How Do Elephants Sleep?

Elephants can weigh up to 14,000 pounds and consume up to 300 pounds of food in a single day. Yet, they only need a few hours of sleep per day. Due to their size, you may wonder how elephants sleep.

Elephants mostly sleep standing up but can also sleep lying down. They are more likely to sleep lying down in captivity. Captive elephants do not need to worry about predators, allowing them to relax and lay down instead of remaining upright.

Elephants Sleep Standing Up In The Wild

African and Asian elephants take multiple short naps while standing up. Most naps last just 5 to 30 minutes. Elephants only need about three hours of sleep per day.

African elephants get most of their rest between 1 AM and 6 AM. Asian elephants rest more in the middle of the day and the middle of the night.

The sleep pattern of an elephant is influenced by environmental conditions. They graze or walk when the weather is cooler and rest when the weather is warmer.

Elephants stand in place and rest their trunk on the ground when napping. The trunk is often used as an indicator for determining whether an elephant is sleeping.

The trunk is the most active part of an elephant. If the trunk stops moving for several minutes, the elephant is likely sleeping.

Why Do Elephants Sleep Standing up?

Elephants tend to sleep standing up so that they can react quickly to threats. While elephants typically sleep standing up, they can sleep lying down. However, elephants struggle to get up quickly from a prone position due to their mass.

If a predator were to approach, an elephant lying down may not have the time to get up and defend itself.

Scientists believe that elephants only sleep for a few hours per day due to their diet. An adult elephant consumes up to 300 pounds of food each day. They eat grass, roots, fruit, and tree bark. The constant grazing leaves the elephants with limited time to sleep.

Elephants also spend a lot of time on the move. Lying down for a nap at each stop would use too much energy.

Elephants travel an average of 25 kilometers per day and can walk up to 195 kilometers when necessary. They travel at about 2.79 kilometers per hour, which means that they spend an average of 9 hours per day walking.

Standing up for a nap also protects the elephant from injuries and pressure wounds. The weight of their own body can limit blood flow to certain areas, which increases the risk of injuries.

Elephants Legs Do Not Buckle When Resting

Elephants may occasionally lean against a tree or a large mound when napping. However, elephants have thick legs that allow them to sleep standing up without support.

The legs of the elephant are almost completely vertical. The position of the legs supports the elephant’s massive body without the risk of buckling.

Elephants Sleep In Herds To Increase Their Safety

Elephants in the wild rest in groups for increased safety. Staying in a group also allows elephants to take turns resting. Some elephants nap while others remain awake to keep an eye out for predators.

The elder female elephants in a herd sometimes stay awake for days to keep the herd safe. Elephants can stay awake up to 46 hours without sleep.

Long periods without sleep are often necessary when elephants travel. They continue walking through the night to reach safety instead of stopping to rest.

Elephants In Captivity Sleep Longer

Elephants in captivity often sleep up to seven hours per day. They get about twice as much rest as the typical elephant in the wild.

Elephants in captivity sleep longer as they do not need to worry about predators. This also allows them to lay down to sleep. In fact, captive elephants get most of their rest lying down instead of standing.

Wild Baby Elephants May Sleep Lying Down

Baby elephants require more sleep compared to adult elephants and are often found sleeping lying down. This allows them to get more deep sleep to support their growing bodies.

Baby elephants rely on their mothers for food and protection from predators. As the baby elephants rest, the mother elephant and other adult elephants are nearby to protect against threats.

Elephants Get Deep Sleep Every Three To Four Days

Research suggests that elephants get one session of deep sleep every three to four days. Their naps are too short for rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which typically occurs after 90 minutes of sleep.

Elephants typically need to lay down to enter deep sleep. As wild elephants need to remain alert, they cannot lay down to sleep frequently. However, about once every three to four days, an elephant will find time to lay down and get several hours of REM sleep.

Yet, all the elephants in the pack do not lay down and sleep at the same time. Wild herds may include 20 to 70 elephants. One or two may lay down for deep slumber while the rest of the herd remains awake.

Do Elephants Dream When They Sleep?

Elephants may dream during deep sleep. Scientists know that most animal species dream during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. However, wild elephants rarely get REM sleep, which means that they may not dream very often.

Captive elephants sleep up to seven hours per day, including two to three hours of deep sleep. As captive elephants sleep longer, they may dream more frequently compared to wild elephants.


Wild elephants mostly sleep standing up. They sleep up to three hours per day. When an elephant is ready to rest, it stands in place and lowers its trunk to the ground. The trunk remains inactive during the sleep session, which may only last 5 to 30 minutes.

Wild elephants may sleep laying down once every three to four days to get deep sleep. Baby elephants and captive elephants also tend to prefer sleeping lying down. However, elephants can also go up to 46 hours without a nap.