How Do Horses Sleep?: Understanding Your Horse's Sleeping Habits

September 21, 2020

How Do Horses Sleep?: Understanding Your Horse's Sleeping Habits

Horses are unique animals for a variety of reasons. It's all a part of their charm. The way that horses sleep is all a part of their unique character, though it can catch people off guard if they aren't familiar. Horses don't sleep like humans, and there are multiple reasons as to why this is. Understanding the distinctions can help improve how you care for your horse

If you have ever wondered 'how do horses sleep?', you're in the right place. After reading this article, you will know the ins and outs of how your favorite mammals catch some Zs, in all their bizarre glory. If you own a horse, volunteer at a stable, or simply want to know more about them, then keep reading! We'll dispel some myths surrounding horse sleeping habits and explain why they behave the way that they do. 

Why Do Horses Sometimes Sleep Upright?

This question is one of the most common ones that people have about how horses sleep. It's understandable, given that most mammals don't fall asleep where they stand. 

Horses are unique in many ways. One of the most significant differences lies in their relationship with REM sleep.

Rapid eye movement sleep is the mode of what we would consider deep sleep. Whenever you wake up after a full night of rest and still feel tired, it's because you haven't achieved REM sleep. 

Unlike most other mammals, horses do not require extensive REM sleep. Hence, they can sleep standing up since they aren't entering a deep rest. 

When Do Horses Sleep on the Ground?

Whenever you see your horse curled up on the ground, that position is the equivalent to deep sleep. It's often a quick nap and isn't anything like the prolonged rest that humans or household pets need. More often than not, horses will sleep where they stand, continually shifting their weight between their hind legs. While from our perspective, this may look strange or tiring, it's entirely natural to them. 

Indeed, sleeping while standing is better for them. There are two reasons for this. The first is that, as prey animals, horses need to be wary of predators. Though it isn't likely they're going to encounter predators in your stables, horses have evolved to minimize danger. The posture of sleeping while standing ensures a quick getaway, which can be the difference between life and death.

Also, due to the size of the average horse, sleeping while curled up on the ground can often limit blood flow. Horses that spend too much time on the ground can damage themselves in the long run. This risk is exceptionally high for pressure on their internal organs. Standing alleviates this pressure. Though it may look unusual, sleeping upright is perfectly normal for horses.  

How Long Should Horses Sleep?

Horses are tremendously unique animals when it comes to sleep. As if sleeping upright weren't enough, they also require very little of it, which is entirely unusual for mammals. Usually, mammals require at least eight hours of sleep to function adequately. Horses don't need anywhere near this amount.

Adult horses generally only require around three hours of sleep throughout a full twenty-four hours. When you consider how well you'd be able to function on only three hours of shut-eye, this is an incredible fact. 

Of course, the duration varies based on age. Foals and older horses may require more sleep than adults, but they still need a lot less than most mammals.

Do Horses Sleep Like Humans?

Horse sleep habits are vastly different from humans. People usually sleep for extended periods all at once. A nap every so often throughout the day is all horses need to keep them sustained. Given how active they can be, that's pretty impressive. 

These frequent napping periods don't pertain to night or day like ours do, either. While most mammals are either nocturnal or diurnal, horses are neither.

If you aren't already familiar, nocturnal means active at night, and diurnal means active during the day. Most mammals fall into one category or the other. Horses, proving themselves once again as unique, fit into neither. Left to their own devices, horses will rest intermittently throughout the entire twenty-four-hour day. 

A horse's sleep cycle usually depends on their routine as opposed to the time of day. If your horse works or exercises throughout most of the day, they will likely catch up on their rest throughout the night. If they have nothing to do throughout the day, their schedule will adjust to meet their own needs. 

Do Horses Need to Sleep in Groups?

As prey animals, a horse's primary concern is safety. Regardless of how secure your stable or paddock is, it's in a horse's evolutionary nature to stay safe. Often, protection means that they prefer to sleep in groups whenever possible. For this reason, keeping horses solitary is usually not advisable. They are social animals that rely on each other for comfort. 

If your horse is grumpy, it may be down to a lack of sleep. Horses that are in isolation can struggle to fall asleep because they don't feel secure. In the wild, horses stick together in large groups. Due to how irregular their sleep cycles are, the rest of the group will keep watch while the others get their rest. This backup support isn't possible for a lone horse.

The social aspect isn't to say that keeping a horse on its own is inevitably harmful. Horses are adaptable creatures, and with appropriate care, they will manage their schedules. 

If you care for multiple horses, however, don't be surprised if they don't seem to sleep at the same time. When it comes to periods of deep rest, it's perfectly normal for one to keep a lookout. 

How Can I Ensure My Horse Feels Safe?

There are a few ways to make your house feel more comfortable. Employing these tactics might improve your horse's sleep patterns, which will lead to a boost in their mood and overall health. The following are our tips for helping your horse to feel safe.

Where they sleep is crucial. Wild horses often rest in particular spots that they have designated as 'safe' spaces. Whenever possible, try to give them some consistency in their environment. Run-in sheds are great for this, as the animal can come and go as it pleases. If you keep it in the barn at night, make sure it has enough room to make itself comfortable. 

Keeping horses in groups is also advisable, for the reasons specified in the above section. As herd animals, having a company soothes them greatly. The group arrangement will help them in all circumstances as they can socialize adequately but is especially true for when they're falling asleep. 

Conclusion

Horses are unique animals, which is part of their appeal. If you care for one, you know all the eccentric ways they differ from other animals. They have distinct personalities, and this can even reflect in their sleep habits. What may seem unusual to us is entirely natural to them. As long as your horse feels safe and comfortable, there's nothing preventing them from achieving healthy sleep patterns!

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