How Do Horses Sleep? Do They Sleep While Standing?

Without the right amount of sleep, your horse will not be as productive and healthy. So, knowing the sleep pattern of your horse is important.

Do you know how horses sleep?

One of the interesting facts about how horses sleep is that they tend to snooze while standing. Contrary to common belief, horses do not actually fall asleep while standing but they often doze off during the day while standing.

It is important for a horse to get at least 2 to 3 hours of deep sleep, something which they do lying flat down on the ground. However, a horse would lie down only if they feel safe.

If you’ve started to scratch your head in confusion, don’t worry, we’ll sort things out. This article will cover all aspects of horses and their sleeping pattern.

Why Do Horses Sleep While Standing?

Being a prey animal, horses have evolved to sleep while standing. Sleeping whilst standing gives them an advantage in protecting themselves from a sudden attack. Dozing off while standing is more effective. If horses lie down, they would need to stand up first and then start running which would give enough time to the predator to catch them.

Interestingly, horses always keep their head towards the escape route so as to bust out at the first sight of danger.

Unlike us humans, horses do not sleep for long hours, they take short naps throughout the day. These naps are often taken when standing up.

It is, however, important to know that a horse would not actually have a REM sleep standing up.

They would need a two to three hours of REM sleep where they would lie down on the ground. Throughout the day, however, you will find them dozing off while standing.

How Do Horses Sleep While Standing?

Horses have this unique system of ligaments and tendons called Stay Apparatus which allows them to sleep while standing.

Unlike us humans, a horse can relax its muscles without kneeling over. This system allows horses and many other animals like cattle, giraffes, and elephants to stay upright without actually using any muscle.

When in the Stay apparatus position, a horse distributes its weight between the three limbs and rests one of the legs. They tend to rest one of their hind legs the most. The hoof of the resting hind leg will rest upon its toe. When sleeping whilst standing, your horse’s head and lower lip will droop and its ears will relax.

Sleeping this way allows them to escape more efficiently.

Horses Also Sleep Lying Down: Importance of Deep Sleep in Horses

Just like other mammals and humans, horses need deep sleep to stay healthy. Even though horses tend to doze off during the day, they need to have at least two to three horses of deep sleep.

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep can be only achieved when the horse lies flat on the ground. This deep sleep is important to maintain a good nervous system in horses. Moreover, REM sleep is important for horses’ memory and ability to learn. Horses that get 2 to 3 hours of uninterrupted REM sleep tend to have more ability to learn new skills.

Now, being the prey species, a horse would only lie down if it feels safe in the environment. A domesticated horse would not need to protect itself from predators, however, he would still need a dry covered shed to lie down in.

If your barn is in a busy area with loud noises or is too small, your horse would not lie down to sleep and this would pose a serious problem to its health.

It is important to note that if a horse is unable to get deep sleep for consecutive weeks, he is likely to become lethargic and may throw tantrums. Therefore, providing a safe and comfortable environment is important for a horse’s sleep and its health.

How long do horses sleep?

Horses sleep for about 2.5 to 3 hours every night. Unlike us, they do not need continuous deep sleep for hours. You will often come across a horse snoozing away while standing in the stable or field. This is because horses tend to take short naps throughout the day and will have a proper shut-eye during late-night hours for REM sleep.

The sleeping patterns of horses change with age. For instance, a younger horse tends to sleep more than an adult horse.

It is important to know that a horse’s sleep pattern is also highly dependent on its environment. If your horse gets alone and quiet, it will sleep more than those horses that live in a loud and busy barn.

Therefore, it is important to provide your horse with proper space for sleep as a thoroughly rested horse is indeed a healthy horse.

Sleep Deprivation in Horses and Its Causes

Even though there are no specific studies for equine sleep patterns, historical data shows the following causes of sleep deprivation in horses:

  1. Physical discomfort: If the horse has any form of injury that is causing pain then it is likely that your horse won’t be able to get to sleep.
  2. Environmental discomfort: If the horse feels uncomfortable or unsafe in its environment, it tends to suffer from sleep deprivation.
  3. Boredom: If a horse is kept standing in a quiet place for a long time without any activity, they will likely not fall asleep soundly.
  4. Aggression: An aggressive horse will also sleep less.
  5. Nightmares: Horses that get scared in their sleep often find it hard to sleep.
  6. Lyme disease: If your horse is tested positive for Lyme disease, you’ll find that it will adversely effect his sleep pattern.

Make Sure Your Horse Is Sleeping Well

There are many reasons why a horse doesn’t sleep well, the most common of which have already been discussed. And if your horse is not sleeping well it is important to go to the root cause and eliminate the issue/s that are hindering your horse’s sleep.

Start off with inflammation. Inflammation is one of the major reasons for a horse’s physical discomfort. Eliminate the aspect of inflammation and your horse will sleep well. The best way to reduce inflammation is by adding omega-3 and fatty acids to the horse’s diet.

If your horse tends to be jumpy or the environment is noisy, try placing him in a quiet barn and give supplements that’ll calm him down. These calming supplements help support the activity of neurotransmitters which then help manage the horse’s sleep.

In addition to these, make sure to pay attention to your horse. See what bothers him and try to figure out the causes of any sleep irregularities. Once you figure out the issue, fix it in and then observe your horse for changes. You’ll see visible signs of better health and productivity.

FAQs Related to How Horses Sleep

Here are a few commonly asked questions regarding a horse’s sleep patterns:

Do horses sleep standing up or lying down?

Horses nap when standing up but for a full deep sleep they lie down. You will often find your horse’s head bent down and his lower lip drooping. This is your horse napping.
However, for deep sleep, often referred to as REM sleep, a horse will lie down flat on the ground and sleep.

How long do horses sleep standing up?

A horse would sleep for 15 to 20 minutes while standing. Horses have very different sleeping needs than us humans. Unlike us, they do not sleep for straight 5-6 hours but break their sleep into short naps. Your horse will have a quick shut-eye while standing for a short time span several times throughout the day. However, for deep sleep, they lie down and sleep for 2 to 3 hours at night.

Why is it bad if a horse lays down?

Since horses need to be on alert at all times, sleeping when lying down would give them a disadvantage in the face of danger. Since it takes time for a horse to get up, it gives enough time for the predator to catch the horse.
Horses are a part of the prey species. This means that they have evolved to protect themselves from predator attacks. If they sleep while standing, it would give them an advantage whenever an attack is about to occur.

How long do horses sleep?

On average, a horse needs 2-3 hours of deep sleep. This number, however, varies as per the age of the horse.
Horses also take short naps throughout the day. You will often find a horse snoozing away in the field. Being a prey animal, a horse tends to stay alert at all times. However, they tend to nap every now and then while standing so as to catch up on their sleep needs.

How often do horses need REM sleep?

For a horse to be healthy and perform well, it needs 2 to 3 hours of REM sleep. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep is a stage of deep sleep that is essential for any living being. Horses get their REM sleep by lying down flat on the ground.
Even though horses are prey animals and have evolved to sleep while standing, for REM sleep they need to lie down. It is important to know that a horse would not lie down unless they feel safe. It is, thus, important to provide them with a safe environment so that they can get 2-3 hours of deep sleep.

How long can a horse go without lying down?

Studies show that a horse can go without deep sleep or lying down for 7-14 days. However, a horse that is not getting enough sleep tends to lag behind in performance and may have behavioral issues too.
It is important, therefore, to ensure that your horse gets enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can raise serious health concerns for your horse.

Can horses sleep with lights on?

Horses are adaptive in nature and can adjust to different lights. However, it is important to maintain an environment so that the horse feels comfortable.
A horse would not enter REM sleep mode unless it feels safe and comfortable. So if a horse is used to bright light, then keep it in the same environment and if they prefer sleeping in dark, make sure that the lights are dim for them.

Horses may have different sleep needs than us humans, but they still need REM sleep to remain healthy. Even though a horse can go for 7 to 14 days without REM sleep, it can have adverse effects on its health and performance.

Horses tend to be cautious and enter deep sleep only when they feel safe. It is, thus, very important to ensure the stable or barn is made as per your horse’s need so that they can get the desired amount of sleep.

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