How Horses Sleep: What you need to know

how do horses sleep - what you need to know

Horses are one of the most beautiful creatures on earth, but how do they sleep? This article will provide you with all of the horse facts and horse knowledge so that you can be a more informed horse owner. Horses have some unusual sleeping habits, which we will explore in detail.

Horses are prey animals, which means that they are always on the lookout for danger. To help them stay safe, horses have evolved to sleep in specific positions that make it easier for them to get away from predators. In this blog post, we will explore the science of horse sleeping, the different types of sleep your horse needs and answer some common questions about horse slumber. We will also take a look at why horses don’t fall over when they sleep standing up!

How do horses sleep?

Horses sleep in three positions: standing, lateral recumbency (lying on one side), or sternal recumbency (lying on their bellies with legs tucked). They require 5-7 hours of slumber per day and 30-60 minutes of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep to maintain optimal health. Horses can snooze standing up thanks to their “stay apparatus,” but they can only rest fully while lying down. Standing is the most common horse sleep position, as it allows them to keep an eye out for danger while they rest.

Different Horse Sleeping Positions and What They Mean

How horses sleep is fascinating, and horse owners should be aware of how important sleep is to their horse’s health. Horses need around 5-7 hours of sleep per day, and they usually get most of it standing up! Horses who don’t get enough sleep can become moody and stressed. If your horse seems agitated especially after a change in their daily routine, it might be time to check if they’re getting enough rest. Horses sleep in three different positions:


When horses sleep standing up, they can do so because of their “stay apparatus.” This is a set of muscles and tendons in their back legs that keep them upright even when they’re dozing. Horses have only three methods for self-defense: running, kicking, and bucking. Because all of these require the horse to be standing, the horse has figured out how to sleep upright.

What is a snuffle mat? x
What is a snuffle mat?

Horses that are asleep while standing will often be resting one back leg, have their head down, eyes partially closed and relaxed or twitching lip. Horses will spend between 3 and 7 hours a day snoozing like this in order to stay vigilant for danger while they rest.

horse sleeping standing up
Sleeping in the sunshine

Lying Down

While horses can sleep standing up, they still need to lie down periodically to get REM sleep. They can’t get REM sleep while standing up. Having REM sleep is important because it helps the horse’s brain heal itself and learn new things. This is the type of sleep that is associated with dreams and is crucial for maintaining mental and physical health.

Laying down to sleep has two big disadvantages;

  1. It takes a while to get up. Running away is the main defense if you’re a horse and it takes quite a long time and a lot of effort to get up, especially for larger horses. It takes a lot of effort and might be hazardous especially if the ground is soft or slippery.
  2. Adult horses can’t lay down for too long as their organs are not designed for laying down so they get squished, and this means they struggle to breathe and get the proper circulation of blood to their muscles. This means horses will lay down for only 20-45 mins at a time.
how do horses sleep
Cutest sleeping position.

Horses lay down to sleep in two different positions:

  • Sternal recumbency: Laying on their bellies with the back legs tucked in, usually front legs extended and head resting.
  • Lateral recumbency: Laying flat on their side, head extended. They do this to stretch out and rest their belly. They also like to sunbathe?
how do horses sleep lateral recumbant
No, they’re not playing dead… or they?

Most horses will only sleep laying down when they feel safe and often in herds horses will take turns to sleep and to look out for predators while others sleep. Most horses will lay down to sleep at the same time every day.

The most common time horses lay down is between midnight and 2am. Most adult horses only sleep laying down at night as this is the time of least disturbance on most yards.

Sleep Patterns in Horses

Power naps

Unlike humans, horses do not have one long sleep through the night. They have evolved to sleep in short bursts in order to keep on the move and lookout for predators. They are what is called polyphasic sleepers- meaning they have multiple periods of sleep throughout the day and night.

The importance of deep sleep

REM sleep is important for horses because it helps them to mentally and physically heal themselves. It is during REM sleep that the horse’s brain repairs itself and processes information learned during the day.

REM sleep is also crucial for a horse’s physical health, as it allows the horse to relax and recharge its muscles. REM sleep is also when horses dream. Reduced or lack of REM sleep leads to irritability, muscle deterioration, poor attitude, and weight fluctuations. It has also been shown that horses that get less REM sleep have more difficulty with memory.

Different sleep for different ages

Just like humans foals (baby horses) need a lot more sleep than adults. Foals will sleep between 1/3 and 1/2 of their day. Foals usually stay within a meter of their mums when resting.

Seniors also need extra naps! But may struggle to lay down and get back up again as their joints might be stiff and the ground can be hard and uncomfortable.

Too much sleep or not enough?

The normal amount of sleep for a horse per day is;

  • 3-7 hours standing sleep
  • 30- 60 mins REM sleep (laying down)

Too much sleep: hypersomnia

Hypersomnia is quite uncommon in horses, if you think your horse is sleeping more often or spends a lot of time laying down this is likely to be an indication of an underlying problem such as colic, joint pain (difficulty getting up, and laying down) or exhaustion.

Too little sleep: sleep deprivation

Lots of things can cause sleep deprivation in horses from changes in the environment; new horse on the yard, new stable, travel, to changes in diet or workload. Other reasons your horse may not be getting enough sleep are related to injuries making it difficult or impossible to lay down and get back up again or pain in their legs preventing them from sleeping standing.

Sleep deprivation, especially lack of REM sleep, can cause irritability, muscle deterioration, poor attitude, and weight fluctuations. It can also lead to difficulty with memory.

Horses will usually lay down to sleep around the same time everyday. It’s a good idea to watch your horse to learn their usual sleep patterns so you can more easily tell if their behavior is unusual.

When and where do horses sleep

Where horses sleep can depend on a variety of factors, including their age, health, and environment. Horses usually sleep standing up when they’re out in the open, as this allows them to be more aware of their surroundings and protect themselves from predators. When in the field horses will often find a sheltered or hidden spot for a bit of shut eye or if turned out in a herd take it in turns to guard while their buddies get some rest. When they’re in a stable or another enclosed area provided it is big enough they’ll often lie down to get their REM sleep.

Putting multiple horses in an enclosed area or having horses in high traffic areas like the entrance of a busy yard can keep your horse awake. Ideally your horse will want a nice soft bed with good ground coverage so that they are comfortable when they lay down and to provide cushioning for their joints. Horses will often sleep facing the escape route/their stable door.

Just like with humans, bright lights, noise and interruptions are to be avoided and quiet, dark and comfy spaces are ideal.

stable or field for sleeping
Stable or field for sleeping 🙂

The impact of lack of sleep in horses

Some studies have shown that horses who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to get sick, because their immune system doesn’t work as well. Horses that haven’t had enough REM sleep particularly often become moody, agitated and stressed.

The behaviour signs/consequences of lack of sleep differs from horse to horse same as it would in humans but some common symptoms are irritability and lack of energy.

Understanding narcolepsy in horses

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness it has been documented in most mammals. Narcolepsy can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy (sudden loss of muscle tone), and collapse.

Narcolepsy is very rare in horses. The abrupt REM sleep in narcoleptic horses is generally triggered by periods of inactivity, such as standing still in the field or stable. The horse will drop his head quite low and spread his front legs for balance while his hindquarters sag. The horse will potentially collapse or drop onto its knees and may not regain full consciousness for several minutes. Imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, has been used to treat narcoleptic horses but it has inconsistent results and carries a high risk of causing colic.

Horse Sleeping FAQs

Do horses sleep like humans?

Horses do not sleep all night like humans. They have multiple periods of sleep throughout the day and night.

Why Does My Horse Sleep Standing Up?

Horses prefer to stand while they’re snoozing because this makes it easier for them to protect themselves from predators. The horse’s “stay apparatus” allows a horse to sleep standing up with minimal energy expenditure.

How Long Can A Horse Sleep Standing Up?

Horses can sleep standing up for short periods of time up to 120 minutes by using their stay apparatus to lock their muscles in place so they can stand with minimal energy expenditure.

Do horses sleep laying down?

Yes. Horses need to lie down for a period of REM sleep each day. This is the deep sleep in which the horse dreams and processes their memories from that day. Horses need between 30-60 minutes of REM sleep every day, more if they are foals or seniors.

How long do horses sleep?

An adult horse will sleep for 3-7 hours a day of which 30-60 mins is REM sleep during which the horse will lay down (more for foals or seniors).

Do Horses Snore?

Yes. A lot of horses snore because their lungs are under more pressure when they are laying down and this is why they cannot lay down for more than 45 mins at a time.

Why Is Deep Sleep for a Horse Essential?

30-60 mins of deep sleep (REM) is essential for horse health because it allows them to process their memories and dreams so they can keep learning. During this time the horse’s muscles are relaxed, blood flow increases in the brain and any repairs are done within the body.

How Can You Know If A Horse Is Sleeping?

Common signs your horse is sleeping are; laying down, resting head, relaxed droopy lip, partially or fully closed eyes, snoring, head down or resting one hind leg so that no weight is on it.

What are the stages of sleep in horses?

Horses have three stages of sleep; stage one (light sleep) and stage two (slow-wave or deep sleep), while standing up. and REM, the third stage of sleep. rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, occurs only when the horse is lying down because muscular relaxation is necessary throughout.

Do horses sleep on their sides?

Yes. This is called lateral recumbency. Horses sleep laying down for between 30 and 60 minutes a day. They need to lay down to get REM (deep) sleep.

What is horse sleep crashing?

Horses need three different kinds of sleep the first two can be achieved while standing up but the third REM has to happen when the horse is laying down as it makes them relax all of their muscles. Horses that are exhausted or sick will slip into REM(deep) sleep while standing, their muscles will relax and as a result, they will fall to the ground often injuring themselves.

What about excessive sleeping in horses?

Just as with humans, too much sleep can be a sign that something is wrong. Horses that sleep more than usual might have an infection, pain, or another health problem. Excessive sleeping can also be a sign of stress in horses. If your horse seems to be constantly sleepy, talk to your veterinarian.

do horses sleep better in the stable

Wrapping up

In conclusion, horses sleep in short bursts and spend a good portion of the day grazing. This allows them to get all the rest they need while still being able to stay awake and alert during the day. Most horses need on average 6 hours of sleep per day, and you can tell if they’re not getting enough by looking out for behavior signs like irritability and lack of energy. Horses that don’t get enough sleep may become irritable or sick. By understanding how horses sleep, horse owners can help their horse get adequate rest and stay healthy.

How Horses Sleep: What you need to know Click To Tweet