Do Seagulls Sleep? Investigating the Sleep Habits of Seabirds

Have you ever wondered if seagulls sleep? These ubiquitous birds are a common sight in coastal towns and cities around the world, but their nocturnal habits are often shrouded in mystery. Do they sleep like other birds, or do they have unique sleep patterns adapted to their coastal habitat? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the science behind seagull sleep and explore some of the fascinating behaviors that make these seabirds truly one of a kind.

Understanding Seagull Sleep Patterns

Seagulls, like most birds, have an innate need for sleep. But unlike humans, birds’ sleep patterns are very different. Birds are polyphasic sleepers, meaning they sleep in multiple short sessions throughout the day and night, rather than in one long stretch like most mammals.

The Science Behind Bird Sleep

Scientists have long been fascinated by the unique sleep patterns of birds. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1950s that researchers discovered REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in birds, which is the stage of sleep associated with dreaming in humans.

For birds, REM sleep is a brief period during which their eyes rapidly move back and forth beneath their closed eyelids. This stage of sleep is important for memory consolidation and learning, and birds in captivity have been shown to exhibit more REM sleep when learning new tasks.

But birds also have non-REM sleep, which is essential for physical restoration and recovery. During non-REM sleep, birds experience slow-wave sleep, which is a deep sleep stage that allows the brain and body to rest and rejuvenate.

How Seagulls Sleep Differently from Other Birds

Seagulls have several unique sleep behaviors that distinguish them from other birds. For starters, seagulls have been observed sleeping while standing on one leg, a behavior known as unipedal sleep. While this might seem odd to humans, it’s actually an adaptation that allows seagulls to conserve body heat during cold coastal nights.

In addition to unipedal sleep, seagulls have also been observed sleeping while floating on water, or even while flying in the air. This rare behavior is known as aerial roosting and is only exhibited by a small number of bird species around the world.

Seagulls are also known to sleep in flocks, which provides them with safety in numbers. When sleeping in a group, seagulls will position themselves in a way that allows them to keep an eye out for potential predators while still getting the rest they need.

Interestingly, seagulls have also been observed sleeping with one eye open. This behavior is known as unihemispheric sleep, and it allows seagulls to keep one eye on their surroundings while the other eye rests. This adaptation is especially useful for seagulls that live in areas with a high risk of predation.

Overall, seagulls have unique sleep patterns that have evolved to help them survive and thrive in their coastal environments. By understanding these patterns, we can gain a greater appreciation for these fascinating birds and their adaptations.

The Sleep Cycle of Seagulls

A seagull’s sleep cycle is made up of several distinct stages, each with its own function and characteristics.

Seagulls are known for their ability to sleep while flying. They can sleep with one eye open and half of their brain awake, allowing them to remain alert to potential predators while still getting some rest. This is known as unihemispheric slow-wave sleep.

Stages of Seagull Sleep

The first stage of seagull sleep is stage 1, during which their body temperature and heart rate begin to decrease. Stage 1 lasts for only a few minutes before the seagull enters stage 2 sleep, during which their body temperature and heart rate continue to drop and their muscles relax.

Stage 3 sleep is the deepest stage of seagull sleep, during which their brain waves slow down significantly and their breathing becomes slow and regular. Seagulls spend the majority of their sleep time in this stage, as it is the most restorative stage of sleep.

Finally, seagulls enter REM sleep, during which their eyes move back and forth rapidly beneath closed lids, and their brain activity becomes more active. REM sleep is important for memory consolidation and learning.

How Much Sleep Do Seagulls Need?

The amount of sleep a seagull needs varies depending on several factors, including their age and activity levels. Young seagulls, for example, require more sleep than adult birds, as their bodies are still growing and developing.

Adult seagulls typically sleep for around 12 hours a day, with periods of wakefulness in between sleep sessions. However, this can vary depending on season and environmental factors, such as weather conditions and food availability.

Seagulls also take naps throughout the day, especially after a big meal. They will often tuck their beaks into their feathers and rest on one leg, with the other tucked up into their feathers to conserve body heat.

Interestingly, seagulls have been observed sleeping in groups, huddled together for warmth and protection. This behavior is especially common during the winter months, when temperatures can drop significantly.

Overall, seagulls have a complex sleep cycle that is influenced by a variety of factors. By understanding their sleep patterns, we can gain a better appreciation for these fascinating birds and their unique behaviors.

Factors Affecting Seagull Sleep

Several factors can influence a seagull’s sleep patterns, including environmental factors and human activity.

Environmental Influences on Sleep

The coastal environment in which seagulls live can have a significant impact on their sleep patterns. Seagulls are known to be active during the day and sleep at night, but during the breeding season, they may be more active at night. This is because they need to forage for food to feed their young, and the cooler temperatures at night make it easier for them to do so without overheating.

Seagulls may also alter their sleep patterns in response to severe weather conditions, such as storms and high winds. During these times, they may seek shelter in protected areas, which can disrupt their normal sleep schedule.

The Impact of Human Activity on Seagull Sleep

Human activity can also significantly affect seagull sleep patterns, particularly in urban environments where seagulls are exposed to noise, lights, and other stimuli associated with human activity.

Seagulls have been observed to alter their sleep patterns in response to human disturbance. This can lead to poor health and reduced reproductive success, as disrupted sleep can have negative impacts on their immune system and hormone regulation.

In addition to direct disturbance, human activity can also indirectly impact seagull sleep. For example, urbanization can lead to changes in the availability of food sources, which can cause seagulls to alter their foraging patterns and potentially disrupt their sleep schedule.

Overall, it is important to consider the impact of both environmental factors and human activity on seagull sleep patterns in order to better understand and protect these important coastal birds.

Unique Sleep Behaviors in Seagulls

In addition to their unusual sleep positions, seagulls have several unique sleep behaviors that distinguish them from other birds.

Sleeping While Flying

Seagulls, like several other bird species, are capable of sleeping while in flight. This behavior, known as aerial roosting, allows seagulls to nap while they commute between feeding and nesting areas.

Scientists have observed that seagulls engage in aerial roosting more frequently during periods of poor weather or food scarcity, likely as a way to conserve energy and avoid predators.

Aerial roosting is a remarkable adaptation that allows seagulls to rest while still being alert to potential dangers. While in flight, seagulls can maintain a certain level of awareness, which helps them avoid collisions and other hazards.

Group Sleeping Habits

Seagulls are also known for their group sleeping habits, in which they roost together in large numbers.

Group sleeping is thought to have several benefits, including thermoregulation, predator avoidance, and increased social bonding. When seagulls sleep together, they are better able to regulate their body temperatures, especially during cold weather. This is because they can huddle together and share body heat.

Group sleeping also helps seagulls avoid predators, as there are more eyes and ears to detect potential threats. Additionally, sleeping in groups may help seagulls feel safer and more secure, which can lead to increased social bonding.

Interestingly, seagulls are not the only birds that engage in group sleeping. Other bird species, such as pigeons and crows, also sleep in groups for similar reasons.


Seagulls are fascinating creatures with many unique behaviors, including their sleeping habits. From aerial roosting to group sleeping, seagulls have adapted to their environments in remarkable ways. These behaviors not only help seagulls survive, but also provide insight into the complex lives of birds.

The Importance of Sleep for Seagulls

Just like all animals, sleep is critical for seagulls’ health and survival.

Sleep’s Role in Seagull Health and Survival

During sleep, seagulls are able to consolidate memories, process information, and repair and regenerate their bodies.

Without adequate sleep, seagulls may experience reduced immune function, cognitive impairment, and increased stress levels, all of which can negatively impact their health and survival.

How Sleep Affects Seagull Migration

Finally, sleep plays a critical role in seagulls’ seasonal migration patterns. During migration, seagulls may go several days without sleep, as they travel long distances across the ocean.

This sleep deprivation can have serious consequences for their health and wellbeing, and scientists are still studying how seagulls are able to cope with such extended periods of wakefulness.


In conclusion, seagulls may seem like simple birds, but their sleep habits are anything but. From unipedal sleeping to group roosting, seagulls have evolved an array of unique behaviors to cope with their coastal environment and the challenges it presents.

Understanding how seagulls sleep is not only fascinating from a scientific perspective, but it also sheds light on the complex ways in which animals are adapted to their environment.

So, next time you see a seagull perched atop a building or floating on the water, take a moment to appreciate just how hard they work to get their daily dose of sleep.