If you have ever wondered whether turtles sleep underwater you are not alone. I find this topic rather fascinating, so have conducted some research to find out once and for all if this is in fact true. Here is what I have been able to find through my research.
So, can turtles sleep underwater? Turtles can sleep underwater, and they do. Turtles can remain underwater for anywhere between 4-7 hours. It is during this time that they rest. They will bob their heads above the water, for a moment, to replenish their lungs but they will soon return beneath the surface to resume resting.
Turtle sleep is an intriguing topic and one that is very different from how you may expect.
Let us now take a closer look at their sleeping patterns and behaviors before exploring other interesting aspects like hibernation!
How Do Turtles Sleep?
When it comes to sleep, turtles like to choose a spot that has an adequate temperature where they can assume a position and be comfortable. Turtle owners find that their pet likes to sleep in one particular spot in their tank at all times.
Turtles don’t sleep deeply, it’s more a state of rest. So when it comes to sleeping underwater, turtles do this!
They can remain underwater for long periods (anywhere between 4-7 hours on average), only bobbing their heads above the surface of the water, for a moment, to replenish their lungs. They then return beneath the surface to resume sleeping. Here’s why.
When a turtle is submerged in water, its’ metabolic rate slows down, allowing it to use oxygen more efficiently and remain underwater for several hours.
Freshwater turtles like to bury themselves in mud or sand at the bottom of a pond to sleep; the water provides them with the oxygen that they need, It is well documented that a freshwater turtle can survive trapped underwater for months, due to its’ slow metabolic rate and anatomy of its’ shell.
Many turtles prefer to sleep in shallow water near the surface, but hidden underneath a rock or a piece of wood.
If you own a turtle as a pet, you must provide its’ enclosure with an accessible hiding place and leave it in a shallow part.
An idea would be to partially submerge a log so that it can get access to it from many sides and also have sufficient airspace underneath, allowing your turtle to come up for air.
The Zoo Med Floating Turtle Log on Amazon is a popular favorite among turtle owners.
It provides security, comfort, and stress reduction for them because it is bottom-weighted to half submerge in the water.
This enables turtles to easily bask on top of it or hide submerged inside.
Do Turtles Sleep Underwater?
Many species of turtles, especially aquatic ones, do sleep underwater. However, they can’t breathe underwater, so they need to surface for air periodically.
Turtle Species That Sleep Underwater
Red-Eared Slider Turtle
Red-eared sliders are semi-aquatic turtles that spend a lot of their time in water.
They often sleep at the bottom of their aquatic habitat, tucked into the mud or hiding under underwater vegetation.
They can hold their breath for extended periods but will surface for air occasionally.
Painted turtles are another species that sleeps underwater.
They can stay submerged for up to five months during brumation (a form of hibernation for cold-blooded animals).
During this time, they’re essentially asleep, getting their required oxygen through their skin from the surrounding water.
Snapping turtles are aquatic turtles known for their aggressive nature when out of water.
They sleep buried in the mud or sand at the bottom of their freshwater habitats.
This provides them both protection and a way to ambush prey.
Sea turtles, including green, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles, sleep underwater.
They come to the surface for air, then return to the ocean floor or a comfortable spot on a coral reef to sleep.
They can hold their breath for several hours while resting or sleeping.
Turtle Species That Don’t Sleep Underwater
Box turtles are predominantly terrestrial species that prefer to sleep on land.
They often seek out a safe, hidden spot under vegetation or within a burrow to sleep.
Although they can swim, they spend less time in water compared to many other turtle species.
Why Do Some Turtles Sleep Underwater?
Some turtles sleep underwater due to their aquatic nature and adaptations to underwater life. Sleeping submerged provides safety from predators and extreme weather. Certain species can even absorb limited oxygen through their skin or throat lining while submerged, allowing them to stay underwater longer.
Aquatic Nature and Adaptations
Turtles that sleep underwater, like red-eared sliders and snapping turtles, are primarily aquatic or semi-aquatic.
They’ve evolved to live, feed, and rest in water.
Their bodies are adapted for swimming and diving, with streamlined shells and webbed feet, making underwater a comfortable environment for sleeping.
Safety from Predators
Underwater provides a safe and concealed place for turtles to sleep.
When submerged, they’re hidden from many predators, particularly terrestrial ones.
This strategy is crucial for survival, especially for smaller and younger turtles, which are more vulnerable to predation.
Protection from Extreme Weather
Water can help buffer temperature changes and protect turtles from extreme weather conditions.
During cold winters, some turtle species enter a state of brumation underwater, where they slow their metabolism and stay at the bottom of a body of water.
This offers them a degree of protection from freezing temperatures.
Certain turtle species have adaptations that allow them to absorb limited amounts of oxygen from the water.
They can take in oxygen through specialized tissues in their throat or cloaca, allowing them to stay underwater for extended periods while they rest or sleep.
So, many turtles do in fact sleep underwater. And they can do this for extended periods of time too!
This is just another reason why turtles make fascinating and interesting pets, and of course, is something to be aware of ahead of time.
So if you see your turtle under the water for hours, they may be sleeping. It usually is not a sign of concern, especially if they tend to migrate towards the same place in the tank.
Just be sure to regularly check up on them and monitor their movements to ensure that they are all okay and nothing is wrong.
Looking to learn more about turtles? My following guides may be of interest:
- Do Turtles Smell? [Expectations For New Pet Turtle Owners]
- Should I Let My Turtle Walk Around? [What About Outside?]
- How Long Can Turtles Go Without Eating? [Owners Guide]
- Do Turtles Get Attached To Their Owners? [Can You Bond?]
- Do Turtles Have Tongues? [Information You Need To Know ]
- Do Pet Turtles Bite? [What Owners Should Be Aware Of]
- Can Turtles Live With Fish? [Is It Safe For & Okay For Either?]
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.