Turtles are quirky, fun creatures and it may surprise you that, yes, turtles do in fact sleep!
However, a turtle’s sleep cycle and patterns are much different than what we normally think of as sleep. Though they go into a sleep-like resting period, there are no clearly defined stages of their sleep cycles as there are with sleeping humans.
Continue reading on to learn more about what happens when turtles enter their sleep, how often they sleep, and other interesting facts about a turtle’s snoozing cycle.
Turtle Sleep Cycle
If you have a turtle, you may be wondering if it is sleeping because it just sits in one place for an extended period of time.
Turtles have been known to have their eyes open while they are sleeping, and even move around a bit. While they may seem like they are awake, they are actually asleep.
Even though they are asleep, however, they are still aware of their surroundings.
Unlike humans, turtles do not fully lose consciousness of their surroundings when they enter their sleep cycle.
Their conscious brain activity does not completely shut down, but it does slow down significantly. In addition to that, the heart rate and breathing also slow down. This allows them to conserve energy during rest periods.
Scientists have discovered that reptiles (such as turtles) do experience some of the same stages of sleep that humans do, including slow wave sleep (deep sleep) and REM sleep (the stage of sleep where we dream)
Turtles mostly sleep at night, but they have also been known to take a nap during the day if they feel tired. If turtles do not get enough sleep, it can affect their health negatively, just like when humans do not get enough sleep.
When Do Turtles Sleep?
Turtles are considered a diurnal species. This means that they usually sleep during the night and are awake during the daytime. They may sleep for 4-7 hours at a time, depending on how old they are.
Turtles also need UVB rays from the sun to thrive. Therefore during the day, they would rather spend their time basking in the sunshine instead of sleeping.
While most turtles are diurnal, there are a few types of species that are cathemeral, meaning they sleep both during the night and day. Snapping turtles, green turtles, and stinkpots are all common cathemeral turtle species.
Where Do Turtles Sleep?
The place where a turtle will go to sleep depends heavily on what type of turtle it is. Most common turtles will burrow down under piles of rocks and brush. This is meant to camouflage themselves and hide from any potential predators that may be lurking about.
Freshwater turtles, however, will bury themselves under layers of sand and mud in the water. Semi-aquatic turtles, or turtles that live on land and in freshwater, will find or dig holes in the marshy banks of rivers and lakes for a source of shelter and safety. Sea turtles will simply float on the surface of the deep sea when they want to sleep awhile.
If you have a captive pet turtle, you will probably notice that they do not feel the need to hide when they are entering their sleeping cycles.
This is typically because they feel safe in their enclosure – similar to how rhinos in the wild are aggressive (and will attack everything that moves) but ones raised in captivity (away from threats) are much more docile. Some captive turtles may hide under structures in their enclosure, but not all.
How Long Do Turtles Sleep?
The amount of time that turtles sleep on average will vary widely between turtles. This is because different species of turtles have different needs. Turtles within the same species sleep at different amounts as well depending on health, age, and activity levels.
On average, aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles will need 4 to 7 hours of sleep per day. They may take this rest period all at once or split it up throughout the night and daytime hours.
Babies are on the shorter end of this spectrum with 4 hours of sleep, and adults are on the longer end with an average of 7 hours of sleep.
Tortoises sleep a lot longer than turtles do. Baby tortoises can sleep for up to 22 hours per day, whereas adults will generally sleep for 12 hours per day.
Normal sleep isn’t the only type of rest that turtles need. When temperatures get too cold, turtles go into hibernation in order to conserve energy and avoid freezing. Their ability to go into a state of low activity for long periods of time helps them survive the winter.
Turtles will hibernate for weeks or sometimes months depending on the local climate. Captive turtles do not typically hibernate as there is no need for them too.
Do Turtles Sleep In Their Shell?
Turtles are a unique animal that has a hard shell. This is a very interesting feature that is not found in any other species. The shell is actually made up of 50 different bones and provides them with both defense and protection.
This shell provides turtles with protection against predators, harsh climate conditions, as well as providing them with a place to sleep.
As such, turtles have perfected the process of sleeping in their own shell. They are able to do this by retracting into their shells when they want to sleep or rest.
Both wild and captive turtles do this instinctively to ensure that they are safe from would-be predators.
While captive turtles do not have predators to worry about, they still possess a fight or flight response naturally.
Sea turtles are the exception to this rule. Aquatic, semi-aquatic, and land turtles have thick, hard shells to protect them from predators.
Sea turtles, however, do not have a hard shells. A sea turtle’s shell is soft and pliable. In the event of a predator attack, a sea turtle’s shell would not protect them.
Therefore, they do not retract into their shell to sleep.
Do Turtles Dream?
While we don’t know for sure, there is evidence that turtles do in fact dream.
Brain scans taken on various reptiles during a study ending in 2016 indicate that reptiles – and thus turtles – experience REM sleep. Because REM sleep is the stage of sleep where we experience dreams, this indicates that reptiles experience dreams as well.
And because turtles are reptiles, this indicates that turtles dream.
A caveat is that the study was done on bearded dragons, but since birds and mammals also experience very similar sleep stages, that indicates that dreams are something that is common among all birds and reptiles back to their last common ancestor at least.
Do Turtles Snore?
Like other animals, turtles do indeed snore. This can sound like normal snoring, whistling, or like a crying sound. If their snoring sounds like whistling or crying, it may be a sign that something is wrong with them.
Here is a video of a snoring turtle:
Turtles, like most animals, need a good amount of rest to relax, recover, and regenerate their energy levels. Depending on the type and age of the turtle, they may sleep anywhere from 4 to 22 hours per day.
Mostly they sleep at night, but some do sleep during the day as well. They may all have slight differences in when or how they sleep, but they do all sleep in some way.