Why Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?

Did you know that horses can sleep standing up? Horses have this remarkable ability to sleep while standing up for a really important reason.

So, why do horses sleep standing up?

Horses sleep standing up so they can escape predators quickly. They only sleep standing up when they are in a state of light sleep such as taking naps. However, they lay down when they are in deep REM sleep.

To get a detailed answer to why horses sleep standing up, continue reading.

Why do horses sleep standing up?

The reason that horses can sleep standing up is that they can easily escape predators; they don’t have to waste time standing up.

Standing up wastes time and makes them vulnerable to predators’ attacks. By sleeping standing up, they get the rest that they need as well find a way to run fast if they are under attack.

The early a horse runs, the more likely they will survive.

However, they only sleep standing up when they engaging in light sleep. This means when they take short naps.

How are horses able to sleep while standing?

Horses can sleep standing up because of having certain leg ligaments and bones that can easily allow them to sleep while standing up.

These leg ligaments and bones are called stay apparatus. The stay apparatus allows a horse to stand on three legs and rest the other leg while they sleep.

They can then easily switch between the rested leg and the other legs so all of the other legs get a chance to take a break.

Because of a horse’s big weight, all of their legs need to get rested too.

When do horses sleep laying down?

Horses sleep laying down when they need deep REM sleep. They will need to lay down because they will be experiencing rapid eye movements and may sometimes move their legs lightly.

When they move their legs lightly, horses may be dreaming. It’s more likely that they dream about things that they experienced while they were awake.

This state of deep sleep of REM lasts between 20 to 45 minutes for horses but is crucial so horses’ brains can work properly.

If horses lay down sleeping for a very long time, their blood flow can become restricted. This restriction will cause pressure on their internal organs harming them in the long run.

This is another reason that horses sleep standing up.

Do horses sleep in groups?

Horses sleep the deep REM sleep only when there are other horses around them because they lay down to sleep. In this scenario, a horse sleeps while another horse watcher over them.

The watcher horse will then change places with the other horse that slept. This happens usually in a group of horses where they all take turns until every one of them has slept.

This behavior evolved as a protective method against predators so they would all be safe.

How long do horses sleep?

Adult horses only need 3 hours of sleep within a 24 hours period while younger horses will sleep for a few hours more. Senior horses can sleep even way more frequently. than adult horses.

Horses can survive by sleeping a very small amount of time. They sleep less than humans.

The length of their sleep time is affected by factors such as their diet, temperature, workload, and gender.

Sleeping positions

A horse who sleep standing up will carry most of their weight on the two forelegs and one hind leg. The other hind leg will relax with the hoof resting up on their toes.

The horse’s head and neck will hang down freely, the ears are relaxed, the eyes are closed, and their lower lip may twitch or droop.

If a horse is in the state of deep REM sleep, they will lay down stretching down their body on the ground.

Horses also love the sunlight so they enjoy sleeping under it. If there is a herd of horses, they can sleep all under the sunlight but will always have one or two horses standing watching them.

Do horses sleep at night?

Horses can sleep at different times that aren’t the same as humans. They can sleep all the time whether at day or night. However, they spread their sleeping time over a 24 hours period.

So, they can either sleep at day or night either while they are standing or laying down.

Do horses sleep standing up with eyes open?

Yes, when horses are engaged in light sleep while standing up, they have their eyes open.

The reason is that they are looking out for predators so they can easily escape when they detect a threat around them.

If they are in deep REM sleep, they are most likely to sleep with their eyes closed but they do so only when there is another horse watching over them.

What are the causes of sleep deprivation in horses?

Inability to enter REM sleep

When horses can’t engage in REM sleep, they will begin to experience sleep attacks. In these sleep attacks, they enter the first two stages of sleep before entering REM sleep and then collapsing.


Sometimes, the environment may cause your horse to have trouble sleeping. An example would be your horse having trouble sleeping because the stall is too small for them.

So, your horse will not sleep and will develop deprivation.


A horse will also have trouble sleeping if they are in pain. They may have a medical condition that causes them to feel this pain. For example, if your horse has arthritis in their knees or ankles, they won’t be able to get up or down.

Insecurity about sleeping laying down

Your horse may be afraid to sleep laying down because there is no other horse that is watching over them. They will feel afraid of getting attacked by other predators so they choose not to sleep.

However, they do need this deep sleep. REM sleep is essential for horses in order to function properly.

How to help your horse sleep better?

Provide good bedding

You got to give your horse a relaxing bedding that they can easily sleep in by making the floor more comfortable for them.

For example, you can fill the floor with shavings helping your horse to feel comfortable enough to sleep easily.

Turn off the lights

Horses who love to sleep outside in the darkness have trouble sleeping where there is light.

When you turn off the lights, your horse is more likely to feel relaxed and sleep easily.

Keep the place quiet

Horses are light snoozers so loud noises can easily wake them up. If your horse is in a barn, try to keep the place quiet.

You can turn on “white noise” at a low volume.

Let your horse sleep in groups

Horses tend to sleep very well when they are surrounded by other horses.

In order for them to be comfortable around other horses, they must be good at getting along with each other.

If there are horses that bicker with each other, they will definitely wake up other horses.

Related questions

1.) Is it bad if a horse lays down more than usual?

Sometimes, a horse laying down isn’t a good sign especially when your horse is lying down more than usual.

They may be sick and have colic which causes them belly pain. If you find out that they have colic, go to the vet for them to receive medical treatment.

2.) Do horses lay down on their side?

Yes, horses can lay down on their side. They can stay on their side when they take naps.

However, if you see strange things such as your horse lying down more than usual, you got to check the temperature, heartbeat, and watch them carefully.


Horses are known to sleep standing up because of having leg ligaments and bones that can easily allow them to sleep while standing up.

They also sleep while laying down when they are in deep rest.

Share your experience. How does your horse sleep and for how many times?