The Weird Sleeping Habits of The Animal Kingdom

Ever wondered why your canine buddy likes to cuddle up for a snooze? Or perhaps why bad weather makes your cat sleepy? We explain the weird and wonderful sleeping habits of these creatures and many more in our handy guide.

On the move

Many animals are fantastic multitaskers – just like these critters, who prefer to catch a few z’s while they travel. As well as helping them avoid prey, for many sea creatures movement is essential for breathing underwater.


Most birds spend the majority of their lives on the move either migrating or hunting. Because of this, scientists believe that birds, like whales, are unihemispheric sleepers that can sleep while they soar – in fact, some birds have been observed remaining in the sky for up to six months, meaning that they must eat, sleep and drink while up in the air!


Dolphins rest through both deep sleep and lighter ‘naps’. Deep sleep is known as ‘logging’ because of the way they float like logs in the water, while naps are taken while a dolphin continues to swim.

Spare a thought for mother dolphins too, as baby dolphins don't sleep at all in their first few months! Mother dolphins must nap on the move, as calves don’t have enough body fat to float.


Sharks need water to pass over their gills in order to breathe, so most sharks sleep while they move. However, researchers recently filmed a great white shark sleeping for the first time, and discovered that some sleep facing into strong currents so that water flows through their gills with no effort needed.

Eyes open

These freaky creatures prefer to sleep with their eyes open. This is down to a cool evolutionary feat called unihemispheric sleeping – the ability to rest one half of the brain at a time, leaving one eye open to look out for potential attacks. Or in some cases, just a lack of eyelids!


Snakes actually sleep with their eyes ‘open’, as they don’t have eyelids to close their eyes. Instead, their eyes are covered with transparent scales which protect their eyes and stop them becoming dry – these are called ‘spectacles’.


Rabbits often sleep with their eyes open, making it hard to tell if they’re asleep or not. A good giveaway is their nose, which stops twitching when they’re snoozing.


Ostriches cycle through two different types of sleep. In ‘slow wave sleep’, they stand up straight with open eyes. As they move into ‘rapid eye movement’, or REM sleep, their eyes close and their necks start to droop.

All together

This sociable bunch prefer to siesta with the rest of their group, but it’s not just family love that keeps them snuggled up together. In some cases, it helps animals keep warm in winter or provides back-up in case of danger.


Dogs like to stay close to their family when they sleep, which is why your pet pooch might prefer to sleep snuggled up in your lap. In the wild, dogs spend most of the day sleeping with their pack, with burst of activity in the darker hours.


Cows sleep close together with their families according to each individual’s rank in the social hierarchy.


Meerkats sleep in special sleeping chambers in their burrows, snuggled on top of each other in one cute pile. In the warmer months, they sometimes spread out or sleep above ground.


Sea otters sleep on their backs on the surface of the water. They often sweetly hold hands stop them drifting away, or sometimes wrap themselves in kelp or seaweed growing from the sea floor.

Standing up

For animals living the wild, being able to make a quick getaway is essential to survival. These clever beasts have learned the perfect trick to help with this – sleeping standing up so they’re ready to spring into action!


Elephants prefer to sleep standing up, so that they can escape prey in the event of an attack. They can sleep lying on the ground, but due to their huge size they risk damaging their internal organs.


Giraffes are hardcore - they only need 30 minutes of sleep a day, which they take standing up in five minute bursts to avoid attacks from predators. However, if needed, giraffes can go weeks without any sleep at all. Baby giraffes have a particularly inventive way of getting comfy before a nap, curving their long necks to rest their head on their back!


Horses are able to lock their knees into a ‘stay apparatus’ so that they can snooze standing up with little muscle effort.

Lazy bones

The kings of the catnap, these guys can happily snooze most of their days away. However, don’t be fooled into thinking they’re just plain lazy – some of these animals really do earn their forty winks!


As the original ‘cat-nappers’, cats can sleep for up to 20 hours in a 24 hour period! However, there’s a good reason for all their dozing – cats spend most of their active time following their natural hunting instincts, which can be pretty exhausting.

Interestingly, cats’ sleeping habits are also affected by the weather, so you might spot your kitty napping more on particularly cold or rainy days.


Walruses are pretty lucky in that they can literally sleep anywhere both in the water and on land. Some walruses have even been observed resting in water while using their tusks to hang from the ice.

When on land they can fall into a deep sleep lasting up to 19 hours. However, they certainly need their forty winks – walruses can remain active and swim for up to 84 hours straight.


Some desert snails can sleep for years. In fact, an Egyptian desert snail was once assumed dead and placed in a museum until four years later, when it woke up and slithered away!


Male lions spend 18 to 20 hours a day snoozing, while females get slightly less as they spend more time hunting and taking care of their cubs.

Many lions can sleep for up to 24 hours after a large meal – quite the catnap!