Health & Care

How Do Horses Sleep?

Whether you’re a horse rider or just love the sight of the beautiful animal from a distance, you may wonder how horses sleep. Perhaps you see a horse standing in a field with its eyes closed and wonder if all horses generally sleep standing up or lying down. If you’re a pet owner, you probably know that there’s a difference between how your pets (cats and dogs) and humans sleep. Horses, like every animal, have their distinctive sleep patterns and requirements which are different from ours.

Horses Sleep Both Lying Down and Standing Up

Like cattle and many other animals, horses can sleep while standing. This sleeping position may trick a predator into thinking the horse is less vulnerable and awake. Some animals can sleep while standing as a result of a series of leg bones and ligaments known as “stay apparatus” that enable particular animals, such as zebras and giraffes, to lock their legs.

Many people believe that horses do all their sleeping while standing up, but this isn’t true. Horses can sleep lightly in a standing position for a short while but will have to lie down to experience REM sleep. They frequently take short naps in a standing position almost throughout the day, which makes several people assume that every horse always sleeps in a standing position.

How horses sleep

Horses Can Sleep With Eyes Open and Closed

A horse can sleep with its eyes open, closed, or halfway (with its eyelids half-closed). A horse’s eyes can indicate how sound they’re sleeping; open eyes imply light sleep. The horse’s eyes must be closed completely to experience a deep rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

How Do Foals Sleep?

While adult horses sleep more while standing for about seven hours each day, foals that are less than three months old spend almost half of the day sleeping. They take frequent naps by lying down while adult horses stay awake to look out for them. The older a foal grows, the less frequent its naps become, and the more sleep they experience while standing than lying down.

Horses Don’t Sleep as Much as Humans Do

While horses are larger than humans, mostly weighing about 1,000 pounds, they don’t sleep as much as humans do. Horses mostly rest for about five to seven hours every day, and about one hour of the rest period is REM sleep, which is about the deepest sleep phase. The older a horse becomes, the less amount of sleep it’ll need.

Horses sleep more frequently than humans do. Unlike us, they aren’t diurnal or nocturnal. They can close their eyes and sleep at any time, night or day, and often spread the sleeping into different intervals within 24 hours. They sleep for minutes at each period instead of a single long block in a day.

A foal sleeping

Horses Experience Deep (REM) Sleep, But Mostly When Lying Down

Since horses experience REM sleep while lying down, they’re likely to dream. During this REM (deep sleep) stage, the horse moves its eyes and may lightly move its legs sometimes. At that point, we can’t exactly tell what they’re dreaming about, but it looks certain they dream of different things that they experience while awake.

Horses Can Sleep on Their Sides

Horses can sleep on their sides, although it’s a surprising fact for non-equestrians, as it may look awkward. Horses can sleep in two positions while lying down.

Sternal Recumbency

In this position, horses lie down on their chest and belly, with withers up, neck and head off the ground, and legs tucked. They may curl their heads around close to their elbows or allow their chins to touch the ground.

This sleeping position is perfectly healthy for horses, though owners should note that a stressed or injured horse may also sleep this way. So ensure to know the normal (and abnormal) sleeping patterns of your horse. If its normal sleeping position changes, you need to do a health check.

Lateral Recumbency

In this position, a horse lies down flat on either side (left or right). Sleeping in this fully outstretched position enables horses to experience deep REM sleep. Their eyes are barely open, necks outstretched, and a few horses even snore. When lying down, the lungs are under more pressure, resulting in the snoring sound.

A sleeping horse

Horses Mostly Sleep When Another’s Looking Out

Horses sometimes lie down to experience REM sleep when another horse is standing nearby. This act probably evolved primarily as a protective measure. If every horse in a herd lies down to experience a deep sleep simultaneously, they’ll be more vulnerable to attacks by potential predators.

Horses Can Experience Sleep Issues

Like humans, horses can also experience sleep disorders. The most common reason for sleep troubles in horses is sleep deprivation. If a horse feels unsafe in an environment, it might deprive itself of sleep. Several issues can make a horse feel environmentally insecure, such as stall relocation, change in stall size, loss of other horses, changes in weather, predators nearby, or unusual loneliness. A horse can also have sleep troubles if it’s in pain, it has to compete with other horses for sleeping space, or its sleeping spot isn’t soft enough.

Horses Yawn, Though Not Due to Tiredness

Just like humans and some other mammals, horses can often yawn. But unlike humans, yawning in horses doesn’t indicate that they need to sleep or may be tired.

Domestic and wild horses yawn, and male horses yawn more often than female horses (mares). Researchers discovered that yawning in horses is often an indication of frustration or stress. For instance, a horse may yawn if it sees a particular food that it desires but doesn’t have access to or enclosed in a very small area and needs more space.

While there are several variances in the ways horses and humans sleep, similarities also exist. Horses can sleep with disturbance by stress or noises and love to sleep on soft bedding. Sleep helps to restore horses’ energy and links to their weight and other facets of their health. And like humans, sleep deprivation can also affect them negatively.

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