How Do Horses Sleep?


Standing, Laying Down, Both?

Horses are some of the most beautiful and majestic creatures. But, have you ever wondered how they sleep? Do horses sleep standing up? Or, do they lie down as we do? Below, we will take a look at how horses sleep so that you can get a better understanding.

How do you know when a horse is sleeping?

Horses sleep both standing up and laying down, so you may be wondering how you can notice if a horse is sleeping. When your horse is enjoying REM sleep, i.e. a deep sleep, it will be laying down. You may even notice your horse’s legs move while it is laying on its side. If this is happening, your horse is probably dreaming!

But, what about when a horse is asleep yet standing? Well, you may notice that your horse alters its hind legs. This tends to happen when horses are in a light sleep and they are standing up. 

No matter whether your horse is standing or lying, you should notice that the ears become relaxed and the neck and head both start to droop. The horse’s eyes may close and the lower lip may twitch or droop.

When a horse is lying down and experiencing a deep sleep, he will stretch flat out on the ground, just like some of us like to stretch out in bed when we’re tired!

Why can horses sleep standing up?

Unlike household pets and humans, horses require very little REM sleep per day. This is part of our sleeping cycle that we refer to as being in a deep sleep. When horses lay down to take a nap, this is when they are having their REM sleep.

However, horses don’t require much REM sleep. When horses are enjoying a light sleep, this is when they are standing up. As horses are large animals, if they were to lay down for extended periods of time, their blood flow would end up being restricted. This will result in further pressure on their internal organs, and this is why they stand up while they are sleeping most of the time. 

How long do horses sleep at night?

Rather than enjoying one big block of sleep throughout the night, as we do, horses will sleep at numerous points throughout the day. Horses will only spend a few minutes of their day or night laying down and sleeping, which is the part of the day whereby they are in a deep sleep.

However, horses will stand up and sleep in a light snooze at several points throughout the day. So, rather than having one big chunk of sleep, they have small naps on a regular basis. 

It is also worth pointing out that horses are notorious for requiring very small amounts of sleep, so don’t expect to see your horse snoozing a lot in its stable. Most horses will only sleep for approximately three hours within a 24-hour period, although young foals can sleep for longer than adult horses. Plus, as mentioned, these three hours of sleep will be separated into much smaller chunks. 

What Happens if a Horse Gets a Lack of Sleep?

Sleep deprivation isn’t something that happens exclusively to humans. Horses also need to have the right amount of sleep daily. Otherwise, they can collapse from muscle relaxation due to entering a period of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep while standing up.

They may also experience other problems due to sleep deprivation, such as the inability to control their body temperature. With that in mind, how do you know if a horse is experiencing sleep deprivation? Here are some telltale signs that a horse might have a lack of sleep:

  • The biggest telltale sign is that the horse doesn’t lay down;
  • They might seem quite drowsy and appear sleepy during the day;
  • The horse’s performance has faltered significantly;
  • Bruises and abrasions are apparent on the horse’s knees because they have fallen down due to muscle relaxation.

A horse can only get enough sleep each day if they feel mentally and physically ready to sleep. Sometimes, environmental factors like loud noises can make horses agitated and feel unnerved enough to prefer to remain awake.

Other reasons that a horse might experience sleep deprivation include being in new or strange environments, too much noise occurring at night, a stall that’s too small for them to lie down, or even pain due to injuries or medical conditions.

Why Is Deep Sleep Important For Horses?

As with humans, horses need to have some periods of deep sleep daily. But, unlike humans, they don’t need several hours of deep sleep. While people need around two to three hours of deep sleep each night, horses only need approximately 30 to 60 minutes in comparison.

There are three stages of sleep for horses, with deep sleep or “slow-wave sleep” being the second stage. A study conducted by the International Society for Equitation Science concluded that horses deep sleep around 65% of the time.

Horses typically experience deep sleep while standing up. The third stage of sleep, REM or “rapid eye movement” sleep, should only occur when a horse is laying down due to the need for complete muscle relaxation.

A horse that experiences sleep deprivation can result in the third stage of sleep happening while standing up, causing them to collapse on the ground due to muscle relaxation.

What Kind of Sleep Do Horses Need at Different Ages?

Unlike humans, horses don’t sleep for long, continuous periods like humans. Instead, they take a series of several short naps throughout the day and night.

As you might imagine, horses have different sleep patterns as they grow. For example, foals spend around half of the day asleep until they reach three months of age. When horses grow, they nap less frequently and instead prefer to rest while standing up or laying down.

For the most part, adult horses typically rest while standing up and only lay down when REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is necessary.

Do horses sleep lying down as well as standing?

Yes, horses sleep both lying down and standing up. The position they take will depend on the type of sleep they are experiencing. Therefore, if your horse is in a deep sleep, he or she will lay down. However, this will only last for a few minutes, as horses do not require a lot of REM sleep. When enjoying a light sleep, which is more common, horses will sleep standing up. 

How do horses get up from lying down?

Getting up requires well-timed physics, coordination, and strength. A horse will have no trouble getting down to the ground in the first place. In fact, all the horse needs to do is flex his hind and front legs, letting gravity pull him to the ground.

However, getting back up again requires more effort. A horse will first roll onto his breastbone to get up, with his legs tucked underneath him. He will then raise his head high, which will slightly lift his chest, enabling the horse to start unfolding his legs. The horse will then straighten his forelegs in front of him, lifting himself into a sitting position, a bit like a dog! The horse may stay in this position for a very brief moment, as the most strenuous, final move is about to come. The horse will forcefully and swiftly throw his head down and forward, with the extreme weight of his front end, which is approximately one-fifth of his entire body weight, acting as a counterbalance so that his hindquarters will be lifted into a standing position. 

Why is it bad for horses to lie down too much?

It is bad for horses to lie down too much because it can restrict their blood flow. Horses are large animals, and so when they lay down for extended periods of time, pressure is being placed on their internal organs. This causes the flow of blood around their body to be restricted, which would be dangerous if they were to lay down for long periods of time.

This is why you will find that horses only tend to have a few minutes of sleep laying down and, instead, they will mainly sleep standing up at a number of different points throughout the day.

Should You Wake A Sleeping Horse?

If you can avoid it, you should never wake a sleeping horse. If a horse is sleeping, it knows it needs to rest, and you must allow it to have this sleep.

What Can Happen If You Do?

If you do wake a sleeping horse, you might scare it. It might jump, buck, have an accelerated heart rate which is dangerous and try to run away. While this won’t always be the case, and sometimes they act very human-like and will just wake up in a little bit of a daze, it is certainly not worth the risk.

Also, if you interfere with their sleep at any point, you might impact their sleep/wake cycle, which can be bad for a horse. 

The best thing that you can do is make sure that you let your sleeping horse sleep, and it will wake up when it’s ready.

Final words: how do horses sleep?

So there you have it: everything that you need to know about how horses sleep and what would happen if you were to wake a horse up!

We hope that this has helped to give you a better understanding of these majestic creatures and their sleeping patterns. Horses don’t require a lot of sleep, so when they are getting their shut-eye, it is important that we let them enjoy it. 

A Sleeping/Snoring Horse Video

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