How Do Donkeys Sleep?

Donkeys are found on every continent except Antarctica. Farmers often have donkeys to protect the herd from predators. You may see them around cattle, sheep, goats, and even horses.

Donkeys tend to live on farms and ranches, but how do they sleep? Donkeys sleep lying down and standing up. Standing up allows them to sleep lightly but they need to lie down to get deep sleep. Most donkeys get about half an hour of deep sleep and two and a half hours of light sleep.

The sleeping habits of donkeys are comparable to other equine species, such as horses and zebras.

Donkeys Sleep Standing Up For Light Sleep

Donkeys mostly sleep standing up. They are not nocturnal. Donkeys get most of their rest at night, but they only sleep a few hours per day.

When a donkey lightly sleeps, it stands in place and lowers its head. The lips droop and their eyelids partially close.

As with horses, donkeys have a physical attribute called “stay apparatus”. This attribute allows the ligaments and muscles in each leg to hold joints in place to keep the legs from buckling. However, donkeys cannot enter a deep sleep while standing.

Standing donkeys only get light sleep. However, standing up offers two advantages for donkeys. Avoiding a deep sleep makes it easier for donkeys to respond quickly to a threat. They can wake up immediately at the slightest sound.

Standing also allows donkeys to move fast if a predator approaches. The donkeys are already upright and ready to run instead of needing to first stand from a prone position.

Donkeys Sleep Lying Down For Deep Sleep

Donkeys need to lie down to get deep sleep. However, they only lie down when they feel safe.

A donkey that does not feel safe and secure is unlikely to get adequate sleep. They need to have a stress-free environment where they can relax and drift into a deep slumber.

After lying down, donkeys gradually enter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Their brain becomes more active. You may notice that they kick their legs or bray during their sleep. This indicates that they are in a deep sleep.

Donkeys also completely close their eyes during REM sleep. If their eyes are still partially open, they have not yet entered deep sleep.

Donkeys Sleep In Groups For Added Protection

Donkeys are social animals and live in herds. The herd provides extra protection against predators in the wild. In captivity, donkeys are still social and prefer to sleep around other donkeys.

One male donkey typically watches over the herd. The younger donkeys and babies are often found in the center of the herd and are more likely to lay down while the adults stand and rest.

Donkeys Only Sleep For About Three Hours

Donkeys only get about 3.1 hours of total sleep each day. This typically includes 2.5 hours of light sleep and 30 minutes of deep sleep. Donkeys need both light sleep and deep sleep each day.

Donkeys may sleep in an open clearing, a field, under the shade of a tree, or inside a manmade structure, such as a barn. As they can sleep anywhere, donkeys do not need a special space for sleeping. However, they may need shelter during severe weather.

The shelter also helps donkeys feel more secure, which may increase their ability to get REM sleep. Donkeys become less productive and are more likely to suffer from health issues when they do not get adequate sleep.

Donkeys Sleep With Their Eyes Partially Open

Donkeys sleep with their eyes partially open during a light sleep session. The eyes are not entirely open or closed. The donkey’s eyelids start to droop after they decide to rest.

Donkeys need to lay down on their sides to fully rest. The eyes may remain partially open for several minutes after lying down. The eyes will fully close before the donkey enters REM sleep.

Donkeys Can Suffer From Narcolepsy And Sleep Deprivation

Donkeys can suffer from sleep problems due to health issues, threats, and the environment. Sleep deprivation typically occurs when the donkey does not feel safe in its environment. Potential threats may keep it from settling down and relaxing enough to sleep.

Donkeys do not show signs of sleep deprivation immediately. The lack of sleep gradually catches up to the donkey. They may start to become sluggish and less productive. Donkeys that do not get enough rest may also fall asleep unintentionally.

For example, a donkey suffering from sleep deprivation may suddenly fall and drift into a deep sleep. Donkeys may also fall asleep unintentionally due to narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that causes sufferers to become suddenly drowsy during the daytime. Donkeys that suffer from narcolepsy may seem to sleep more frequently compared to other donkeys. However, unlike sleep deprivation, narcolepsy does not cause the donkey to become physically exhausted.

Donkeys can also suffer from hypersomnia, which is a condition that causes animals or people to sleep excessively. A healthy donkey only needs a few hours of sleep per day. Donkeys that sleep more frequently may suffer from a condition that causes hypersomnia.

Potential causes of hypersomnia include neurological diseases, including equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) and the West Nile virus. Hypersomnia may also occur due to respiratory infections.


Donkeys sleep standing up and lying down. They get light rest when standing and deep sleep when lying down.

Most donkeys get about 30 minutes of deep sleep and 2.5 hours of light sleep, for a total of about 3 hours of sleep per day. The 2.5 hours of light sleep may include a dozen or more small naps throughout the day.

Sleeping donkeys tend to droop their eyes and lips. The eyes may remain partially open when standing. Donkeys only lay down when they feel safe and secure.

Donkeys sleep standing up to increase their ability to escape threats, including threats from predators and the environment. Lying down leaves the donkey vulnerable to attacks, as it takes too long for the donkey to get up from a prone position.