a risk of your turtle dying if you do not properly monitor it during this phase.

It is much easier to prevent your turtle from hibernating. You can do this by controlling the temperature of its surroundings. Use a water heater to raise the temperature of the water and keep its basking spot warm to help it adjust to the change in natural weather.

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In A Nutshell…

Turtles, like most vertebrates, have a definite sleeping and resting process. In fact, proper sleep is very important for a turtle’s health and well-being. It will help a turtle rejuvenate and refresh itself.

Create a conducive environment for your turtle to enjoy the shut-eye time it deserves. You can do this by switching off the lights and monitoring the temperature of its environment. This will enable it to get the rest it needs and be a happy, healthy pet.