Where Do Turtles Sleep?

How Do Turtles Sleep Underwater

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Last week, my friend complained that something was wrong with his turtle. The pet was sleeping on the land, and it confused him. Honestly, many keepers do not know where the turtles actually prefer to sleep.

The pet turtles can sleep both on land and underwater. These reptiles prefer hiding spots that make them feel safe for sleeping. Dense vegetation, caves with piled rocks, and underwater structures are ideal for their naps. Sometimes, turtles can sleep on the basking platform, too.

Keep reading to catch more details.

Key Takeaways

  • Turtles can hold their breath for up to 7 hours during sleep.
  • The species can breathe through their cloaca.
  • Sea turtles sleep underwater, hiding between the corals.

Turtles Sleep Underwater Or On Land?

Your pet turtle is a superhero. It dwells on both land and water. So why can’t they sleep in both of these places?

Yes, you got the answer.

Turtles can sleep both underwater and in the dock or the land area you made for them.

In the wild, turtles try to find a place safe for their good night’s sleep. Camouflaging at the muddy bottom, inside a burrow, beside a leaf dump, or in the rocks is the best way to lose predators. Hence, the pets will sleep in any of these places, retracting their bodies into the shell.

Unfortunately, most keepers can not replicate a wild environment indoors. Therefore, the turtles might struggle to find a suitable place to sleep and choose a comfortable corner to sleep. It can be underwater or on land.

My years of experience have taught me how to bring a natural vibe to turtle enclosure, both indoors and outdoors. I have placed heavy rocks (flat and smooth-edged) and made hiding caves.

Also, the habitat is decorated with broad-leaf plants. I have used logs as basking docks and even added small plants on the land.

So, you can assume there are several corners for my turtles to sleep. Each of my little devils has its own favorite spot. For example, one chooses to sleep underwater in a stone cave. Another one sleeps in a corner of the land.

Once, I caught one of my pet turtles napping on land. It rested its head on the rock and slept like a baby. This indicates that the turtle feels secure in the ecosystem.

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What I am trying to say is there is no ideal place for a turtle to sleep. The pet will eventually find a suitable corner for it and dooze there. In fact, many turtles take naps on the basking platform, totally exposed to the world.

So, do not lose your mind if you find your turtle dozing on the land. There is nothing wrong with it. Just make sure the pet is comfortable and protected enough in the habitat.

This table summarizes the different sleeping habits, locations, and durations of some common turtle species:

Turtle SpeciesSleeping HabitsSleeping LocationDuration of Sleep
Red-eared SliderDiurnal, sleep at night buried in soil or wedged in vegetationBurrow under soil, leaves or vegetation near the water6-8 hours per night
Green Sea TurtleSleep floating at the surface of deep ocean waters or wedged under overhanging rocks/coralOcean floor nestled between rocks, deep watersSeveral hours at a time
Box TurtleNocturnal, sleep during the day sunningSoil or location where sunning6-8 hours per day
Soft-shell TurtleBurrow into mud to hibernate or sleep during winterMud along banks of lakes or riversMonths during winter hibernation
Snapping TurtleDiurnal, sleep at night buried in mud or vegetation at bottom of body of waterUnderwater buried in mud or plants on lake/river bottom6-8 hours per night
Desert TortoiseNocturnal, sleep in underground burrows during dayBurrows dug in loose soil12-14 hours per day

Research has found that sea turtles are able to hibernate on the seafloor for several months at a time according to Conserveturtles.org. This allows them to conserve energy during periods of scarce food resources.

Should You Build A Sleeping Spot For Your Turtles?

As I said, turtles are no cry babies. They will not nag if you do not offer them a water bed. The pets will probably sleep inside the shell if there is no hiding spot or corner in the habitat.

However, yes, just like humans, turtles need some privacy. These little reptiles are quite conscious about their protection.

Hence, I always encourage keepers to add hiding spots for their pets. For example,

  •  Add soil and leaf litter to the land area. It will make a cozy bed for box turtles and even aquatic or semi-aquatic turtles. You will often catch them sleeping, hiding underneath the leaf dump.
  • I know maintaining substrate is a real pain. Your turtle habitat will look messy and cloudy most of the time. Yet, adding thick beddings at the tank bottom and the land area is always encouraged. Turtles can burrow in the substrates when they are feeling off or trying to relax.
  • In the wild, many turtles hide and sleep in the tree stamps. Add a decaying tree stamp with holes in the outdoor pond to bring a natural vibe to the ecosystem.
  • I always suggest adding dense vegetation regardless of whether you choose to build an indoor or outdoor setup. The pets get benefitted from these plants in many ways. They get oxygen-rich water and an unlimited snack source. Besides, hiding in the vegetation is the best way for them to chill and sleep.
  • It is okay if you do not want to run after this natural vibe. Just add some underwater structures to give them some cover-ups. Such as rip raps, rock pilings, and dams. The pets might sleep resting on these structures.

Turtles Can Sleep Underwater! How?

Have you ever watched your turtles swimming underwater? If yes, you must have noticed these reptiles come to the surface every 10 to 20 minutes. Well, that is because they can hold their breath underwater only for a limited time. Hence, they will swim to the top to replenish their lungs when they run out of air.

See also  Can Turtles Sleep In The Dark?

If that is the case, how do they sleep uninterrupted underwater?

Usually, a turtle sleeps for 2 to 7 hours. During this time, they may come for air once or twice maybe.

I know it contradicts what I have just said. But bear with me and let me explain.

Turtles are diurnal creatures and stay active during the day. There is no doubt about it. Right?

During the daytime, these reptiles spend their energy swimming, eating, bullying, or whatnot. So, the oxygen expenditure is more. But when they go to sleep, there is not much work to do. It means turtles use way less oxygen to keep their biological system activated.

Also, during the night, the overall enclosure temperature drops. It is so obvious that the basking lights are off. Experts also advise dropping the water heater temperature by 2F to 5F.

The cozy environment slightly slows down the turtle’s metabolism. Therefore, the creature experiences a reduced heart rate and oxygen consumption during sleep. Now tell me, why would a turtle ruin its good night’s sleep to replenish its lungs without any reason?

How do turtles breathe underwater? Well, that’s an entirely different discussion.

Not all turtle species are nocturnal; some are diurnal or crepuscular. Turtles do not have a regular sleep cycle and instead alternate between periods of rest and activity throughout the day and night. The amount of time a turtle spends resting or active depends on factors like temperature and the presence of predators. (source)

turtle sleeping: indoor vs outdoor

AspectIndoor HabitatsWild/Outdoor Environments
Sleeping LocationLimited to provided structures, like docks or underwater platformsNatural environments like muddy bottoms, burrows, leaf dumps, rocks
SafetyRelatively safer, less need for camouflageNeed for camouflage from predators, use of natural cover
Temperature ControlControlled environment, consistent temperatureSubject to natural temperature variations
Sleeping SubstrateOften lacks natural elements like soil or vegetationRich in natural elements like soil, leaves, vegetation
Sleeping HabitatsLimited by the size and design of the tankDiverse, ranging from underwater to terrestrial locations
PrivacyMight lack hiding spots unless specifically providedNumerous natural hiding spots for privacy and safety
baby turtle close up
Owner: Cecille Hara-Recanel Cayetuna

Turtles Can Breathe Through Their Butts, Literally

Even a newbie can tell that turtles have no gills. Then how do these creatures manage to breathe underwater during their nap time?

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Turtles are special. There is no doubt about it. In fact, their biological build is different from many other aquatic or land animals.

Mother nature has allowed this species to breathe both on land and underwater.

How do turtles breathe on land? That is 5th grade biology. But how do they inhale and exhale oxygen underwater? It is an interesting question.

Apparently, turtles have special membranes on their cloaca, aka butt. These cells can absorb oxygen and release carbon dioxide whenever necessary.

You can read my old post on cloacal respiration for more information.

Do Turtles Sleep With Their Eyes Open

Where Do Sea Turtles Sleep?

If you look closely, sea turtles are not much different from aquatic, semi-aquatic, and land turtles. These majestic creatures just happen to have a sophisticated lifestyle. Other than that, the biological system is the same.

Marine turtles are capable of breathing on land and underwater. It means they have lungs and need air. So, the pets will come to the surface during the day more frequently. But they will slow their metabolism and sleep for extended hours without interruption at night.

Researchers claim that loggerhead sea turtles have records of sleeping for up to 7 to 10 hours underwater.

Therefore, underwater sand beddings are the perfect spot for sea turtles to sleep. They also use the rocky reefs and corals to camouflage themselves from the predators. These turtles will retract inside their shells during the nap time.

Do turtles float when they sleep?

Most turtles do not float when they sleep. They usually rest on the bottom of ponds, lakes or oceans. Some turtle species will partially submerge themselves in sediment or debris on the bottom to help camouflage themselves while sleeping. Floating would make turtles vulnerable to predators so they prefer to rest on solid ground underwater.

Land turtles often make burrows or nests to sleep in for protection. Some species even hibernate underground for several months during winter as reported by WGRZ.

Do turtles close their eyes to sleep?

Yes, turtles do close their eyes when sleeping. However, their eyes do not close completely like human eyes. Turtle eyelids are fused so they can only blink one eye at a time. When sleeping, their eyes are partially closed to protect the eyes but still allow them to see if a threat approaches. This partial closing is enough to indicate they are sleeping and resting their eyes.

Do turtles sleep on the ground?

Most turtles do sleep on the ground, either on land or underwater on the bottom of lakes/rivers. Land turtles will dig shallow depressions or use shelter under bushes/logs to sleep on dry ground above water.

Aquatic turtles rest directly on the sediment or use debris at the bottom of bodies of water to sleep submerged in water. Sleeping on solid surfaces helps camouflage them and protects from drowning or floating away.

Can Turtles Sleep Outside The Water

How long does a turtle sleep?

On average, turtles sleep 2 to 7 hours per day. Some species may sleep a bit longer, up to 16 hours, while others on the shorter end around 10 hours.

Like many reptiles, turtles are able to function with less sleep than mammals and can spend more time awake foraging or mating. But they still require significant sleep every day to rest their bodies and brains.

do turtles sleep with their head out?

No, turtles do not typically sleep with their head sticking out of their shell. For safety, they prefer to fully retreat into their shell with head and limbs tucked in when resting underwater or on land.

This helps protect their vulnerable parts from predators attacking while sleeping. Only in very safe environments may a turtle nod off with its nose barely emerging from its shell.

Here’s a table describing the sleeping postures of various turtle species:

Turtle SpeciesSleeping PostureHead Position
Red-eared SliderBuried in soil or wedged in vegetationHead retracted
Green Sea TurtleFloating at ocean surface or under rocksHead retracted
Box TurtleIn soil or under vegetation, sunningHead retracted
Soft-shell TurtleBurrowed in mudHead retracted
Snapping TurtleBuried in mud or vegetation underwaterHead retracted
Desert TortoiseUnderground burrowsHead retracted
Sea Turtles (general)Underwater sand beddings, rocky reefsHead retracted

Before You Go…

There is much confusion about the turtle’s sleeping habits. For example, some people believe the reptile floats when they sleep. Is this claim valid? Read the attached article for clarification.

Do Turtles Float When They Sleep?

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.

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