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How Do You Know When a Rabbit is Sleeping?

Nicole Cosgrove

Since adequate sleep is just as important to rabbits as it is to humans, you may be wondering how to tell when a rabbit is sleeping. In this article, we’ll be exploring the ins and outs of rabbit sleep patterns and behaviors, so that you can do everything necessary to help them get their beauty rest.

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Do Rabbits Close Their Eyes When They Sleep?

Did you know that rabbits have a “third eyelid”? Yes, these so-called nictitating membranes are totally clear and serve to keep their eyes moist even when they appear to be fully open.

This evolutionary adaptation means that rabbits can sleep with their eyes open, making them more sensitive to changes in light and movement even when sleeping. This way, they can tell if a predator is approaching – even while they take their afternoon nap!

Only when a rabbit feels extremely comfortable and safe in its environment will it completely close its outer eyelids, as well. If you’ve never seen your bunny napping with its eyes completely closed, this isn’t cause for alarm; even the most well-meaning of owners can frighten their rabbits with noises or sudden movements.

sleeping rabbit
Photo by Iván C. Fajardo on Unsplash

Where do Rabbits Sleep?

When kept as house pets, rabbits tend to sleep just about anywhere they please! Found in the wild, rabbits will tend to congregate in dug-out shelters known as burrows, where they are better protected from predators.

If you’d like to give your rabbit a safe and comfortable place to sleep in your home, try to make it more like a burrow: Somewhat dark, slightly tucked away, and with plenty of soft bedding. This will encourage them to regularly go to bed at the same hour, and keep a healthy sleep schedule.

How Much do Rabbits Sleep?

A National Geographic study from their July 2011 issue titled “40 Winks?” estimated that rabbits need around 8.4 hours of sleep per day. With this number being so similar to humans, it’s easy to think that you could go to bed and wake up around the same time together – but you’ll find that rabbits have a much different sleep schedule than humans, as detailed in the next section.

sleeping rabbit
Photo by fotografierende on Unsplash

When do Rabbits Sleep?

As opposed to nocturnal animals (such as owls) and diurnal animals (such as humans), rabbits are crepuscular. This means that rabbits are often most active around dawn and twilight, and get their sleep in two blocks of time: From late morning until early evening, and also in the middle of the night.

This odd sleep cycle may be an evolutionary adaptation to the rabbit’s status as a prey animal. Because visibility is lowest for predators around dawn and twilight, rabbits are safest to eat and move around at these times. Even though rabbits have been domesticated for centuries, this protective mechanism is still found in every breed.

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4 Ways to Tell if Your Rabbit is Really Asleep

sleeping rabbit
Image by Marian Deacu from Pixabay

Because adequate sleep is so essential to a rabbit’s health, keeping a watchful eye on their sleeping habits and patterns can clue you in to any potential sickness or general distress. That’s why it’s so important to be able to tell whether your rabbit is asleep! Look for these sure signs that they’ve dozed off into dreamland:

  1. Their breathing will slow down. On most rabbits, you can see the expansion of their lungs and stomach when they breathe.
  2. They completely stop moving. This means even their constantly twitching noses will settle down.
  3. Assuming one of the most common sleeping positions (listed below).
  4. Flat, relaxed ears show that your rabbit is either asleep or fast on their way towards being so.

Of course, it should go without saying that if you’re wondering whether your rabbit is asleep, please don’t bother them! Poking, prodding, or otherwise trying to get their attention when they seem to be at ease is a sure way to end up with a grumpy bun.

Common Sleeping Positions

Like humans, rabbits have favorite sleeping positions that reduce the stress on their muscles and joints. If you’re lucky enough to see your rabbit in one of the following two positions, you can rest assured that they feel safe and comfortable around you.

The Loaf

Tucking their front legs underneath a fluffy chest, your rabbit will then lay its ears back along its spine. Properly executed, your rabbit will look entirely like a fluffier version of a bread loaf.

The Flop

Often preceded by a round of intense faux digging at the floor, your rabbit may proceed to throw all four legs out to one side in a tremendous flop. If you’ve never seen this happen, take heart: It can sometimes take upwards of a year for rabbits to feel comfortable enough with their owners to sleep while flopped.

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Conclusion

With all their evolutionary adaptations, rabbits are unique and wonderful creatures indeed. Though their sleeping habits can cause confusion for novice and experienced rabbit owners alike, with a little practice you’ll soon be able to tell when your rabbit is feeling relaxed enough around you to sleep freely. Thanks for reading, and we wish you many bunny flops in your future!


Featured Image: Shaojie on Unsplash

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.