Last Updated on January 8, 2022
Horses are very different from humans when it comes to sleep, and it is very rare to find your horse truly asleep. But what happens when a horse does sleep and do horses sleep with their eyes open or closed?
Let’s take a look into the bedtime routines of our horses, and find out all about how they sleep!
How Much Do Horses Sleep?
Like all animals, horses need to sleep at some point. Time spent sleeping allows the brain and body systems time to recharge and repair.
But as any horse owner will tell you, horses do not sleep all night long like humans do! So how much sleep do horses need?
A horse will spend 5-7 hours every day resting. However, some of this time the horse will not be fully asleep. It is estimated that a horse only is asleep for around half the resting time each day.
Most humans sleep for at least 8 hours every day, with some of us having an afternoon nap too! A horse does not need as much sleep as a human and sleeps in different ways as well.
Horses have two types of sleep. The first of these is light sleep, and this makes up most of the time the horse spends sleeping. The horse is not completely asleep and will awaken instantly if it senses danger.
The other type of sleep is deep sleep, called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Horses only need to do this type of sleep for around 30 minutes every day. The horse must feel completely safe and secure in order to go into a deep sleep.
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When Do Horses Sleep?
Horses need to spend 5-7 hours resting every day, but they will divide this into several shorter sleeps. The longest period of sleep will be at night, with the rest taken in shorter naps during the day. If you have a group of horses, you will often find that they take their daytime snooze all together, with one horse left to stand guard!
The period of REM sleep is most likely to happen at night when the barn or field is as quiet as possible. Periods of lighter sleep can happen at any time, and may only be a few minutes long.
Can Horses Sleep Standing Up?
The reason that horses can take such short sleeps is that they can sleep standing up! This means that they can sleep pretty much anywhere, without needing a comfortable surface to lie on.
Horses are able to sleep standing up because they have a clever locking mechanism in the hindlegs. The horse will rest one hind leg, and the other will be locked into position along with the forelegs. This means that the horse will not fall over when he is asleep.
This ability to sleep standing up has evolved from thousands of years living as a wild animal. A horse that is standing can quickly flee from predators, whereas one that is laid down is much more vulnerable. This is also the reason why one horse normally remains standing at all times, to stand guard and alert the herd if a predator approaches.
However, a horse cannot go into deep REM sleep unless he is laid down. This means that, at least once every day, the horse will need to lie down. In order to do this, he needs a safe and comfortable place.
For periods of light sleep, the horse will do this either standing or laid down. Many horses like to lay in the sun on a warm day, and will happily doze in the sunshine. In cooler weather or when there is no comfortable surface to lay on the horse will sleep mostly standing up.
Are Horses Nocturnal?
Horses are not nocturnal, but many people think they are! This is because if you went into your barn late at night, you would probably find most of the horses still awake. However, this does not mean that they are nocturnal, but simply that they need less sleep than humans do.
Most horses will sleep at some point every night, but it might be that you never see your horse asleep. This is because they are more likely to sleep between midnight and 3 am, and most of us would never visit the barn at this time of night!
Do Horses Sleep With Their Eyes Open?
So, let’s find out if horses sleep with their eyes open! When a horse is in a deep sleep, he will have his eyes closed. It is not possible for a horse to get the necessary REM sleep with his eyes open.
If you are ever lucky enough to catch your horse in a deep sleep, he may not even hear you approach. His eyes will be tightly closed, and his body will be completely relaxed. If he is dreaming, you might even see his eyeballs rolling and legs twitching!
But what happens when a horse is having a light sleep – will they have their eyes open?
Yes, in a light sleep you might see horses sleeping with their eyes open! This is most likely to happen when a horse is having a quick doze, in the middle of the day.
You may also see a horse with its eyes half-closed during a period of sleep. The horse will look like he has droopy eyelids, with just the lower half of the eyeball showing. This is most common when a horse is progressing from light sleep into a deep sleep.
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So, as we have learned, when a horse is in a deep sleep he will have his eyes tightly closed. This is essential to get a good-quality restorative period of sleep. However, if a horse is in a light sleep then he may have his eyes open or partially closed.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on how horses sleep! Does your lazy pony love to lie down for a nap? Or maybe you’ve never seen your horse in deep sleep? Add a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE