You may have noticed the unique sleeping patterns on your equine companion already. They may be confusing especially for newbies, as I did too. There is however, no cause for worry if you spot strange sleeping habits on your horse. I set out to determine the reasons behind this behavior and all information entailed in this behavior.
So how much sleep do horses need? An adult horse sleeps 2 to 5 hours in a 24-hour period. Much of this time is spent in slow-wave sleep (SWS) and can occur while they are on their feet.
What Is Horse Sleeping Like?
It is much like dozing and can be tolerated many times of the day. When lying down, they need to get deeper into rapid eye movement (REM). Admittedly, the full understanding of horses sleeping patterns has not been attained. However, there are enough facts established to help you comprehend how and why your horse sleeps the way it does.
There is significant difference between this pattern and that of humans who use the long stretch at nigh to find enough sleep for their 24-hour day. Horses on the other hand, have short breaks between sleep and not specifically nocturnal as you would expect. They are neither nocturnal nor diurnal.
One of the most interesting (and confusing) thing is that the pattern changes with age. Before 3 months, for example, Foals lie down for frequent naps that last up to half of their day cumulatively. After this, the frequency reduces, as they are more likely to sleep on their feet. You may observe varying changes on this progression due to the unique weather conditions in your location too.
Horses do not get enough sleep during cold, wet, nasty seasons, as they are not comfortable enough. Ensure they are comfortable by bring them in for relaxation.
Horses retain their natural instinct that helps them sleep safely in the wild. They can sleep in hostile environments and still be alert to protect themselves and the herd from danger. This is often the reason behind their slow wave sleep while they stand. Understanding the history and need to do this important for to treat your horse with care and avoid interfering. Find out more in this guide as I show what to expect from your horse.
Why sleep while standing?
Unlike us, horses do not require as much REM sleep as we do so most of their time; they are in shallow SWS sleep every day. This is like dozing as opposed to REM when they lay down deep into the night. After midnight, you will notice them enjoy their sleep while moving their legs as if they are dreaming. This does not go on for as long we do. Instead, it only takes several minutes before they suddenly become aware of their surroundings again. The rest of the sleep will be light and frequent too. In these moments, the horse is mostly alert and switch into action easily. You will notice their hind legs altering frequently.
Laying down for long may restrict their blood flow in huge animals. The excessive pressure exerted on the organs under the weight has a huge impact when finally they get up. For this reason, horses are among the large animals, which avoid laying down too long to enjoy REM sleep. You will therefore, find them catching up on their sleep while standing at various times during the day.
Sleeping in Groups
Due to their natural instincts to survive the wild, they horses will sleep in groups to find safety in numbers. One of the horses in the group watches over the rest to keep the surveying the environment for any suspicious activity. The idea is to warn the rest when an attacker appears. After some time, the watcher swaps places with one of the sleepers until all the horses have benefited from the crucial rest. This is a smart move, which naturally occurs to keep them safe from predators and is fun to watch.
Here are some general facts about sleeping patterns of your equine companion
- They spend most of their time feeding, resting, or sleeping;
- Horses achieve certain types of sleep (slow-wave sleep) while they are standing. The rapid eye movement (REM) phase may not be achieved without recumbence due to loss of muscle tone during active phases
- Within a 24-hour period, they require at least 30 minutes for recumbence, where they attain REM sleep for full recovery.
- Up to half the day (5-7 hours) is committed to resting behavior while they are on their feet. Actual deep sleep usually comes after midnight in the dark hours with rapid eye movement (REM)
How long does the horse need to sleep?
Horses can withstand sleepless days. They can survive without their sleep depending on the work demand. They can sleep for as little as only 3 hours in 24-hours and proceed to work and feed for the rest of the period.
Should injured horses have more rest like us?
You need to cover the injured horse to avoid medical complications, which have major financial implications. They need rest and should be inside a stall unless supervised by the owner, trainer or vet. Now a days with cameras and security systems it may be best to keep a camera on a horse 24/7. Either that or watch over them in shifts even hire somebody like a high school studen to watch and call the vet if something happens.
How do I improve their sleep?
Avoid the following; isolation, noisy neighborhood, insecure outdoors, uncomfortable positions
Even if your horse is deprived of adequate REM sleep for days, it can still catch up if you give them time. This is the best thing about horses where people really can’t catch up when they get behind.
Make sure they do get their sleep as long as you provide covering they should feel comfortable enough to get some sleep. Maybe throw them into a stall for awhile as well. If they are by themselves that is really the only time they will get behind. When they are herded up sleeping in groups is where they feel most comfortable.