Someone once asked me, “Do horses sleep standing up or lying down?” Then I answered, “Of course, both”.
Well, it is believed that horses can sleep both lying down and standing up.
However, there is one thing you should make clear: When they stand up, they cannot get deep sleep. They just snooze.
How horses sleep standing up?
In the sleeping state, their ears are back, and their eyes are closed. Their head is down, and their lower lips are relaxed.
Also, horses have specialized legs that can lock together, which allows them to be completely relaxed while standing up.
The progress of sleeping standing up in a horse is called slow-wave sleep. Normally, an adult horse needs to take rest for 2 to 5 hours per day.
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Why they need lie down?
Although horses can rest standing up, horses need some time to fulfill their needs for REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in each 24-hour period. A sufficient sleep of a horse will include grazing, snoozing standing up, and short periods of lying down to get some shut-eye.
This kind of sleep is of particular importance for horses’ health. It helps develop the nervous system, such as for creating new memories and learning.
In fact, horses do not require a lot of REM sleep, typically just in ten to twenty minutes at a time. The total REM time for a horse is only about 30 to 40 minutes in a day. Normally, young horses sleep more often and have more REM sleep than adults.
If a horse is lack of REM sleep for a couple of weeks, his health may be affected and his behavior begins to change negatively.
But why do horses sleep standing up most of their time?
There are some special reasons for horses’ sleeping habits.
First of all, horses are prey species. They need to avoid serious threat from their predators. Sleeping standing up lets them get up more quickly to flee than laying down, so their personal safety can be ensured.
Also, horses who sleep laying down extended periods are likely to have several health diseases such as pressure sores, colic, and pneumonia.
According to research, the longer they are down, the more prone they are to reperfusion injury. As a kind of large animals, when laying down for too long, the weight of their body can prevent blood flow to several certain locations. This can cause severe health problems when they try to stand up again.
Besides reperfusion injury, muscles and nerves on the downside of the horses can be hurt from pressure.
So, because they can doze while standing up, healthy horses don’t prefer spending time lying down.
Horses’ strange sleeping habits
Interestingly, each horse will have their own individual sleeping habits. Horses are neither nocturnal nor diurnal. They can themselves choose to sleep whenever they want in a day. Therefore, each horse will have different times to sleep, and any changes we make in our horses’ schedules may also impact their sleeping routine.
Also, horses’ sleeping habits change when they become older. A foal may sleep for up to 12 hours each day, but an adult horse will snooze for only 3 hours in a period of 24 hours. When they are older, they need to get more sleep and take naps more regularly.
In a herb, there will be a guard horse staying awake to watch while others lie down to sleep. Different members of the herd will take turns as the guard horse to help the herb avoid dangers from their predators.
Horses’ sleep deprivation
There are two types of sleeping for a horse: Slow-wave and REM sleeping. The lack of any adequate sleep can result in sleep deprivation which badly affects horses’ health.
So, when your horses show any signs of sleep deprivation, there are some reasons which you should consider and solve:
- Insecurity - a horse who feels unsafe in their environment will not have deep sleep
- Isolation - this feeling makes a horse stressed and vulnerable
- An unsuitable and uncomfortable place to lay
- Pain - A horse in a painful condition may be unable to lie down comfortably.
- External factors: weather, loud noise, light bulb wattage changes, blanket issues, window coverings, etc
Besides sleep deprivation, there are also other types of equine sleeping disorders that we should know:
Horses also can suffer from REM sleep disorders. In some situations, Horses may move in their sleep. They may move their legs or their entire bodies, then often waking themselves up. Because the horses often wake himself up, this can lead to sleep deprivation.
When it is bad for a horse to lack sleep time, it is also not good for a horse to sleep too much. An excessive amount of sleep also leads to significant problems, such as the possibility of neurological disease, hypersomnia, or endocrine disorders.
Some people misunderstand sleep deprivation with another disease called narcolepsy, but they are totally different. Sleep deprivation is resulted from the lack of adequate sleep, whereas narcolepsy is triggered by strong emotions and activities. A horse with narcolepsy can be fully awake and get involved in some physical activities when he suddenly falls asleep. This condition is most often seen in horse foals.
Understand all about sleeping habits and sleeping problems in horses can help the owners know how to take good care of their animals’ overall health.