Few things are more universal than the need to sleep. Big or small, be they hyperactive youngsters or exhausted parents, creatures across the Animal Kingdom need to catch some Z’s and rest up for the day (or night) ahead. Rabbits are no different in this regard. In some respects, rabbits’ need for sleep is quite similar to ours, while in other cases they’re quite different.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the key aspects of rabbits’ sleep habits.
You probably know about nocturnal sleepers, animals such as bats that sleep primarily during the day and are active primarily during the night. However, crepuscular sleepers are a bit different from that. The word itself is derived from the Latin word for “twilight,” and instead of day and night, crepuscular sleepers are most active from dawn to dusk, or vice versa.
Many small mammals such as mice and rabbits are crepuscular, and for a good reason – it’s a very good strategy for avoiding predators. Many of the biggest and most dangerous predators for animals such as rabbits are most active during the day, which again makes sense, since with more daylight these creatures have more light and thus improved vision while hunting. By being active when predators are not, and sleeping when predators are on the prowl, rabbits give themselves at least one way of cutting down on the time they’re running for their lives trying not to be dinner.
Then there’s the fact that rabbits that make their homes in hot temperatures can avoid the most heat by coming out after it’s died down a bit. Just as it can be dehydrating and dangerous for humans to be too active in searing hot, triple digit conditions, the same holds true for rabbits. In such conditions, they can burrow into shady areas and stay there until the extreme heat dies down before venturing out in the shady cool of dusk and under cover of darkness so as to avoid predators.
In addition, some rabbit species may be more nocturnal or diurnal but can shift to being crepuscular sometimes due to increased competition. If the competition is too stiff during the day or night, switching to this dawn to dusk method can make it easier for them to find food in greater abundance without risking exposure to predators.
Finally, some rabbits and other mammal species are crepuscular because of environmental factors. In addition to the aforementioned question of climates and competitors, for example, being active from dawn to dusk helps limit the amount of contact wild rabbits have with humans.
Some rabbit breeds are more solitary and others are more social, which is a variation that continues on into individual rabbits as well. However, one thing all rabbits have in common regardless of their breed is that they often sleep nestled up together.
While some rabbits prefer to go it alone, most prefer the company of other rabbits, which means playing, eating, socializing and, yes, sleeping together for extra physical and emotional comfort. What better pillow than a soft ball of rabbit fluff? What better source of warmth than snuggling up with a rabbit? That’s typically how rabbits see things, and most breeds sleep together in hutches. This is especially true when predators are on the prowl. There is safety in numbers, and given their prodigious proclivity for reproduction, rabbits have numbers in spades.
Even if you are just keeping a rabbit on your own, free from predators, it is often a good idea to buy it a friend. Some rabbits are fine being on their own as long as you play and socialize with them a lot, but even in that eventuality, you certainly can’t (and shouldn’t) sleep with your rabbit. You wouldn’t want to deny your rabbit the unique bonding experience and emotional support that comes with that, which is why you’ll want to consider getting them a companion with whom to share their days and a good night’s sleep.
There is still some debate over why some of us are heavier and lighter sleepers than others. The best explanation we have, however, fits well with why rabbits in general tend toward the latter category – survival. If you’re a little rabbit in the wild, you need to be able to react quickly to the slightest hint of an approaching predator. Being caught napping can be deadly – literally. As such, rabbits are light sleepers, waking up at the slightest noise. Their sensitive ears already give them great hearing, and this combined with their heightened sense of smell lets them detect possible danger. As a result, all it takes is the tiniest disturbance in their sleeping arrangements to wake up a rabbit once more.
In addition, rabbits tend to have shorter sleep cycles than humans. We can afford to sleep for longer periods of time as we’re not prey for a huge number of potential predators. On the flip side, rabbits always need to be ready to spring away from danger. As a result, rabbits sleep at more frequent intervals in shorter spans of time.
Rabbit Sleeping Positions
If you have a sleeping rabbit for a pet, you don’t need us to tell you that it’s one of the most absolutely adorable sights you could ever imagine. Rabbits who live in colder climates tend to sleep curled up into cute little balls, compressing themselves so as to trap as much heat as possible. On the other hand, rabbits that come from hotter areas sleep with their legs further apart. What’s more, while rabbits tend to like to cozy up to one another as mentioned above, that’s not exactly the most comfortable move when it’s 100 degrees outside, meaning rabbits in hotter climates tend to space out more.
That being said, not all rabbits sleep the same way, which is another great testament to just how full of character they are. If you have a few different rabbits, you can probably tell which are more social by how willing they are to snuggle up close (temperature permitting) and how the rabbits determine their sleeping arrangements.
In terms of actual sleeping positions, rabbits tend to lie on their front, side, or in a more reclined, loafing position. Their breathing tends to be much slower than normal, and their nose stops twitching. The same holds true with their ears. While these features are extremely active while a rabbit is awake, they stop while the rabbit is asleep, allowing them to rest. If your rabbit starts twitching in their sleep, don’t worry – it’s probably just a dream. (That said, if the twitching is extremely violent or prolonged, you’ll probably want to take your rabbit to a vet to have them checked out.)
Rabbits also tend to grind their teeth while they sleep. This can be so intense that their cheeks may even seem to vibrate while they sleep, and in some cases your rabbit may even seem to purr. Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal, and is in fact a good sign that your rabbit is enjoying a good night’s sleep.
Rabbits, Sleep, and Eyes: A Strange Story
If you have ever heard the phrase “sleep with one eye open,” you might think rabbits would do something similar given their need for constant alertness lest predators find and catch them. However, rabbits’ sleeping habits vis a vis their vision is even stranger – they have a third eyelid that is translucent, called a nictitating membrane, which allows them to sleep while still keeping their eye alert to danger. In addition, this also gives the illusion that they are indeed awake, which in turn may ward off a predator, who may instead decide to target a rabbit who looks more like they are sleeping, closed eyelids and all. As a result of this, however, it can actually sometimes be difficult to tell whether your rabbit is awake or not.
If all of this sounds stressful, it is. Far from a peaceful snooze, rabbits can sometimes be prone to illnesses caused in part by difficulty sleeping or resting due to their restlessness.
Make Your Rabbit Sleep at Night
While it’s understandable why a rabbit keeps their dawn to dusk sleeping patterns in the wild, that may prove inconvenient for you if they are active at times you’d prefer they be asleep, and vice versa.
Thankfully, by following a few simple tips you can make it easier for your rabbit to fall asleep at night:
- Make sure they get a ton of exercise. The more your rabbit gets to be active and play, the quicker they’ll tire themselves out, and the more likely they’ll be to sleep at night.
- Drape a blanket over its cage. This can leave them with dark, cool, peaceful conditions, which can help convince them that it’s safe to sleep.
- Take any toys out of their cage so they aren’t tempted to play with them at night.
- Keep a routine and stick to it.
By keeping in mind how and why your rabbit sleeps the way it does, you can make sure it gets the rest it needs to remain healthy without disturbing you in the process.