Do turtles sleep?

A sea turtle apparently sleeping.
A sea turtle apparently sleeping.

By Stacey Venzel

 Every creature needs to be able to rest, but not all of them get their shut-eye in the same manner. The sleeping pattern of turtles differs among species, but they all make sure to catch a nap when they can.

A turtle’s sleep method and cycle is similar to a human’s, but their nighttime positions are not quite the same.

A subadult loggerhead turtle taking a nap safely in captivity. Photo credit: Stacey Venzel.
A subadult loggerhead turtle taking a nap safely in captivity. Photo credit: Stacey Venzel.


All turtles close their eyes when they sleep. They do have to breathe air, though, so eventually aquatic species will come up for oxygen, with the timing varying from a few minutes to up to nine hours in the Fitzroy river turtle.


For the most part, turtles have the same daily cycle as humans, sleeping at night and remaining active during the day. Occasionally, aquatic turtles basking on logs will doze off under the sun. Most sea turtle species also lay their eggs and hatch at night to avoid predators, but otherwise can be found swimming in the daytime.


Turtles make the most of their surroundings when sleeping to aid in predator avoidance and easy surface breathing for freshwater turtles. The African pancake tortoise wedges itself in between rocks. Aquatic turtles like cooters often rest partway in the water on floating branches, allowing them to take a quick breath of air without disturbing their sleep too much.


The Aldabra and Galapagos tortoises are so large that adults have no natural predators; they can safely snooze out in the open without even tucking into their shell.


Karen Eckert, David Gulko, Sea Turtles: An Ecological Guide (Honolulu, Mutual Publishing, 2004), 64, 71.

Carl J Franklin, Turtles: An Extraordinary Natural History 245 Million Years in the Making (St. Paul, Voyageur Press, 2007), 22.

Whit Gibbons, Judy Greene, Turtle: The Animal Answer Guide (Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press, 2009), 18, 22, 41-42.