Sleeping Turtle

All animals need sleep. Sleep is an essential function of life, it allows your body and mind to recharge, leaving you refreshed and alert when you wake.

Good and healthy sleep helps the body stay healthy and reduces the possibility of disease or infection. Without decent sleep, the body and mind cannot function properly. 

Just like us, and any other animal, turtles need rest too to remain healthy. Domesticated pet turtles are diurnal, meaning they sleep at night and are active during the day, much like humans. You can ensure your turtle sleeps well by turning off lights in the evening.

sleeping turtle

Maintaining a healthy day-night cycle is good practice. This means to keep your turtle’s aquarium lights on for half the day and off for half the day (10-12 hours of light, and 10-12 hours of dark). This simulated the natural cycle of the day and MUST be maintained every day without error. 

Similarly, the water conditions have to be right, as some turtles tend to sleep underwater. If your turtle doesn’t sleep very well, they will appear stressed and their appetite and health may fluctuate or decline, much like how we feel moody and a bit malaise when we don’t sleep well. 

Where Do Aquatic Turtles Sleep?

Turtles will sleep in their tank, they often sleep in the water, although this does vary depending on the species. Your turtle will usually find a spot they find most comfortable and they will designate that as their sleeping spot.

They will usually sleep here every night. Although many turtles may change their sleeping locations from time to time. It all depends on the individual and their species. 

North American Terrapins tend to sleep underwater, whereas some other turtles do not sleep underwater. 

Do Turtles Sleep Underwater?

There is no definite answer to this question. Some turtles may sleep underwater, some may sleep at the surface or at the basking spots, some may even be quirky and sleep floating midway between the surface and the bottom of the tank. However, they sleep they will need to breathe every now and again. 

Depending on the breed of your turtle they may be able to go around 5 hours without breathing, species that can do this include the red-eared slider and the painted turtle. So turtles such as painted turtles, map turtles, mud turtles, musk turtles, and sliders all sleep underwater. 

Some turtles such as box turtles do not sleep underwater, however, these are not aquatic turtles, they are terrestrial and they need a dry terrarium. Then there are sea turtles which also sleep underwater. 

Most aquatic turtles will sleep beneath the surface for 4 to 7 hours, they will surface momentarily to breathe and then resume their sleep after getting their air.

Some North American turtles such as Musk or Painted turtles can breathe underwater and remain perfectly still as they sleep, this can be a bit unnerving if you aren’t aware of it. 

The painted turtle and Japanese pond turtle can actually breathe underwater using muscles in their backside, this is called cloacal respiration.

Musk turtles breathe using muscles in their neck. This is very important for brumation, which is a state of sluggishness or inactivity that reptiles exhibit during low temperatures, it is nearly hibernation, but not quite. 

Oxygen levels in water are important and you should ensure that it is high enough, if your turtle is one of the breeds that can breathe underwater they will rely on this.

If you use a filter or ump, you can know that there is plenty of oxygen in the water from this device to ensure that your turtle has a plentiful supply of oxygen while they sleep. 

When Do Turtles Sleep?

When should you expect your turtle to sleep? 

Well, a majority of domestic turtles are diurnal and therefore, like us, they sleep at night. However, there are a few species you may find such as common snapping turtles, which are nocturnal.

Nocturnal turtles, will seep during the day and be most active at night, this may be a bit difficult to get used to as an owner, so you will need to consider the lifestyle of your pet before you decide if you can deal with a nocturnal turtle as a pet. 

That being said, a majority of pet turtles are diurnal, including the most common species such as slider, cooters, and map turtles. 

There is actually a more scientific and biological reason that most turtles are night-time sleepers. This reason is because of their need for UVB light, which naturally, is only available to the during the day- in a wild setting.

Although in domesticated situations, they could receive the UVB whenever you decide to turn on their lamp, their sleeping pattern is the result of instincts and evolution.

Turtles do take naps too. Even if they are diurnal, turtles usually take naps while they bask as well, we can’t blame them, that sounds so nice. We might join them! 

How Much Sleep Do Turtles Need?

When we think of sleep, we think of the 6-9 hours a night where we go through a light, deep, and REM sleep. We think of dreams and cozy warm beds. Turtles are different, they don’t experience the deep sleep we do.

Their sleep is more like a cat’s sleep, light and a long rest during which they must come up for air several times, of course, the need for air is specific to turtles that cannot breathe underwater. 

Aquatic turtles can be sleeping underwater for anywhere between 4 to 7 hours per night, they will only come to the surface to take a breath of air before returning to sleep.  

Turtles can do this, staying submerged for such long periods, due to the low temperatures. Due to their aquatic nature and reptile biology. A water temperature around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, means that their metabolic rate slows down.

As this happens they need less oxygen, while they are in a restful state their heart and blood require less oxygen so they can rest happily without needing to take constant breaths as we do. 

There are also other reptiles, such as tortoises, which can sleep for much, much longer. And even several land turtle species such as the well-known Galapagos turtle can sleep for 16-18 hours per day. They will sleep more than they are awake, for up to 18 hours a day. 

Can A Turtles Drown In Their Sleep?

Are you worried about your turtle drowning in their sleep? 

As we have gone over previously, your turtles can go hours without needing to breathe, so there is no need to worry about your turtle drowning.  As soon as your turtle needs air it will automatically swim to the surface to take in the air it needs.

The only time a turtle could drown in their sleep is if they were to get trapped and were unable to resurface due to an obstacle blocking their path to the surface. In this sense, you should be wary of obstacles and make sure there is nowhere that can trap your turtle. 

Some turtles may not need to worry about this, as some are capable of breathing out of their rear end. 

When it comes to baby turtles though, you should ensure that the water level is not too high. A baby turtle should be able to resurface without removing its whole body from the bottom of the tank.

Professionals may recommend a water level that is about two and a half times the height of the baby turtle. For example, if your baby turtle was 2 inches tall from the floor to the top of its shell or head then you should have only 5 inches of water in the tank and they should be able to reach the surface easier to breathe. 

Keep the tank free of blocking obstacles to avoid your turtle getting trapped 

Turtle Sleeping Too Much?

Turtles rest often even when they aren’t sleeping. They rest when they are basking and they aren’t excessively energetic animals. However, if their inactivity is excessive, this is probably caused by temperature. 

An aquarium temperature that is too low may cause your turtle to sleep more than usual. This is due to an instinctual reaction in turtles, and in many other reptiles as well. In the wild, turtles will sleep more as winter approaches and the temperatures start to drop lower.

This is called brumation, and is a close relative to hibernation, not quite hibernating, but is a reaction in your aquatic friend that makes them lethargic and sleepy, conserving energy. 

If your turtle is excessively sleepy or inactive then check the water temperature, it should be between 70 to 75degrees Fahrenheit for adults or 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit for babies.

You should monitor the water temperature regularly to prevent any drastic changes that could upset your turtle. The water should never be too hot or too cold, keep it happily in the ’70s to ensure the best for your turtle.  

You can get thermometers that you can put inside the water or even get ones that monitor the temperature from outside the panel. If you keep finding the water temperature is too low, it is wise to invest in a heater for the water.

This must be regulated with a thermostat so you don’t accidentally end up boiling your turtle. You can also get submersible water heaters which are fantastic during the winter months and in cold climates. 

Even if your temperatures are accurate and correct your turtle may still be more lethargic during the winter months, it may even eat less during this time. If you are worried you should talk to your vet but remember that in the wild, a turtle’s natural instinct is to hibernate over the winter months. 

Turtles will become less active and enthusiastic as they age, they may be a bit slower and less active and this is normal. Older turtles will always be less energetic than hatchlings your young turtles, much like humans and other animals are. 

Hibernation

Hibernation and brumation are determined by the temperature that your turtle’s environment is. In the wild, a turtle will find food hard to come by in the winter, and the turtle will also not be able to actively search and hunt for food, so life becomes harder.

In the wild, turtles must conserve their energy by hibernating/brumating throughout the coldest months of the year. Whether the turtle is aquatic or terrestrial they will do this through the cold months, though not all turtles do this.  

Turtles that are found in temperate climates such as North America often brumate. Therefore the need to hibernate or brumate is defined by the temperature they live in. For this reason, pet turtles may hibernate/ brumate if temperatures are low enough.

Although they do not need to preserve energy since food is provided by their humans. And since their owner or keeper will regulate the temperature in their home habitat they do not need to prepare for cold climates. However, if temperatures fluctuate or drop in their habitat they may start to hibernate as a result. 

You can hibernate your turtle, but there are risks with doing so, conditions in the habitat need to be closely monitored or it could lead to death.

You should keep the temperatures in your turtle’s enclosure in the 70’s to prevent hibernation/ brumation from happening. During the winter months, a water heater is ideal to keep the temperatures high enough.  

Monitor the temperature of the basking spot as well, as this area is also key to your turtle’s health. This area should be between 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit. During the colder months, if you have outdoor turtles, you should bring them inside and provide an indoor enclosure where temperatures are high.  

The only owners who may brumate/hibernate their turtles are ones that intend on breeding them. Brumation increases the odds of successful breeding and is one of the most important parts of the cooling period which often happens from November to February- over the winter months.

Unless you are intending to breed your turtles then there is no need to force them into hibernation as it can be very dangerous, leading to drowning, starvation, or even freezing if not done properly. 

If you intend on hibernating your turtle, you must first ensure that your species can brumate, note that tropical freshwater breeds do not. You should visit your veterinarian who can check that your turtle is in mint condition to survive.

You need to educate yourself on how your specific species hibernate and for how long, each species will do this differently. 

You should also determine their needs for hibernation/brumation, and prepare their hibernaculum, which is where they will hibernate.

This will differ for each species as well, some may hibernate in a box, aquatic breeds will often hibernate in water, some may hibernate in a pond if they live outdoors, some may even hibernate them in a refrigerator at 45 degrees Fahrenheit. 

However you do this, ensure that you meet your specific turtle’s needs, and do NOT do this without first speaking to a professional and speaking to your vet about doing so. 

Dorothy Razo
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