Turtles like to sleep a lot. But did you know that if your turtle is always sleeping, there may be something wrong with either your habitat or your turtle?
Do Turtles Sleep
For starters, yes, turtles do sleep. This might come as a surprise to many people, but most species of turtles sleep for a couple hours a day. However, they do not achieve a deep sleep like humans. Instead, their sleep is similar to a resting period and is similar to our lighter sleep stages.
Where do turtles sleep?
Turtles will sleep in a wide range of areas, including their basking spots, under rocks, or in small concealed areas next to a pond or lake. Sea turtles are known for sleeping on top of the water, and also in small areas wedged under coral or rocks.
How Long Do Turtles Sleep?
Turtles sleep anywhere from 1-10 hours a day. The amount of time they sleep is dependent on the species of turtle and environment. Turtles that are more aquatic and can hold their breaths longer usually sleep longer than less aquatic turtles.
How Do Turtles Sleep?
Now you might be wondering exactly how do turtles sleep. Turtle’s sleep is a little bit different then how human’s experience sleep. Turtles experience more of an intense resting state opposed to reaching a full deep sleep. While turtles sleep, their heart rate and metabolism slows down. This actually allows some species to sleep underwater since they require less oxygen. Other turtles prefer to sleep in small secluded nests or under some brush. While turtles are sleeping, they still have a high sensitivity to light and temperature, which allows them to wake up quickly if there is a change in their environment.
Are Turtles Nocturnal?
Most turtles are nocturnal and sleep during the day. This is because they need to be awake during the night time since most of their predators are nocturnal.
I often see people worry that their turtle is always sleeping. It doesn’t matter when they glance over at the turtle, or at what time they enter the room where it’s located, the little guy (or gal) is always catching some Z’s.
Why Is My Turtle Always Sleeping?
The short answer is the most common reason for a turtle always seeming to be asleep is water temperature that is too cold. Turtles, although hardy, are quite sensitive to water temperature changes, as well as quality changes.
Although turtles love to sleep, sometimes too much sleep is a bad thing.
But how do you judge too much?
Certain species, for instance, tend to be a bit more active than others. The age of your turtle will also greatly affect its activity level, as baby and juvenile turtles are often a lot more active than mature, older turtles (consequently, this makes it easier to judge whether something is wrong with a baby turtle as it’s not supposed to be sleeping all the time).
Here’s a good way to determine this.
If your turtle is continually sleeping throughout the day, it’s too much.
Most species of turtle are nocturnal, meaning that they sleep during the day and are active at night. Typically, the reason for this is to evade bigger, larger predators by moving around at night.
However, during captivity, most species of turtle will become diurnal, which means they sleep during the night and are active during the day.
This occurs because:
- Indoor habitats are often very stimulating.
- People come by often.
- They are fed during the day.
And thus, if every time you look over, your turtle is out-cold even when it’s food time, it suggests a problem.
That being said, there is an important caveat here.
This is assuming that your turtle is not older and winter is NOT approaching. If your turtle is a bit older and winter IS approaching, then it’s entirely possible (and perhaps probable) that your turtle is simply beginning to brumate.
Brumation is essentially another word for hibernation. In the wild, turtles often dig underwater, mud, and dirt and go into a prolonged period of inactivity to wait the winter out. During this period, they rarely eat. It’s totally normal. To learn more, check out my article on what do turtles do in the winter?
Even in captivity, a lot of turtles will either attempt to brumate, or more likely, become a lot more inactive, and eat quite a bit less. My red-eared slider every winter becomes very lethargic and will only eat every few weeks if that.
This is completely normal and expected.
Now, getting back to the change in water temperature.
Although this is often the biggest culprit, it’s not the only reason that a turtle could be sleeping way too much.
Why Do Turtles Sleep So Much?
One reason is that if your water is too cold, it will force your turtle to become a lot more lethargic and likely to sleep more often.
Why is this?
There are 2 main reasons:
- It signals to the turtle that winter is approaching and it should begin to slow down.
- As turtles are cold-blooded, the speed of their metabolism is easily affected by their outside environment.
Reptiles are sensitive to things such as the air pressure dropping, the humidity falling, and the water and air temperature decreases.
These are all signals to them that winter is approaching, and that they will soon start to begin brumating. That, combined with the fact that because turtles are cold-blooded, their metabolism will speed up or down to their environment accordingly, which means that if your water temperature is too low, your turtle will eventually become a lot more inactive.
This typically happens when either:
- You don’t have a water heater or its been turned off.
- You haven’t been checking the water temperature.
This is actually one of the reasons why you need a turtle water heater. Not for the summer, but during the winter to keep your turtles healthy and free from respiratory infections.
My favorite water heater is the Zoo Med Turtletherm Aquatic Turtle Heater. You can click the picture below for more information.
There’s another reason why low water temperature can affect your turtle.
If the water is too cold, your turtle will start to have a tougher time processing the calcium it consumes (due to its lower metabolism). Eventually, this could result in Metabolic Bone Disease.
Long story short.
Make the water temperature is appropriate.
Here are some common water recommendations for different species:
- 76 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit for red-eared sliders.
- 75-82 degrees Fahrenheit for painted turtles.
I recommend getting a digital thermometer that is accurate and easy to read. I use this thermometer, and it has worked great for me so far.
For box turtles, as they are not aquatic you won’t be looking at water temperature as much as their habitat or tank temperature.
Most species of box turtle can handle a bit wider range of temperatures. Usually, between 70 to 90 degrees is fine for most species. You’ll want to adjust the temperature depending on what species it is, for instance:
- Asian box turtles can handle heat a bit better, so 80-90 degrees is fine.
- North American box turtles often like it a bit cooler, between 70 and 80 degrees.
Basically, you want to check the water temperature first if you have an aquatic species, or the habitat/tank temperature if you have a box species, and make sure that it is not too cold. If it is, this is likely the reason your turtle is constantly sleeping.
If the temperature checks out, I would advise you to check the following, in order:
- Check the UV light. Is it still working properly? Is the basking area hot enough? UV lights decay over time, so if you’ve had your UV light for a long time, change it and see if that makes a difference. You can buy cheap UV lights here.
- Check the habitat or tank itself. Have you added anything new recently? Particularly anything that the turtle could have eaten? If you have, remove it and see if the turtle’s condition improves.
- What have you been feeding your turtle recently? Have you changed its diet? Added anything? Taken anything away? Remember to provide your turtle a diet that is well-balanced; as in protein pellets, other protein sources as well as lots of leafy green vegetables.
- If you have a substrate, check it. Your turtle may have eaten some and could be suffering from blockage.
If all of these check out, your last course of action should be to simply take your turtle to the vet. There is a chance it is simply ill and may need antibiotics.
Is My Turtle Healthy?
Sometimes turtles can just go through periods of their lives where they are less active than before. Sometimes it doesn’t mean anything.
There is an easy method to check to see if your turtle is simply sleeping more often but still perfectly healthy.
It goes like this:
Offer some new food. And by offer, I mean literally put the food right in front of it. Wake up your turtle, and put the food right where it can see it and smell it.
Anything that has protein or even better yet, insects or worms, usually will perk up a sleepy turtle’s interests immediately.
Think of things like:
- Dusted crickets and other insects.
- Worms (turtles LOVE these).
- Feeder fish for turtles (if your aquatic species doesn’t perk up after this you KNOW something has gone wrong).
If your turtle does wake up, and suddenly becomes active again, it probably means that there isn’t anything wrong with it.
I would still advise checking the water temperature regardless, however.
- The most likely reason your turtle is always sleeping is due to low water or air temperature.
- Other reasons could be related to diet, something new added to the tank, a non-functioning UV light, substrate blockage or illness.
- Try offering your turtle a protein treat of some sort, worms and feeder fish work great, and see if this perks your turtle’s interest.
- Always make sure your water and air temperature are on point, and that your UV light is in proper working order; you will greatly reduce the chances of your turtle becoming lethargic.