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How Much Sleep Do Horses Need? What You Need to Know!

Oliver Jones

For horses, almost the entire day and night is spent eating, resting, or sleeping. That’s what life is for a horse. But how often do you see a horse lying down and sleeping? Do they ever lie down and sleep? It’s a strange fact that horses can sleep standing up. But sleeping standing up doesn’t entirely fulfill their need for sleep, so they also need to lay down for sleep each night. Since horses have multiple ways to rest, they don’t have to lay down for long, but if they don’t get sufficient recumbent rest, they’ll suffer health consequences.

horse shoe divider

How Much Time Do Horses Spend Resting?

Horses have multiple types of sleep and rest that they can undertake. For instance, they can use slow-wave sleep to help them rest while standing. But a horse cannot enter the REM or rapid eye movement stage of sleep while standing, which is when they get their true sleep.

Still, they spend quite a lot of time resting, even if they only spend a short time truly sleeping. About 5-7 hours each day is spent resting; mostly on the feet.

Recumbent Sleeping

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Credit: Emma_Ted, Pixabay

Every horse needs to sleep laying down for a portion of each day. However, they only need to spend 30 minutes in true REM sleep, so they don’t have to lay down for long. Horses that don’t meet this minimum requirement will suffer REM deficiency, which causes excessive drowsiness during the day. They can even collapse while standing after falling into REM sleep.

Horses in a Herd

Sleep can be more difficult for horses that are part of a herd. Each herd has a distinct pecking order, and the horses at the top get preferential sleep spots. This often means that lower-status members of the herd can’t find a comfortable sleep spot at all.

Every horse needs a soft area for lying down in order to get quality sleep. But there isn’t always enough bedding area to go around, which is when the lower ranking herd members suffer from sleep deprivation.

What Might Prevent a Horse from Sleeping?

three horses
Image Credit: Pixabay

Horses that aren’t in a herd or that have ample access to soft and comfortable bedding areas should be sleeping at least 30 minutes each night. If they’re not, there’s another underlying cause that needs to be addressed.

For example, an overweight horse might have a hard time getting back up after lying down. This would prevent them from wanting to lie down at all since they know that it could be scary and difficult to get up again.

Horses with joint pain such as osteoarthritis also often refuse to lie down to sleep. They know that it will be painful to get up again when they wake. These horses can often be given joint supplements with hyaluronic acid, chondroitin sulfate, and glucosamine to ease the pain and swelling and make it easier for them to lie down for that crucial 30 minutes of sleep that every horse requires.

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Conclusion

Horses do spend a good deal of time resting, though most of that resting is done in a standing position. Still, every horse requires some recumbent rest each day. Usually, they take this rest after midnight when it’s darkest. Thirty minutes is all that’s necessary, but without this half-hour of sleep spent lying down, a horse will become sleep deficient and can suffer as a consequence.

Oliver Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones - A zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia with his partner Alex, their dog Pepper, and their cat Steve (who declined to be pictured). Ollie, originally from the USA, holds his master's degree in wildlife biology and moved to Australia to pursue his career and passion but has found a new love for working online and writing about animals of all types.