How Does a Horse Sleep? The Expert Explanation

Many wonder how does a horse sleep? Especially given they barely see them lying down, and most of the day they are just standing upright.

Well, the truth is that they sleep in that position and with their eyes open too. It is an astonishing fact about horses, that baffles many into disbelief.


Sleeping is essential for all mammals, including horses. To understand how long horses sleep, it’s important to first understand how the horse’s anatomy differs from humans. For example, horses have different sleep cycles and they don’t enter REM sleep. Additionally, horses can sleep standing up! Here’s a more detailed look at how horses sleep differently than we do.

While standing up?

A horse sleeps while standing up. Absolutely crazy, but scientific-based. They will doze off while still remaining on their feet. They will lower their heads and enter what is called a “light sleep”.

In this state, they are still partially aware of their surroundings and can easily be awoken. You’ll see them occasionally twitch an ear or flick a fly away.

They usually don’t lie down to sleep for two reasons: Firstly, lying down makes them more vulnerable to predators (in the wild). And secondly, it’s really not that comfortable for them to lie on their side for long periods of time because of their body structure and size.

How does a horse sleep without falling?

This state is called “stay apparatus.” Which is when the horses are able to relax their muscles while maintaining their legs locked in position to hold them up.

Can a horse lie down at all?

Horses cannot lie down for a long time. They are very large animals, so when they are laying their weight prevents the blood flow to certain locations, when they get up once more it goes back to normal, and it can cause severe problems.

If they were to stay in that position for long periods of time clods of blood would form, and they would get reperfusion injuries.

Moreover, muscles and nerves on the downside can become gravely damaged if they remain spreading in this position.

Besides, another problem would be blood accumulating due to gravity on the lung that happens to be on the downside.

horse lie down

Do horses lie down safely?

Now, horses do lie down, sometimes if they are too tired, they will rest for a bit, as they are unable to do it for long periods of time.

When a horse is very sick, it will collapse, and after that, it will be necessary to take care of them as quickly as possible.

In this case, doctors need to shift the position of the horse often, as they can develop life-threatening bedsores.

Also, when they incur into REM sleep, a horse will need to lie down, but his REM sleeping cycle is very short.

So he won’t spend too much time lying down.

How much does a horse sleep?

A domestic horse usually sleeps an average of 3 hours, but that is for REM sleep.

They, unlike humans, don’t have a well-established sleeping pattern, and therefore take short naps from time to time.

Horses can be from four to fifteen hours in the “stay apparatus,” usually depending on the time he is given to rest.

About REM sleep, it can go from minutes to hours, but no more than 3, as it could be lethal to him.

These sleep cycles are done usually over small periods of 15 minutes each.

How to know if your horse is sleeping

Horses use the “stay apparatus” mechanism when they are exhausted too, after a long workout session, they will relax their muscle while locking them in the standing position to give them some rest.

That is why they can be either sleeping or dozing off when you see them with their lower lip drooping and relaxed. Also, look at the horses’ hind feet. Do you see it cocked or maybe resting on its toe? That’s a tale-tell sign, together with eyes wide open.

Now you know How Does a Horse Sleep.

Why does a horse evolve to sleep standing up?

It is quite interesting to go on a journey to discover why horses became animals that sleep standing up.

The most sound theories say that as they are prey animals, they are at all times ready. If they hear a sound of danger or see a shape that resembles a predator they mustn’t go for the trouble of standing up; instead, they can gallop away from their attackers.

It is true that in modern times, most horses, especially those bred by humans, don’t need to protect themselves. What danger can await them in a barn? But, those are the animals they are today.

>>> Check out: The best horse Standing wraps to support their legs when they are standing.

Do horse sleep standing up?

Community amongst horses

Horses also do something quite peculiar concerning their resting hours; it is called the “buddy system.” It is basically when one horse watches as the others sleep, even doing REM sleeping.

They rotate the watch-horse as they are completing their sleeping cycles. They adopt this habit either when they live in herds in the wilderness, but even in home barn settings, or a paddock. This way every horse gets to sleep, and the team stays safe.

What if your horse doesn’t lie down?

If your horse is not allowed to lie down for many days. As he hasn’t completed his sleeping pattern, he will become sleep-deprived.

This is a very stressful situation, and in any sort of place, he can collapse, and just fall asleep.

Due to the horse being extenuated, he may oversleep, leading to complications already explained about a horse laying for long periods of time.

If he becomes sleep-deprived often, he may develop some sleep disorders, including narcolepsy. This is that in the middle of activity the minds shut and your horse goes to sleep suddenly.

It is not common, but it has happened, so make sure your horse gets its full sleep.

FAQs To How Does a Horse Sleep

Do horses sleep with their eyes open or closed?

It depends on the horse. If he’s in a relaxed environment, he will most likely keep his eyes closed.

As we previously stated, horses usually take naps throughout the day instead of one long sleep. So, if your horse is dozing off, his eyelids will be half-closed, but if he’s in a deep sleep, his eyes will be completely shut.

Do all horses sleep standing up?

Yes, all horses are able to sleep standing up. This position is called the “stay apparatus.”

As we discovered earlier, this position evolved so that they could stay alert and protect themselves from predators.

Even though most horses don’t live in the wild anymore and aren’t in danger of being attacked by predators, they still sleep standing up out of habit.

Do horses ever lie down to sleep?

Yes, horses do lie down to sleep, but only for a few minutes at a time and usually only when they’re young.

As we discovered earlier, horses need to lie down to complete their REM cycle of sleep. However, since they are prey animals, they feel vulnerable when they are lying down and try to avoid it if possible.

Why do horses sleep so little?

Horses sleep so little because their natural predators – such as lions and tigers – don’t hunt at night. So, horses have evolved to stay awake and alert during the night in case of an attack.

However, in today’s world where there are no predators chasing them, most horses only need 2-3 hours of sleep each day.

Do horses dream?

Yes, horses dream just like we do. The dreams they have usually involve running or chasing something.

So, as we can see, horses do have a few quirks when it comes to sleeping. But, overall they need around 2-3 hours of sleep per day just like we do! Make sure your horse gets his rest so he can be healthy and happy!

Do Horses Snore?

While we don’t know for sure if horses snore, many people believe that they do. This is because horses often sleep with their mouths open, and when they breathe in and out, it can create a snoring sound. If your horse is sleeping with his mouth open, you may want to check to see if he’s snoring!

Why can’t horses lie down?

There are a few reasons why horses can’t lie down. First, horses evolved to sleep standing up so they could stay alert and protect themselves from predators. Second, most horses don’t live in the wild anymore and aren’t in danger of being attacked by predators. And third, horses feel vulnerable when they are lying down and try to avoid it if possible. That’s why most horses only lie down for a few minutes at a time and usually only when they’re young.

How many hours do horses sleep?

Horses usually sleep for around 2-3 hours each day. However, they don’t sleep all at once as we do. Instead, they take multiple naps throughout the day. So, if you see your horse standing in his stall with his eyes closed, he’s probably taking a little nap.


Now you know the reason How Does a Horse Sleep, primarily for those that keep horses in a stall, sometimes the horse lies down, and his legs get trap in the space below the walls.

Then he is unable to get up and might remain in this position for hours, while you are sleeping or away. And, as we explained, it could be deadly, and for sure it is dangerous and perilous to your horses’ health.

Therefore a little trick is to pile up bricks to fill in the gaps or set up long wooden planks. They are not foolproof, and accidents may still happen, but for the most part, it should be alright.

We can conclude that the way that horses sleep is quite peculiar, as well as the number of hours that they spend resting. Even odder that they sleep with their eyes open, they serve only to show how magnificent and varied is the animal kingdom. And how unusual horses are.

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