All living animals need several different processes to survive and pass on genes to the next generation, which is the ultimate goal for a species’ survival. Among other basic needs, including to eat and to reproduce, there is also sleep. Scientists are still unsure about the reason for why we all need to sleep. Some argue that is essential for waste removal, others that it serves for memory consolidation purposes.
Humans tend to differ a lot from other animals when it comes to sleeping habits. To find out about animals’ sleep patterns is fascinating and particularly interesting, as each animal tends to sleep differently. For example, it seems that the bigger the size of the animals, the lesser the required sleep hours, but that is a generalization that doesn’t always work. Have you ever asked yourself how do elephants sleep? If you’re going to go on a safari, learning more about the animals you might encounter is particularly interesting.
Let’s review some of the unique sleeping patterns of African Elephants.
How Do Wild Elephants Sleep?
In the wilderness, elephants tend to sleep for shorter periods and standing. With such a high body mass, getting up to face danger would be extremely uncomfortable and slow and elephants need to be aware of their predators and ready to react fast if they want to increase their chances to survive. To keep each other safe, usually, elephants in a herd would take turns to sleep. While some individuals are awake, others would sleep. So that in case of danger, the individuals that are awake can alert the rest of the herd. Matriarchs of a herd might not sleep for days as they hold the responsibility of keeping the herd safe.
Baby elephants might be seen sleeping while lying on the ground, but they can do so because of the close supervision from other members of the herds.
How Long Do Elephants Sleep For?
As previously mentioned, elephants sleep only for two hours a day. However, their sleep would not be continuous, but rather split into several shorter bursts of some minutes. They might even snooze for a few minutes during the day, but they get the majority of their sleep at night, between 1 AM and 6 AM, research has found.
One reason for this short sleeping period that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the fact that these mammals spend much of their active day eating, which requires long digestion times that don’t allow for much sleeping. During some research, elephants have been found chewing their food while sleeping at the same time.
Apparently, with such a short time for sleeping, elephants do not have enough time to dream. Elephants experience REM every few days and only for some seconds.
Where Do Elephants Sleep in the Wild?
Elephants only sleep for a few minutes per day, so spotting an elephant asleep is particularly rare. The major population of African elephants can be found in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania. Because they might daze during the day while eating, you might have already seen an elephant sleeping without even noticing it!
Do Captive Elephants Sleep Differently Compared to Wild African Elephants?
The short answer to that is yes. All animals held in captivity tend to sleep more than wild animals. For elephants as well. In zoos, elephants usually sleep for around four to six hours a day, while in their natural habitat they have been observed sleeping for only a couple of hours per day, mainly at night.
Captive animals tend to sleep lying down for some hours at a time and getting up to feed from time to time. This difference makes sense as in captivity an elephant will most likely not have to worry about any kind of external danger.
On the contrary, some wild elephants might need to go up to 46 hours without sleeping while walking. In the wild, sleeping might be the most dangerous activity for a prey animal. Not being fully aware of the surroundings, especially when being a big-sized mammal such as an elephant might be extremely unsafe and expose the animal to various threats such as lions or poachers.
Now that you’ve learned about the sleeping behavior of elephants, not only you know more about one animal that you’ll most probably see during your safari, you might also have learned to appreciate you seven hours of sleep even more!