How Horses Sleep: Power Naps

Last Updated on February 17, 2022 by Allison Price

Research on wild and semi-wild horses has shown that they take power naps and use the buddy system for rest and protection from predators.

You need eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night if you are like most people. You will feel tired, sleepy, and drowsy the next day if you don’t get it. It might seem like your horse needs the same. Sue McDonnell says horses need more sleep than humans.

Horses spend between four and fifteen hours per day in standing rest and from minutes to hours lying down. The rest of the time is actually sleep, which can be taken in short naps lasting only a few minutes each. An adult horse’s average daily sleep time can range from a few minutes up to several hours. Like other children, foals and young horses sleep longer, deeper, and more frequently than adults.

This is another advantage for prey animals: Although his sleep can be disrupted repeatedly by predators or false alarms, he will still function. Sue McDonnell says that horses rarely experience true sleep deprivation. He only needs a minimum of an hour of deep sleep (or lying-down) every day. He will eventually drift off to deep sleep, but if he doesn’t get enough, he may end up standing and buckled at the knees.

Horses prefer to have their rest spread out over a longer period of time than you would like. Sue McDonnell says that horses and groups of horses have a consistent pattern of rest and other activities, such as grazing. The horse’s environment, weather and other factors can affect the pattern. Stabled horses are often affected by the activities around them and tend to get most of their sleep in the early morning or evening.

Sue McDonnell states that horses learn the barn’s pattern and their deepest sleep and rest occur shortly after the busy “people day”.

Buddy System
It’s not surprising that horses fall asleep best when they feel safe. You might not realize that horses may feel safer than you think. You can tell your horse is safe when you place him in his stall, and then close the door. He may feel isolated and confined, which can be dangerous for horses.

Sue McDonnell, a U of P student, has been studying the behavior of semi-wild ponies. According to McDonnell, feral horses sleep longer than stabled horses. They also have more down time because they can relax as members of a group. One horse acts like a sentinel and keeps watch while the rest of the horses snooze. “Feral groups are composed of individuals who rest, eat, and drink together. With the protection of adults, the young might get more rest and sleep during grazing. Everyone gets to sleep, as the adults share the sentinel duty.

Adult horses that are alone tend to fall asleep less often than horses in groups. This is probably because there is no sendinel to protect them and no horses to assist with danger. The solo horse has the feeling that he must look after himself. At the first sign of trouble, he will wake up from his sleep. Sue McDonnell states that horses often rest against each other’s stall walls in order to benefit from the sentinel effect.

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