You may be familiar with the image of rabbits as highly playful creatures that love hopping around, or as skittish wild animals that flee at the first sign of danger. Even energetic creatures such as rabbits, which are so energetic they serve as battery company mascots, need their rest.
Rabbits are highly skittish creatures and for good reason. In the wild, they are vulnerable to many natural predators. That means that their sleep habits are designed to ensure their own safety, even when they are a safe pet in someone’s house.
Rabbits sleep very differently from humans, although they need a similar amount of sleep (about eight hours). Whether you have a pet rabbit or are just curious about your wild neighbors, here is what you need to know about how rabbits sleep.
How Do Rabbits Sleep
Rabbits are prey animals therefore they will only sleep when they feel completely safe. Rabbits tend to sleep their breathing will slow, their ears will relax, and will be in 1 of 3 positions: Loaf, Lying Down, and The Flop.
How Long Do Rabbits Sleep at a Time?
Rabbits need around the same amount of sleep as humans do, about eight hours within each 24-hour period. However, they cannot sleep for extended periods of time the same way that we do. In the wild, remaining inactive for more than a few minutes or an hour leaves rabbits vulnerable to predators. Wild rabbits don’t even hibernate in the winter the way that many mammals do.
Instead, rabbits sleep in bursts for a few minutes at a time. After sleeping, they will wake up, check the area for any danger, then go back to sleep.
Even when rabbits experience deep sleep or REM sleep, they do not stay in that state for more than a few minutes at a time. This is crucial to their safety.
A Rabbit’s Crepuscular Schedule
To understand how rabbits sleep, it is important to understand the schedules that govern their sleep-wake cycle. Rabbits are crepuscular, which means that they are most active at dawn or at dusk. This is the little-known third alternative to nocturnal or diurnal sleeping habits.
The reason why rabbits maintain a crepuscular schedule is to protect themselves from predators. Dawn and dusk are times when predators are least active due to the less-than-optimal light conditions and it is safest to move about. Even domesticated rabbits stick to this schedule.
Rabbits get most of their sleep in the middle of the night and from late morning to early afternoon during the day. Rabbits are accustomed to sleeping during the day, so this means that they have no problem snoozing even when it is light out. However, they do rely on light to regulate their sleep schedules, which is why it is important not to expose domesticated rabbits to too much or too little artificial light.
How Alert Are Rabbits When They Sleep?
Even when they are asleep, rabbits still maintain a level of alertness across their senses. In particular, their sensitive hearing is always in tune with their surroundings so that they can bolt at the first sign of danger.
If you have ever observed a sleeping rabbit, you may have noticed that its eyes were open. Rabbits actually have a third eyelid, a clear nictitating membrane. Most rabbits only close this eyelid when they sleep. It still protects their eyes while allowing some light in and giving the illusion of alertness, which sometimes deters predators.
Some domesticated rabbits will sleep with their eyes completely closed, but only if they are comfortable in their surroundings.
How Do Rabbits Like to Sleep?
It’s difficult to know how wild rabbits like to sleep because these cautious animals only sleep when they feel completely safe (which is usually away from the gaze of researchers). Most wild rabbits sleep in underground burrows that are protected from large predators.
Domesticated rabbits can sleep anywhere, although they sometimes seek out dark, hidden spots to feel safe. The most common sleeping position for rabbits is the loaf. A sleeping rabbit will tuck all of its paws under its body, forming a round loaf position. This allows the rabbit to relax its body while still being ready to spring into action at the first sign of danger.
Pet rabbits that feel very safe may stretch out to sleep. Some rabbits like to sleep on their stomachs with their back legs stretched out behind them. Other rabbits will flop on their side with their legs stretched away from their body. A flopped, sleeping rabbit is very adorable and a sign that a pet rabbit is very comfortable in its surroundings.
How to Tell When a Rabbit Is Sleeping
Rabbits sometimes sleep with their eyes open, so it can be hard to tell whether or not they are sleeping. The biggest sign that a rabbit is sleeping is more stillness. You may notice that its breath has slowed down, it isn’t moving as much, and even its nose has stopped twitching.
A rabbit’s ears are another tell-tale sign to help figure out whether it is sleeping or not. When sleeping, rabbits will relax their ears against their heads instead of holding them upright. They can still hear their surroundings but are saving their energy.
Some very comfortable rabbits emit noises while in a deep sleep. You may notice your rabbit grinding its teeth or even snoring while it sleeps. Rabbit snores are adorable, but if you notice other breathing issues, you may need to take your rabbit to the vet.
Like most prey animals, rabbits have evolved their sleeping habits to stay as alert as possible while getting their necessary rest. Most rabbits only sleep for a few minutes at a time, including when they are in REM sleep. These snatches of sleep, mostly during the middle of the day and night, add up to enough rest to keep a rabbit happy and healthy.
While wild rabbits prefer to sleep in burrows, domesticated rabbits can sleep anywhere that they feel comfortable. If you notice your rabbit in a loaf position, lying on its belly, or stretched out on its side, that is a sign that it is sleeping. Sleeping is a vulnerable position for rabbits, so if you notice your pet is comfortable enough to start snoring in your presence, that is a sign that you’ve created a loving environment.
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