How Do Turtles Get Their Sleep?

Red-eared slider with eyes closed and head tucked into shell.

Turtles, both land and aquatic, are popular pet reptiles, but their behavior may be perplexing. Sleep is one of these enigmatic activities, as it's difficult to know whether a turtle is awake if it isn't moving or feeding. Sleep habits and preferred sleeping settings differ per species, but regardless of the turtle you care for, they all sleep at some time. Knowing how a turtle sleeps in the wild might help you see warning indications that something is wrong with your turtle if these sleep habits alter.

Turtle Sleep

Land and water turtles both sleep, but it's difficult to know when they're sleeping. There has been some research on the condition of sleep in turtles, but the results vary per species, thus there is still a lot we don't know about sleep in turtles. However, we do know that turtles sleep, albeit the distinction between their awake and sleeping states may not be as marked as it is in other animals and humans.

Pet turtles sleep in small bursts throughout the day, but they may sometimes sleep for many hours at a time. Aquatic turtles can sleep for hours on a dry dock or with their head popping out of the water, but they can also sleep for shorter amounts of time below, rising only to breathe. Because land turtles do not swim like aquatic turtles, they can sleep whenever and wherever they want.

Turtle Sleeping Environments

Your turtle's sleep habits might be affected by a variety of circumstances. If your turtle's surroundings isn't optimal, it may sleep more or less frequently than it should, and it may even become unwell. Ensure that the following variables are appropriate for your turtle's species to promote a proper sleep cycle.


If there is a regular white light cycle, both land and marine turtles are more likely to have stable sleep habits. It's vital to notice that a white light bulb differs from red or purple light bulbs, which reptiles cannot see. Painter turtles, red-eared sliders, cooters, common box turtles, and map turtles are all diurnal, meaning they are more active during the day and sleep more at night. Because turtles spend their waking hours basking in the sun, a regular light cycle is essential, and if your turtle doesn't have continuous illumination, its sleep cycle may be aberrant.

Shelters and Platforms

While various turtles prefer different ways and places to sleep, you should always offer a shelter for a land turtle and a platform for an aquatic turtle. Land turtles require a hiding spot, whereas water turtles require a pier to dry off on. These hideaways and docks are frequently used for sleeping. Land turtles can be housed in plastic containers with an entrance cut out, a half log, a pile of pebbles to make a cave, and store-bought reptile shelters. Aquatic turtles can relax on homemade floating docks built from PVC tubing, rock heaps, and store-bought floating turtle platforms. Make sure your turtle can easily fit in or on the shelter or platform you give, whether it lives on land or in the water.


The temperature of your turtle's habitat, in addition to white light, may be the most important component in its sleep pattern. Turtles are ectothermic, or cold-blooded, and their body temperature is regulated by the ambient temperature. They may sleep more if their surroundings is too chilly for an extended period of time. Varied turtle species have different optimal temperatures, so make sure your turtle's surroundings aren't too chilly.

Sleep vs. Brumation

Reptiles go into brumation, which is a type of hibernation. Turtles housed in a controlled, warm habitat all year can still go into brumation, but the stability of their environment reduces the chances of it happening. is similar to sleeping, but it lasts longer since the body temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate all lower. Turtles in brumation may go days without eating or drinking.


"Is there REM sleep in reptiles? A key question, but still unanswered. Current Opinion in Physiology. 2020;15:134-142." ;