Do Elephants Sleep Laying Down?

All animals, including humans, need the following to stay alive. Food, water, air, shelter, and space, but we tend to forget the importance of sleep. Sleep deprivation causes all animals to become disorientated and may eventually cause brain damage that can lead to death. All animals have different sleeping patterns and ways in which they rest. Elephants are no exception.

Both wild and captivated elephants at times sleep laying down. However, the sleeping patterns of wild elephants and elephants living in captivity differ significantly, brought on by the different lifestyles of the elephants. Numerous factors determine the amount of time they will spend laying down to sleep.

All Elephants Occasionally Sleeps Laying Down

Being the biggest land animal alive certainly has its advantages, but when it comes to nap time, things tend to become challenging. In nature, elephants know that the bigger you are, the more vulnerable you are when laying down, and this is precisely why they do not sleep laying down as much as standing upright.

Research determined that both wild elephants and elephants in captivity spend time sleeping while laying down. However, there are vast differences between the time a captive animal will spend sleeping while laying down and that of a wild elephant.

Captivated Elephants Sleeps Laying Down On Occasion

The record shows that captivated elephants sleep while laying down more often than wild elephants. They also tend to spend more time sleeping while laying down.

The reason for captivated elephants laying down and sleeping for more extended hours is that they do not feel threatened or need to fend for their lives. Therefore, they do not need to be on the lookout for predators meaning they do not need to get up quickly, which tends to be problematic if you are as big as an elephant.

Wild Elephants Sleeps Laying Down On Occasion

Technology, in the form of drone footage, has confirmed that wild elephants take time out for a nap laying down, albeit for brief periods.

Their size makes one forget that wild elephants must fight off and avoid a number of threats. Predators prowl around looking for the opportunity to catch a weak, sick, or old elephant. Baby elephants are under constant threat from both predators and poachers.

Poachers look to catch baby elephants or hunt adult elephants for their ivory tusks; predators see baby elephants as easy prey. In addition, a male elephant looking to mate may cause elephant herds to be restless, keeping them awake for days.

All the factors mentioned earlier play a role in that elephants in the wild spend little time sleeping while laying down.

Reasons Wild Elephants Only Lay Down To Sleep For Short Periods

The African and Indian elephants choose not to lay down often when sleeping, for it is a matter of survival.

Elephants need to keep moving to find food constantly. During these times, they take naps from five to thirty minutes while standing. One may not even notice them napping if you were to watch them as they perfected the art of sleeping while leaning against a tree or simply standing upright.

When they stand upright, taking their power naps enables them to react quickly in times of danger. It is quicker to escape danger when already standing up than to try and get on all fours quickly after laying down. 

Research has proven that wild elephants sleep laying down every three to four days. They will sleep this way for approximately an hour and only when feeling safe. Their size and weight also deter them from laying down when sleeping. Extended time spent laying down can cause damage to their organs due to their weight.

Elephant Cubs Occasionally Sleep Laying Down

Drone footage captured adult and baby elephants huddled together, sleeping while laying down.

Sleeping adults surround the baby elephants, and the presumption is the adults keep them enclosed to inhibit them from wandering away from the group upon awakening.

Adult elephants protect their young and will be especially careful when sleeping or laying down. Baby elephants are extremely curious and will wander off to find adventure and danger if they are not protected.

Do Elephants Dream?

The Witwatersrand University in South Africa has determined that elephants only reach REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement sleep) every three to four days. According to Prof. Paul Manger elephants only reach the REM stage of sleep when sleeping laying down.

In humans, REM is the stage in the sleep cycle where dreams take place and seeing elephants do reach REM sleep every three to four days means they may dream during that time. Future research will probably confirm the above.

In What Position Do Elephants Sleep

Being the largest land mammal one can imagine that laying down to sleep with ease may be a challenge for elephants, but when they do, they lay on their sides. Elephants have been spotted using their trunks as cushions and they prefer sleeping on soft sand or grass.

It is a well-known fact that elephants travel in herds and that they stay together for life, therefore they also sleep together, huddled against each other for protection. The adults position themselves around the younger elephants to keep them from wandering off and getting lost or run into trouble with predators and the like.


Realizing that elephants are intelligent enough to decide whether it is safe to sleep standing up or laying down, or if sleep is an option, should be enough inspiration for everyone to get to know these majestic animals better.