How long do turtles sleep

How long do turtles sleep?

Do you ever wonder why your pet turtle is always napping? How long do turtles sleep? Is there something wrong with a turtle that sleeps too much?

Turtles love to sleep. They spend most of their day sleeping, resting, and basking. Here are the things you should know about a turtle’s sleeping habits and what you should do if your pet has sleep problems.

What affects the duration of a turtle’s sleep?

Like any other animal, turtles need sleep to rest and recharge their bodies. Sleep makes them alert and keeps them healthy. Studies show that lack of sleep in animals has caused severe stress and health problems.

These are factors that affect a turtle’s sleeping duration.

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“Turtle Soup” by tarotastic is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Certain species like the musk turtles can sleep underwater. Turtles do not go into a deep sleep as we do. Like other animals, they have light naps during the day or semi-sleeps at night. During their long nightly rest, they must resurface to breathe. A sea turtle can stay and rest in the deep water for 4-7 hours without resurfacing due to its slow metabolic rate.

Terrestrial turtles need more sleep and can rest up to ten hours a day. The nocturnal turtles like the snapping turtles spend most of the day sleeping.



Baby Turtles

There are no significant differences in turtles when it comes to age. But you might have observed that a baby turtle is sleeping more than older turtles. Like other animals, baby turtles sleep more. They have longer sleep at night and more nap times during the day than adult turtles. Baby turtles need extra hours of sleep for their development and growth. Sleep deprivation can result in stress and can affect their appetite and growth.

An excitable child can overstimulate a pet turtle during play. In this case, there must be adult intervention. Handling baby turtles is not advisable for children. A baby turtle’s shell is very soft. Its limbs are fragile and would be much safer to stay in its tanks.

Juvenile and Adult Turtles

Turtles sleep more as they age. When baby turtles grow to become juveniles, they become more active and will sleep less. Juvenile turtles enjoy playing and doing other activities other than sleeping. But when a juvenile turtle grows into an adult, it will become less active and need more sleep.


The environment is a huge factor that affects the habits of all animals. A turtle is sensitive to changes in temperature and climate. Here are the two major environmental factors that affect a turtle’s sleeping duration.

Water Temperature

Wild turtles have keener senses and can tell if winter is coming based on the water temperature. When the water temperature begins to drops, many turtles will go into hibernation.

Hibernation is a survival mechanism that is common for wild animals. Some turtle species can hibernate for up to eight months. During colder seasons, food becomes scarce, so they have to conserve their energy.

Pet turtles do not usually hibernate. But during chilly weather, turtles sleep and rest for longer periods. Installing a water heater will keep your pet comfortable during winters.

Air Temperature

Other turtles like the tortoises can sense changes in air temperature and humidity.

Acceptable tank temperature is between 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit. The basking spot should between 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit.

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“Indian Black Turtle” by SivamDesign is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Where do turtles sleep?

Turtles that grew up in captivity have never met a predator and are thereby less cautious. Pet turtles sleep whenever and wherever it pleases. The red-eared slider, for instance, prefers to sleep at the bottom of the tank. It can sleep on the water surface or nap for long periods in its basking area.

For wild turtles, sleeping preferences vary depending on the species. Here are some favorite sleeping places of some turtles species.

Aquatic Turtles

Aquatic turtles like sea turtles sleep in underwater structures. They will look for corals and caves. They may also wedge themselves in structures like rip raps and dam walls.

Semi-Aquatic Turtles

These turtles are also called terrapins. Freshwater turtles sleep underwater or above the ground. The map turtle burrows itself in marshy and mossy areas. Some turtles are even clever enough to throw vegetation on the backs.

Some species like the alligator snapping turtle are large and have tough shells. They have few natural predators and prefer sleeping at the bottom of the pond.

During the breeding season, mud turtles will dig egg chambers into the ground to lay their eggs. After laying its eggs, the mud turtle sleeps for a few days before returning to the water.

Land Turtles

Burrows aren’t always available for land turtles. A box turtle sleeping under a pile of fallen leaves is common. Some even sleep among dense vegetation under blackberry tangles. This thorny plant provides the turtle extra protection and a healthy snack. Other terrestrial turtles sleep near or under piles of rocks to avoid roaming predators.

Tortoises spent all their lives walking above ground. The Gopher tortoise is famous for its tunneling skills. They prefer sleeping in their burrow that consist of elaborate tunnels.

How do Turtles Sleep?

In movies, we often see a turtle retracting in its shell when sleeping or in danger. While this is true for hard-shelled turtles, not all turtles can do this.

Some species of turtles can’t retract into their shell. Also, not all turtles have hard shells. The sea turtle, for example, has a soft shell and will not be an effective shield against large predators. So whether your turtle sleeps inside or outside its shell, it’s normal.

Turtles have eyelids and are capable of closing their eyes when they sleep. This relaxes the muscles around their eyes. Some species will sleep with eyes wide open but it is very rare.

If you notice your turtle is active but has closed eyes, it might be having eye infections. If this happens, immediately seek professional help.

There are no recorded deep sleep turtles. They are all light sleepers. Slight movements in their environment can wake them up.

Most turtles in the wild are nocturnal. They spend most of the day sleeping. At night, they stay awake and alert for any predators. Even if there is no imminent threat around, wild turtles will remain cautious.

Domesticated turtles have different sleeping habits. They are less cautious because they have not been down by predators. But instinct is genetic so some turtles will still exhibit some precautions. They will retreat in their shells or look for a safe place inside their tanks to rest.

How do Sea Turtles Sleep underwater?

Most people are not aware of it, but turtles cannot breathe underwater but have an amazing ability to hold their breaths.

Aquatic turtles can sleep underwater. These include the painted turtles, map turtles, and red-eared sliders. Sea turtles can hold their breaths for up to two hours while moving around. Some species cannot stay underwater as long as sea turtles. These particular turtles will need to resurface more during their resting period.

A turtle can extend its stay underwater by slowing down its metabolism. Doing this slows down its heart rate which helps conserve its air supply. The lesser oxygen it uses the longer it can stay submerged underwater.

In the rare case of the soft-shell turtles, underwater breathing is possible. They are bi-modal breathers, meaning they can both breathe above and underwater. How amazing is that! The soft-shell turtle uses a system called pharyngeal breathing. This involves absorbing oxygen from the water through blood vessels in the pharynx.

Box turtles and tortoises are unable to sleep or hold their breaths underwater.

Why do Turtles Need to Bask?

In ponds and beaches, it is common to see turtles sunbathing in their chosen basking spots. All turtles enjoy basking under the sun. Turtles can bask on the water surface or the shores. Communal freshwater turtles can bask together on logs in the lake.

Turtles bask for several reasons. Being a reptile, a turtle cannot regulate its body temperature. Basking provides them a way to warm themselves under the sun.

The UV light from the sun helps them in producing vitamin D3. This vitamin is crucial in the absorption of calcium needed for their bones and shell. Lack of UV light can cause your turtle to have metabolic bone disease, especially in babies.

Turtles also bask to dry themselves. Doing this kills fungi and ectoparasites that have attached themselves to their bodies.

A basking platform should be accessible, dry, and stable. To encourage turtles, the basking spot should be higher by at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Basking temperatures will differ between species. Map turtles painted turtles, and red-eared sliders like to bask in higher temperatures. They prefer between 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit.

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“Turtle Hatching at Mon Repos” by jemasmith is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What are Hibernation, Brumation, and Aestivation?

Hibernation, brumation, and aestivation are long periods of inactivity. In these states, the turtle slows down its metabolism. Conserving its energy and allows it to survive for long a period of sleep.

Turtles hibernate in their natural environment when they feel the colder seasons. This allows them to survive during a phase of food scarcity and live off stored fat deposits.

Unlike in hibernation, a turtle that goes into brumation is not sleeping. They are awake but chooses to be inactive causing them to eat less. Pet turtles can go into a period of brumation if they sense a drop in the temperature and humidity.

Not all turtles go into hibernation. The red-footed turtles and some species of the Asian box turtles do not hibernate.

During winter, turtles will have difficulty digesting food and moving their limbs. In captivity, turtles have a controlled environment and enough food. They are not likely to go into brumation or hibernation.

Turtles go in aestivation when they encounter extreme hot or dry temperatures. Some species of box turtles burrow into the ground to escape and survive hot dry spells in the summer. This period of dormancy will last until the dry season is over.

Is there a problem if a turtle is always sleeping?

It’s perfectly normal for a turtle to sleep several hours a day. But if a turtle is sleeping more than it should be, there might be a problem with its health or its habitat.

Sleeping patterns are dependent on the environment. Some turtles that are nocturnal in the wild can become diurnal in captivity. Wild turtles need to be watchful for predators that move around at night.

In captivity, turtles do not encounter predators. Most of the time, they can change their sleeping cycle to match their owners. Pet turtles can adapt to a routine. They usually stay up during the day because of feeding sessions and the high level of activity in the house.

If your turtle is always sleeping even during feeding sessions, there might be a problem.

What do you do if a turtle is sleeping too much?

Here are steps to take if you’re worried that your turtle is sleeping way too much.

If the water or tank temperature gets too cold, your turtle will spend more time sleeping. Turtles are cold-blooded animals. The temperature of the environment they live in affects their metabolism. Turtles are sensitive to changes in humidity, pressure, and temperature.

Pet turtles can go into a state called brumation which is like hibernation in the wild. In this state, the turtle can become less active. This happens when the environment becomes too cold.

Check the water temperature and install a water heater during the colder season.

If the temperature checks out but your turtle still sleeps a lot, you can check the UV light. Turtles need to bask under UV light several hours a day. UV Light helps in their metabolism and the production of vitamin D3 for their bones and organs.

A turtle’s inactivity may be due to something new you introduced in its diet. Try feeding its usual food and observe it perks up the next few days.

Improper diet can also lead to excessive inactivity. A turtle feeds on fruits and vegetables. Feed it a mix of cut-up carrots, apples, beets, mustard greens, spinach, and kale a few times a week. It can also eat live food including worms, snails, and small fish and insects. Turtle feed bought from pet stores can also be incorporated into their food. A varied diet will help maintain your turtle’s health.

Inactivity may also be due to health problems or injuries. Pick up your turtle and check for any physical problems.

If you suspect that your pet turtle has an underlying health problem, call or visit the vet immediately.

What do you do if a turtle is not sleeping at all?

We already know that turtles love to sleep, so if you notice that your pet is not sleeping there is a problem. You don’t need to worry because we are here to help.

To avoid sleep deprivation, you need to create the perfect sleeping environment for your turtle. Below are some reasons why your turtle is not sleeping and how you can solve them.

A turtle likes to sleep in a quiet and peaceful place. Too much activity in the room will disturb its sleep. Place the tank or terrarium in a quiet room where no outside noise can interrupt the turtle’s sleep.

If the temperature of the tank is too high, your pet turtle may not be able to sleep. Place a tank thermometer to check the temperature.

Lowering the water temperature allows an aquatic turtle to hold its breath longer. You must also check the pH level to make sure that the eyes of the turtle are not irritated by the acidity.

A turtle will sleep less if the lights are always turned on or are too bright. Maintaining a day-night cycle in its tank will help it sleep better. Keep the lights off from 7 pm-7 am.

Most turtles sleep at night. Turning off and on the light, at the same time, every night will maintain their sleeping schedules.

Build natural-looking sleeping places inside the tank. Your turtle will surely love it. Put substrate, dirt, and rocks. You can also place small plants. Most turtle species like to sleep among vegetation.

Although a turtle spends most of its time sleeping, having one for a pet requires commitment. Make sure to monitor its sleeping habits, food intake, tank temperature, and light exposure to keep it healthy.

Featured image credits:
“Baby Turtle” by szeke is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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