The internet is full of animals in the wild doing adorable things (Those foxes are hugging! That ostrich is dancing!); it’s understandable if one were to forget for a moment that nature itself can be a harsh beast. That is why creatures of all shapes and sizes have developed sleep routines that are based not around comfort, but purely on survival of the fittest.
Some people equate sleep with wasted time. Donald Trump claims to only get three hours of sleep a night, saying that it helps him stay ahead of the competition. However, any competition we experience in the human world pales when compared to what is seen in the world of animals.
Giraffes manage to function on only 20-30 minutes of sleep daily. Having to worry about lions, hyenas and leopards all wanting to snack on you can make any long nap the last one a giraffe might take. Albatrosses, despite having a claim to fame for their Monty Python connection (Albatross! Albatross!) essentially live their life in the air, relying on the wonders of something called dynamic soaring that allows them to ride wind currents for days at a time and catch some mid-flight shuteye while they’re at it.
Then there’s toads and frogs—slightly slimy critters that often spend their winters, for all intents and purposes, dead. Although different species of these amphibians have their own hibernation regimen, land-based frogs freeze—literally—during the winter months. Glucose acts as a life-giving fuel that keeps a dormant frog alive while its major internal organs, like the heart and lungs, take a break. Wouldn’t it just be easier to head to Florida when the cold weather hits?
Let’s take a look at fascinating sleep habits of the animal kingdom in more detail:
As we’ve mentioned already, giraffe’s can function on only 20-30 minutes of sleep per day—but it gets even more interesting. They get to that total by taking naps that rarely last more than five minutes at a time. What an amazing way to get your rest while never getting far from the herd.
Sure, there is an ever-present fear of death, and if they sleep too long they run the risk of being attacked by lions or other predators, but think of how much they can get done in a day!
Meerkats easily win the cuddling championship of the animal kingdom. They gather in groups of up to 40 and dig communal holes for their sleeping chambers.
Once inside the hole, the meerkats huddle together in a pile to stay warm—protecting their leaders at the bottom of the pile.
You have to be friendly to have that kind of closeness. Let’s just hope that none of them snore.
Bears are renowned in the animal world for their hibernation abilities, but what does hibernation really mean? Well, it isn’t as simple as Disney portrays it. When bears hibernate, they do so to avoid starvation during winter months when there is little or no available food. The exact mechanism of hibernation is pretty complex. The heart rate, respiration, and metabolism all drop to help conserve energy.
During the hibernation process, bears live off of body fat they stored prior to hibernation season beginning. While hibernating, a bear can lose up to a quarter of it’s body weight.
Some bears can sleep for up to 100 days without eating or releasing waste. They have an incredibly evolved system that recycles their bodily waste and even keeps their muscles from atrophying. I guess that solves any late-night trips to the bathroom!
Frogs can be a bit of a mystery sometimes. Where do they go during the winter? Well, it turns out that they can sleep through the winter as well—but they do it in a very different way than bears do. During a frog’s hibernation, their heart stops beating entirely and they stop breathing.
While that’s what many of us would normally define as “dead”, the high concentrations of glucose in the frog’s organs keep them from freezing solid. This means that as soon as they thaw, they are back to hopping around.
Growing up to 20.5 metres (67.25 feet) in length, sperm whales are both the largest toothed whale and the largest toothed predator. That certainly sounds intimidating, but even they need to nap, and when they do, they nap in a fascinating way.
Sperm whales nap standing on their tails. Yes, the second deepest diving whale will sometimes sneak up to the surface to catch a snooze while floating head up. These naps last up to 15 minutes, during which the whales don’t move or even breathe.
While bears are certainly impressive with their 100-day slumber, they have nothing on the snooze ability of the desert snail.
The desert snail can actually drift off and sleep for years. The British Museum had obtained a specimen for their collection that they believed was dead, but four years later the little guy woke up and went for a crawl.
As amazing as this sounds, desert snails can’t even claim the championship crown when it comes to shuteye! Check out the rest of the list.
Ever wished you could catch a couple of zzz’s while in the office? Well—the albatross has you beaten. Due to the requirements of their busy hunting lifestyle, the albatross has found a way to combine both sleeping and finding food.
It turns out that an albatross can actually sleep while flying. These birds have incredible wingspans, with some stretching as wide as 3.6 metres (about 12 feet). They use these giant wings to catch thermals and stay aloft while power napping. This eliminates the tiresome and energy consuming tasks of taking off and landing repeatedly.
The walrus is basically nature’s creature that does not give a f**k. When they want to sleep, they do it. Anywhere.
A walrus can even sleep underwater. They can hold their breath for up to five minutes, taking a well-deserved siesta even if they are in the middle of swimming. They then catch up on their sleep on the shore, where they have been measured to sleep for up to 19 hours a day.
Being a walrus sounds pretty fantastic, now doesn’t it?
When it comes to sleeping, horses don’t lie down on the job—literally. Horses are known for their ability to nap while standing. They lock their legs in an upright position so that they’re able to stand without falling over.
In evolutionary terms, this means that horses are able to respond more quickly to threats that come up when they’re sleeping. They do occasionally lie down for a nap to rest their legs, so don’t worry too much about them getting sore feet.
Cats get a bad reputation for all of their napping, but give your cat a break—it needs a good rest. While we might think of them as domesticated, cats originally lived in the wild where they needed to hunt and chase their prey. That burns a lot of energy. Domesticated cats still engage in some similar behaviours through how they play—they hunt that laser pointer or that stuffed mouse because it’s how they’ve evolved.
Forgive your cat if they nap, and they do—up to 20 hours a day. They work and play hard, so they need to rest. And, they gave us the concept of a cat nap, so that has to earn them some respect, right?
Bats as a whole are a vastly under-rated species, and fruit bats are some of the coolest of the bunch. First, while some fruit bats are only a few inches long, others can have a wingspan of up to five feet! These giants are sometimes called “flying foxes” due to their fox-like resemblance… and the flying part. If you couldn’t guess from the name, they also eat fruit (not the common bat diet of bugs, or the fictional vampire bat diet of people). What’s more, they have excellent vision, making the saying “blind as a bat” a complete lie.
The coolest thing about them is that they sleep with one eye open. This isn’t a bad metaphor—they literally put only half of their brain to sleep at a time. They close one eye, letting that half of the brain sleep, and keep the other eye open to stay aware of their surroundings.
This behaviour isn’t present in all fruit bats, but it could have been evolved by some groups as a defense against attacks by predators (such as monkeys and eagles) while they were sleeping. Animals that share this amazing trait include dolphins, porpoises, iguanas, seals, birds, and ducks.
You wouldn’t think we would make the list, but the sleeping habits of humans are notable for just how weird and varied they can be. In the middle ages, many Europeans broke their sleep up into shifts—waking up to pray, tend fires, and tackle minor household tasks.
Even in modern times, we see a huge variation in the amount of sleep people get. President Donald Trump says that he gets only 3 hours of sleep a night, claiming that the extra time to work gives him an advantage over his competition. Edison survived on only 3 hours of sleep a night as well, using a polyphasic sleep cycle to maximize his productive time. Meanwhile, DaVinci showed them both up with a more extreme polyphasic sleep cycle where he only got 2 hours of sleep a night—and who can argue with what he got done?
This all might sound far-fetched, but there is a small portion of the human population that have what is called an “efficient sleeper” gene, which permits them to feel fully rested after sleeping only 3-4 hours a night—which is half as long as the rest of us generally need.
Unfortunately, that gene is only present in about 1% of the population, which means most of us will just have to struggle along, tiredly admiring the small percentage of the genetically gifted.
When they’re not busy with Shark Week, sharks face a definite challenge when it comes to catching their forty winks. In order to breathe, they need to have a constant flow of water across their gills. This understandably makes taking long naps a problem.
While some sharks have evolved methods of breathing while stationary, others are still a mystery. Some scientists believe that certain sharks find areas where the current brings water across their gills, letting them sleep without the need to move. Other scientists believe that these sharks can shut down their brain, letting their spinal column do the hard work of keeping them swimming.
The jury on how some sharks sleep is still out, and that in itself is pretty fascinating.
While you might have thought sea otters were already at maximum adorableness, brace yourself—they get even cuter. When sea otters sleep, they sleep on their backs. This does create a potential drifting issue, but the otters have solved it in the best way possible: they can anchor themselves by wrapping sea kelp around them. The kelp grows from the ocean floor, meaning that the otters are kept from drifting. But what do they do if there is no kelp?
They hold hands. This keeps them from floating away from each other and makes them even more impossibly adorable.
The microscopic tardigrade doesn’t just look like a teddy bear (water bear is one of it’s nicknames), it is the absolute champion of napping.
First, these things can survive almost anywhere. They have been found at the top of the Himalayas and the bottom of the ocean. But it gets even better. In situations of low food or water, a tardigrade can dehydrate and slow its metabolism to as much as 0.01% of its normal rate. Then they can rehydrate as much as five years later and go about their business. If you think the bear is cool for hibernating through winter, or a frog is impressive because it basically turns itself into a zombie, then get ready to have your mind blown.
The tardigrade is the first animal to survive being exposed to the hard vacuum of outer space, with all its associated radiation and lack of air. That’s not just impressive, that earns them the top spot on our list.
Watch the Video
- The Albatross-The Master of Dynamic Soaring
- The Amazing Albatrosses
- 15 Amazing Sleeping Habits of Animals
- Animals’ extraordinary sleeping strategies
- How do animals sleep?
- How do frogs survive winter? Why don’t they freeze to death?
- 15 fascinating facts about otters
- Fruit bats
- Beware: Animals That Sleep With One Eye Open
- Sperm whale
- The Surprising Sleep Habits of the Rich and Famous
- Researchers Have Discovered ‘Efficient Sleeper’ Gene That Enables Certain People to Function With Less Sleep