How Do Horses Sleep – Can They Sleep?

You may have heard that horses only sleep standing up and think when you see a horse down that there is something wrong with it, so how do horses sleep? Is it really true that they only sleep standing up? Let’s take a look at the real ways horses sleep and the different ways they do this.

Do Horses Sleep Standing Up

Horses are pretty amazing for many reasons. One reason is their ability to sleep standing up. This is something that the horse evolved doing since it is a prey animal.

The ability to sleep standing up allows the horse to quickly switch on and flee in the face of danger. Standing up allows the horse to rest and also not lose its range of vision. When it is down, it is much harder to see potential threats and takes longer to escape.

However, this type of sleep doesn’t satisfy its needs for the amount of rest it needs. To get a full deep sleep, the horse must lie down. More on this later.

Do Horses Sleep Standing Up

How Do Horses Sleep Standing Up

Horses have a unique body system called the stay apparatus, which allows them to sleep standing up. The stay apparatus is a sort of hammock of multiple ligaments and tendons that allows the horse to lock his legs. In this position, the horse can sleep without falling over.

When the horse activates its stay apparatus, it can relax the rest of its body and take a snooze. It is also a way for the horse to simply rest, and not necessarily sleep. This is done so the muscles can relax and reduce fatigue.

Where Horses Prefer To Sleep

In the wild, a horse will choose a sheltered area to sleep. This offers some form of extra protection from predators. They will position themselves so that their haunches face into the oncoming wind or rain.

They will also face in the direction of their preferred escape route. You will notice domestic horses doing the behavior as well. In their paddock, they will face away from the weather. In their stable, they will often sleep facing the door, the way out.

When in a herd environment, wild or domestic, there is usually one horse that takes the role of a lookout. This horse will stay more alert while the others rest. The purpose is that this horse will notice danger sooner and alert the rest that it’s time to wake up and take action.

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Do Horses Lay Down To Sleep

Horses lay down to sleep, in fact, they have to, or else they can suffer from sleep deprivation. A horse cannot sleep deeply unless it lays down. In this way, horses are similar to humans, in that they experience REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and SWS (slow-wave) sleep.

SWS sleep is when slow waves of electrical activity occur in the brain. During REM sleep, the waves become disorganized, and rapid, stuttering eye movements occur. 

Horse Sleeping Positions

When a horse lies down to sleep, it has two positions. The first position it takes is on its chest with its head up. To get really deep REM sleep, the horse will need to lie out flat.

This can look concerning if you think that a horse laying like this means something is wrong with it. And sometimes it does mean the horse is sick. However, most of the time, the horse is just enjoying a deep sleep.

Many horses love to lay out flat to sleep in the sun. When in this position, you will notice that some horses dream. They will ‘talk’ in their sleep and even move their legs as if they are running. If we only could learn about what horses dream about! Some horses even snore!

Do Horses Sleep

Yes, as you can see horses do sleep. They do not need such long stretches of sleep as humans. Horses will often lay down to sleep more than once a day, especially if they feel very safe, and relaxed in their environment.

Horses spend most of their rest time sleeping standing up. This can take between four and fifteen hours of their day. When they lay down to sleep, they might only stay down for a short 15 minute stretch at a time.

Though this can last as long as a couple of hours. Foals and young growing horses will sleep more, especially lying down each day, than an older horse. Just like humans, children need more sleep than adults.

Horse Sleep Patterns

Horses thrive on routine, and this applies to their sleeping patterns as well. If you spend a lot of time around horses, you will notice the times’ particular horses lay down to sleep. This will vary for each individual horse.

Some horses that stay in their paddock through the night, like to come into their stable in the morning, and have a good deep sleep. Other horses will have certain times, such as after they have breakfast in which they like clockwork lay down to sleep.

Horse Sleep Patterns

If the barn activity is busy, the horse is less likely to lay down to sleep. You might notice that at quiet times around the barn, many of the horses are down sleeping.

Feeling Safe

As prey animals, horses are always on alert for danger. To sleep properly, they must feel safe. This is why some horses might only sleep when in their stall. However, some believe a horse in this position will actually feel isolated and not as safe.

It just depends on the horse. From personal experience, many horses enjoy coming into their stable to sleep and feel safe there. In a group, you will notice that they all lie down to sleep except for one horse.

The standing horse is keeping watch, so the others can feel safe enough to sleep. Horses within the group will take turns as the watcher, so every horse has a chance to lay down to sleep. Horses are herd animals, so always should have at least one friend.

The general consensus is that a solitary horse will not get as much sleep like a horse with a buddy. This is because they have no one to keep watch for them. A solitary horse will not sleep deeply, as it feels like it can’t keep watch.

Horses Sleep - Feeling Safe


As you can see horses sleep in a couple of different ways. Don’t get to alarmed if you see a horse laying out flat. It is more than likely that it is just getting deep sleep.

Sometimes very relaxed horses in adjoining paddocks will all lay down to sleep at the same time. This is slightly unusual, but a nice sign as well. These horses are clearly comfortable in their surroundings and safe to do this without a lookout.

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