If you have ever kept a turtle or seen one in real life, then probably the first question that came to your mind is how do these adorable reptiles sleep? Even though they can’t breathe underwater, does that mean they can’t sleep underwater? In today’s article, I’ll answer the questions do turtles sleep underwater and how do turtles sleep.
Do turtles sleep underwater?
Yes, turtles do sleep underwater. They can sleep underwater for a couple minutes, or even up to a couple hours without coming up for air.
How do turtles sleep underwater?
While turtle’s can’t breathe underwater, they are able to control their oxygen needs by slowing down their movement. When a turtle starts to rest and stops moving, it slows down their heart rate and their metabolism.
In turn, this reduces the amount of oxygen that they need in their system to breathe, which allows them to stay underwater for hours at a time. Once a turtle starts running low on oxygen, they will automatically wake up and go to the surface for air.
Where do turtles sleep?
One of the biggest deciding factors for a turtle is the temperature of their sleeping spot. They tend to prefer to sleep in warmer temperatures vs cold. As cold-blooded reptiles, warm temperatures help keep a turtle calm and comfortable.
My turtle has slept in a lot of different places, including:
On underwater driftwood:
On the ground:
Inside their shells:
On top of the filter:
Turtles typically sleep where they feel the most comfortable and safe.
Do turtles go into deep sleep?
Turtles do not sleep like we humans, or other mammals do. Their method of sleeping comprises of lying in a secluded and comfortable place. The process of sleep for a turtle is more like a relaxed state of resting vs. being completely unconscious. However, their eyes do completely shut and they will stay motionless.
They will sometimes still move around, or adjust their head to not face light. The reasons turtles don’t enter a deep sleep is because in they wild there are always predators around so they need to be somewhat alert.
Which turtles sleep underwater?
Freshwater and sea turtles both sleep underwater. Land turtles and tortoises sleep on land.
1. Freshwater turtles
Freshwater turtles are similar to marine turtles as they also frequently sleep underwater. These turtles tend to lay on the lake/river bed as they sleep. They prefer to burrow themselves under mud and sand.
Freshwater turtles can easily sleep underwater for 5 hours at a time. Similar to sea turtles, freshwater turtles are able to conserve a lot of their oxygen when sleeping underwater since they do not have much movement. Usually, a turtle will naturally wake up when their body starts to get low on oxygen.
Some freshwater turtles can even spend months at a time under water. They usually do this in the winter, and the process is called brumation. While a turtle brumates in the winter, it is able to absorb oxygen from the water through their scales. Interestingly enough, they are also able to breathe through their butts.
However, it is important to note that the amount of oxygen that turtles absorb from the water is very minimal. Therefore, they can only get enough oxygen to hold them over while they stay still and sleep.
Popular freshwater turtles that brumate include red-eared sliders and painted turtles.
2. Sea Turtles
Since they live in the ocean, marine/sea turtles don’t really have any choice but to sleep underwater. While some sea turtles do sleep at the surface of the water, it can be dangerous as they are in plain sight for their predators.
Marine turtles usually sleep on the ocean bed or inside the coral caves as it provides them with good shelter and hides them from all sorts of threats. In preparation for their sleep, turtles tend to make a trip up to the surface of the water to fill their lungs with oxygen before they finally go to sleep.
Turtles are masters at conserving oxygen, and therefore just a single long breath goes a long way when it comes to marine turtles. During their sleep, their metabolism also slows down drastically, which helps them to conserve their oxygen supply even further. Some of the most well-known marine turtles are leatherbacks, green sea turtles, loggerheads, and ridley’s.
For reference, Crush from the movie Finding Nemo is a green sea turtle.
3. Land Turtles
One of the most popular land turtles is the box turtle. If you are familiar with this species, you probably know they are not big swimmers. This is because their body is shaped in such a way that makes it hard for them to swim. The main reason for this is because their shell has a very high dome shape that does not easily pass through water. Additionally, they do not have a lot of flexibility in their limbs which makes it hard to swim.
Therefore, box turtles do not sleep underwater. Instead, they prefer to make small little nests that they convert to a sleeping area. They will use any sort of pine or grass in the area to create a nice, soft bed.
4. Temperate Tortoise
Similar to land turtles, temperate tortoises do not sleep underwater. However, they are known to frequently hibernate throughout the winter season (on land). Hibernation is a type of sleep from which the animal cannot be awakened easily. The desert tortoise is an example of a popular tortoise that usually hibernates/brumates every winter.
The animal’s innate circadian cycle is the one that is responsible for waking them up. During hibernation, the metabolic processes occurring in the body of the tortoise almost come to a halt, and they also do not eat or drink anything for months.
How often do turtles sleep?
This is another great question that also depends on the species of the turtle. However, it can be safe to say that most species of pet turtles will sleep at least 5 hours a day.
However, in the wild this is a different story. The reason is that there are way more threats in the wild, and therefore a turtle in the wild will usually sleep a lot less. Turtles in the wild will try their best to find a secluded spot to sleep that is out of sight of predators.