Sleep Habits of Pet Rabbits


RABBIT SLEEP HABITS

Do you have one of those rabbits who just never seems to go to sleep? Sure, they sprawl out or loaf around sometimes, but they’re not actually sleeping. Or are they? While some rabbits are quite comfortable flopping over on their side to catch some Z’s, many rabbits are able to snooze even when they look wide awake.

Rabbits tend to be light sleepers. Instead of getting one long resting period, they will take many mini naps throughout the day and night. Sometimes these naps will be only a couple minutes long here and there. But pet rabbits that feel safe in their home environments are also known to sleep for longer periods of time.

As prey animals, rabbits have been forced to adapt their sleep habits so that they will more easily become aware of danger quickly. This means it can be really difficult to tell when a rabbit is sleeping in the first place. You might not even know your rabbit is sleeping. Let’s look at the sleep habits of rabbits, and learn how to tell when a rabbit is asleep based on some very subtle behaviors.

How much sleep do rabbits need?

Studies have found that rabbits will get around eight and a half hours of sleep in a day on average. However, a rabbit that feels very safe and comfortable in their home environment will often get even more sleep (closer to 12 hours a day). Our rabbits don’t get 8-12 hours of sleep all at once. Instead rabbits are known for taking tiny naps throughout the day. Maybe they’ll get a few longer sleep sessions in every once in a while too.

Not all of this is deep sleep, though. Rabbits are able to drowse off for very short periods of time to help them get enough sleep. During these light drowsy periods, rabbits are able to snap back to reality very quickly. They can become aware and take off running in only a handful of seconds.

Even rabbits in a deep sleep are able to return to wakefulness pretty quickly. Periods of deep sleep are typically longer than their light sleeping sessions (unless they are startled awake by something). Even in this state, a rabbit’s senses are able to transmit signals to their brains so they will be able to snap back into action quickly. 

Do rabbits sleep at night or during the day?

Rabbits are not nocturnal (active at night) or diurnal (active during the day) animals. Instead they are classified as crepuscular. This means that rabbits are actually most active around the dim light hours of dusk and dawn. 

In the wild, being crepuscular gives rabbits a small advantage over some of their main predators. Nocturnal animals, such as owls, have trouble seeing before the hours of darkness. And diurnal animals, such as hawks, hunt during the daylight hours and can’t see as well at night. Rabbits are able to limit their confrontations with both types of predators by being most active in the hours between darkness and light.

This does not mean that rabbits are only active during dawn and dusk, though. They often have occasional short bursts of energy during the day between some of their longer sleep sessions. So rabbits do sleep at night and during the day, but generally not straight through. They will take many short naps interspersed with active periods for eating and playing.

Do rabbits need darkness or a night light to sleep?

I don’t recommend using a night light or trying to cover your rabbit’s entire enclosure and put them in complete darkness. The best thing you can do to help your rabbit maintain a natural sleep schedule is to give them as much natural light as possible. 

OPEN WINDOW SUNLIGH
If the weather is nice, you can open a window to give your rabbit some direct sunlight.

Because of their crepuscular nature and their tendency to take naps all day long, rabbits are already capable of sleeping with the light on, in darkness, or anywhere in between. Instead, keep them in a room that receives some natural light. Their instincts will keep them on a regular sleep schedule. Rooms with some sunlight are also good because you can open a window to give your rabbit access to UVB rays that will help them from becoming Vitamin D deficient.

Do rabbits sleep with their eyes open?

You might think your rabbit never sleeps because they never close their eyes, but in reality they’re sneaking a nap right in front of you. Rabbits can, and often do, sleep with their eyes open. They sleep with their eyes closed too, but usually rabbits will only close their eyes when they are sleeping if they feel very safe and comfortable. 

Rabbits are able to keep their eyes open for such long periods of time because they have a thin, transparent membrane, called the third eyelid, over top of each of their eyes. This third eyelid does the job of keeping a rabbit’s eye moist and shields it from dust and debris. Your rabbit doesn’t have to blink very often because the membrane of the third eyelid does most of the work.

Rabbits keep their eyes open because their light receptors will keep working and sending signals to their brain as they are sleeping. This is very important in the wild. If a predator approaches, the signals will still reach the rabbit’s brain. They will be able to snap into motion much quicker than if they had their eyes closed. It’s one of the ways rabbit anatomy helps them be an amazing survival species.

Pet rabbits in our homes are much more likely to feel safe. It’s more common to see them nodding off with their eyes half lidded or even closed completely. This is a sign that your rabbit feels safe and happy at home.

rabbit sleeping positions
Rabbits mainly sleep on one of these three positions. They often sleep with their eyes open too.

Rabbit sleeping positions

Rabbits have three main sleeping positions: loafing, sprawling, and flopping. Our bunnies all have their own personality and preferences. You may find your rabbit sleeping in one position more than the others simply because that’s how they are most comfortable. For example, my Elusive loves to completely flop over, but I’ve had rabbits in the past that preferred to loaf around all the time.

Loaf

The bunny loaf! Similar positions are also seen in many other species of animals. This is when they tuck their paws underneath their body and hunker down in a position that makes the rabbit look like a loaf of bread with ears. This is a very safe position for a rabbit to be in. They still have all of their feet underneath them. They’ll be able to get up and go running much more quickly than the other sleeping positions.

When a rabbit gets comfortable and drowsy, they will usually lay their ears flat against their back and start to fall asleep. Surprisingly, rabbits are capable of falling asleep with their ears upright too. It’s just a little less common. Rabbits are also more likely to keep their eyes open in this position. It’s the most difficult position to tell if a rabbit is actually sleeping or just sitting comfortably.

Sprawled

Rabbits will lay down on their side or stomach, with their back feet and tail stretched out behind them. The rabbit will either keep their head upright or rest it down in front of them by their front paws. Their eyes can be either open or closed. Like with a loaf, the rabbit will usually settle their ears along their back when they start to fall asleep, but they can also sleep with their ears in an upward position.

A sprawled out rabbit always looks very comfortable. If they sprawl out next to you, it can also be a sign that the rabbit trusts you very much. Their feet are no longer underneath them and it would take them precious seconds longer to get up and run away if they have to.

Flopped

A flopped rabbit can be a little scary for a first time rabbit caretaker because it can appear that the rabbit has fallen over and died. But it is actually a very high compliment coming from a rabbit. A rabbit won’t flop over to go to sleep unless they feel completely comfortable in their environment. They are usually less responsive to external stimuli in this position and go into a deeper sleep.

When rabbits flops over, they will throw themselves onto their side from a standing position. It might look like they suddenly fall down or like they are trying to start rolling over. Either way, they will settle down on their side and go to sleep. Most of the time, rabbits will close their eyes in this position (when they do have their eyes open it looks kind of creepy). 

Hot vs cold temperatures

The temperature of the room plays a role in which position your rabbit chooses to sleep in. When it’s hot, rabbits are more likely to sprawl out on their side or flop over against a cool surface (such as a marble tile), to help keep their bodies from overheating.

Likewise, in the winter when it’s cold out, you are more likely to see rabbits tucking into a loaf to go to sleep. This gives less surface area for heat to escape from. Our bunnies are better able to maintain their body temperature when they’re in a loaf position.

How to know if a rabbit is sleeping

Because rabbits sleep with their eyes open and sometimes sit in the same positions that they sleep, it can be difficult to know exactly when a rabbit is sleeping. This is a great adaptation for wild rabbits. It means that predators also don’t know when a rabbit is sleeping. If a predator believes a rabbit is awake, they might decide to go find other prey that will be easier to catch. However, there are some subtle signs you can look for to know when your sweet bunny is actually asleep

Nose wiggle

The first sign to check is your rabbit’s nose. A fast twitching nose is a pretty clear sign of a rabbit who’s awake and aware. As the rabbit starts to fall asleep the nose wiggle will slow down. It might stop completely when the rabbit falls asleep, but it might still wiggle at a very slow pace.

Rabbits don’t have to twitch their nose to breathe, so there is nothing wrong with a rabbit who’s nose has stopped wiggling. It is used more as a way to stimulate their scent glands and sniff out the world around them. When a rabbit goes to sleep, they’re not able to pay as much attention to the world around them. They no longer need to expend the extra energy required to keep their little nose going.

Attentive ears

Rabbits can fall asleep with ears that look attentive, but most of the time their ears will relax down onto their backs. Regardless of what position the rabbit’s ears are in, they won’t move while the rabbit is asleep. If you notice your rabbit’s ears are swiveling around, following the sounds in the room, then they are most likely awake.

Even when a rabbit is completely flopped over and appears to be asleep, you can tell that they are awake by watching their ears. Sometimes one of their ears will pop up as the rabbit keeps track of sounds in the room.

Dreaming

Has your rabbit ever started twitching their feet or their cute little mouths as they are laying around? I’m talking about those little involuntary twitches that make it look like someone is dreaming. This is when you know a rabbit is very deeply asleep.

The rabbits mouth will start to twitch and they will grind their teeth a little, almost like they are trying to eat something yummy. If they are sprawled or flopped over, you might also see their feet kick or dig a little. I can only imagine these rabbits are having happy dreams of running in a field of yummy dandelions.

Breathing slowly

On a normal basis, rabbits breathe very fast. Sometimes their normal breathing will even make their little bodies shake. But as rabbits settle down to sleep, their breathing rate will slow down. The little bunnies don’t need to take in as much oxygen while they’re sleeping, so their whole body can relax while their breathing rate slows down.

This is part of why a flopped rabbit can look so scary at first. Often when a rabbit is flopped over and sleeping, their breathing rate will be so slow that it’s hard to notice. I know many rabbit caretakers who still get worried. Every once in a while they go to check on their flopped rabbit and make sure they’re still breathing.

Snoring 

Believe it or not, rabbits are capable of snoring. If you ever hear a weird sound coming for your rabbit while they are sitting or laying down, it could be that your rabbit is snoring while they sleep.

Like people, some rabbits just snore even when there is nothing wrong with their health. But for others, this is a sign that they may be having some respiratory trouble. If you have a rabbit who snores (especially if they just started snoring when they didn’t before) it’s a good idea to get a vet to check and make sure there are no other conditions you should be worried about.

Can you train your rabbit to sleep at night?

Because rabbits are not diurnal like we humans are, they often have some active moments during the night. For some rabbits, this means that they loudly chew and shake the cage bars or angrily thumping for attention during certain points during the night. It would be much more convenient if a rabbit could learn to sleep through the night like humans do.

Unfortunately, you can’t train your rabbit to sleep through the night. It’s something that’s just not in a rabbit’s biology. They are made to have short naps interspersed with some moments of activity. However, you can make some changes to help your rabbit be less noisy during the night:

  • Keep a schedule: The best thing you can do to keep your rabbit from waking you up a little too early is to keep them on a consistent schedule. When a rabbit knows exactly what time you’re going to get up and feed them, they’ll start to get active and excited at that same time every day.
  • Give your rabbit exercise during the day: To keep your rabbit from getting restless overnight, you’ll want to make sure you give them enough exercise during the day. Try to give them some time out in the evening to have fun so that they’ll be more likely to calm down overnight.
  • Give them (quiet) toys: Rabbits can get bored easily, so you want to give them some toys to entertain themselves while you are sleeping. You’ll probably want to avoid toys that have bells or loud clacking pieces, but there are a lot of wooden, cardboard, or natural options that can be fun for rabbits to chew on and toss around.
  • Make sure their enclosure is large enough: Some rabbits get frustrated and angry because they don’t have enough spaced when they are closed away in their cage for the night. Make sure your rabbit’s enclosure is 3 to 4 times the full length of your rabbit so they have enough space to be happy even when they can’t be out in the house.

Related Questions

How long do rabbits live?

Pet rabbits have a life expectancy of 8-12 years. This number will change a little depending on the breed of rabbit and the quality of care they receive. Wild rabbits have a much shorter life expectancy of only about 1-2 years.

Why do rabbits wiggle their noses?

The rabbit nose twitch helps them smell better, breathe more easily, and regulate their body temperature. Like many other features of the rabbit anatomy, bunnies wiggle their nose as a defense mechanism to increase their chances of survival in the wild. 

Sources:

  1. Holland, Jennifer S. “40 Winks?” National Geographic Vol. 220, No. 1. July 2011. Accessed: http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/61358469/40-winks.
  2. Juliusz NARĘBSKI, Jadwiga TYMICZ and Wiesława LEWOSZ. “The Circadian Sleep of Rabbits.” Acta Biologiae Experimentalis Vol. 29 No. 2. 1969. pg. 185-200. Accessed:  http://rcin.org.pl/Content/4776/WA488_4274_P180-T29-z2_ABE.pdf#page=63.
  3. R.T. Pivik, F.W. Bylsma, P. Cooper. “Sleep—Wakefulness Rhythms in the Rabbit.” Behavioral and Neural Biology Vol. 45 Iss. 3. May 1986. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0163104786800164?via%3Dihub.

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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