How Do Horses Sleep? | Just Horse Riders

How Do Horses Sleep?

Horses, with their grace and beauty, have captivated our imaginations for countless generations. While these magnificent creatures are commonly associated with strength and speed, there's a particular aspect of their lives that remains shrouded in mystery for many: their sleep patterns. Do they dream like we do? And the age-old question, do they sleep standing up? Join us as we delve deep into the intriguing world of horse sleep habits.

Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?

It's a commonly held belief that horses sleep while standing, and indeed, there's truth in this. Horses possess a unique mechanism in their legs, known as the stay apparatus. This intricate system of tendons and ligaments allows them to lock their legs, enabling them to take short naps without the risk of collapsing.


However, for the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which is crucial for their health, horses need to lie down. REM sleep is a deep sleep stage, where dreams occur, and it's imperative for cognitive functions and memory. Typically, horses lie down for these REM episodes for an accumulative total of two to three hours a day. Just like how we have our essentials for a good night's sleep, such as a comfy bed or a set routine, horses too have their preferences. For instance, a well-groomed horse using a Rhinegold grooming bag with kit is more likely to feel comfortable and relaxed, leading to better sleep quality.

The Peculiarities of Horse Sleep Cycles

Humans typically move through sleep cycles that include both deep (REM) and light (non-REM) sleep. Horses, on the other hand, have multiple short periods of sleep throughout a 24-hour period. These naps can be both in standing and lying down positions. During the standing rest, they primarily experience light, drowsy sleep, and this can be observed when their head is lowered, their back foot is resting, or their eyes look a bit glazed. This kind of sleep is vital for their wellbeing, but it's the deep REM sleep that's truly essential, which only occurs when they're lying down.

Although horses can survive on these short bursts of sleep, it's essential to ensure that they are not deprived of their lying-down time. A horse that doesn't get its necessary REM sleep can become sleep deprived, leading to potential health and behavior issues.

Factors Influencing Sleep in Horses

Several factors can influence a horse's sleep pattern. Their immediate environment plays a significant role. Horses are prey animals, meaning they're naturally on high alert for potential threats. Thus, ensuring they have a safe and quiet space, free from disturbances, is crucial for uninterrupted sleep. A horse's age, health, and daily activities also impact its sleep. For instance, foals and senior horses require more rest than their adult counterparts.

Another essential aspect is the bedding. Just as humans have preferences for mattress softness, horses too have bedding preferences. A horse with a comfortable Shires Wessex Newmarket fleece rug, for instance, will undoubtedly have a more restful sleep. The quality polar fleece of this rug not only provides warmth but also ensures that the horse remains comfortable throughout the night.


Understanding Sleep Disorders in Horses

Just as humans can suffer from sleep disorders, horses too can experience disturbances in their sleep patterns. Recognizing and addressing these issues promptly is crucial to ensure the overall health and well-being of the horse.


Narcolepsy in horses is a rare but notable disorder characterized by sudden bouts of uncontrollable sleepiness or collapsing. This condition is usually recognized early on, often when the horse is still a foal. While the direct cause of narcolepsy remains unidentified, it's believed to be linked to an imbalance in the brain chemicals that regulate sleep and wakefulness. If you suspect your horse suffers from this condition, it's essential to consult a vet to determine the best course of action.

Sleep Deprivation

As mentioned earlier, horses require a mix of light and deep sleep. If a horse feels threatened or unsafe, it may avoid lying down to get its necessary REM sleep, leading to sleep deprivation. Symptoms can include drowsiness, lack of focus, or in severe cases, collapsing from exhaustion. Ensuring a comfortable stable environment, such as with the Whitaker Stable Rug, can make a considerable difference in such cases. This particular rug offers features like a 250gm filling and fleece wither protection, ensuring the horse's utmost comfort.


Environmental Factors

Horses, being highly sensitive creatures, can be significantly impacted by their environment. External factors such as noise, unfamiliar surroundings, or the presence of unknown animals can disrupt their sleep. It's essential to regularly monitor your horse's sleeping patterns and make necessary adjustments to their environment if you notice any disturbances.

Nutrition and Sleep

What a horse eats can significantly influence its sleep quality. Some studies suggest that certain foods can induce restfulness, while others might lead to restlessness. For instance, horses that are on a high-energy diet may experience difficulty sleeping due to excessive energy. On the flip side, feeding your horse natural supplements like Premier Performance Calming Cookies can help in reducing anxiety and inducing calmness. These cookies work on the serotonin, the happy hormone, ensuring a calm and content horse.


It's essential to strike a balance in the diet, ensuring your horse gets the necessary nutrients without over-energizing them. Regularly consulting with a vet or a horse nutritionist can help in maintaining an optimal diet for your horse.

Caring for Your Horse's Sleep Environment

Ensuring that your horse has a comfortable and safe environment to sleep in is paramount. Just as we humans require a quiet, dark, and cozy room for a good night's sleep, horses too have specific requirements that need to be met for them to sleep soundly.

Stable Comfort

While some horses are perfectly fine sleeping outdoors, many prefer the safety and comfort of a stable. Offering a quality stable rug, like the WeatherBeeta 1200D Stable Standard Neck Medium, can provide added warmth and comfort, especially in colder climates. This rug is crafted with a durable 1200 denier ripstop outer and offers 220g of polyfill to keep your horse warm.


Grooming for Relaxation

Grooming isn't just about keeping your horse clean; it's also a bonding activity that can be incredibly relaxing for them. A good grooming session can prepare your horse for a peaceful night's rest. The Rhinegold Grooming Bag with Kit comes with colour-coordinated soft-touch brushes that make the grooming session a pleasurable experience for both the horse and the groomer.


Additional Considerations

While bedding, grooming, and a good diet are essential, other aspects need to be considered too. These include regular vet checkups, ensuring the horse gets adequate exercise, and paying attention to their mental health. Activities like training, play, and socializing with other horses can play a crucial role in their overall well-being and, by extension, their sleep health.

Moreover, always ensure your horse's stable is free from disturbances. This means keeping away pests, ensuring there are no loud noises, and even installing soft lighting that mimics the natural rise and set of the sun. Items like hoof care from the Hoof Care & Boots collection can ensure the horse's feet are in good condition, further aiding in restful sleep.


Understanding and addressing the sleep needs of horses is not just about ensuring they get a specific number of hours of rest. It's about understanding their unique requirements and ensuring they have a comfortable, safe, and healthy environment to relax and rejuvenate. After all, a well-rested horse is a happy horse!