It may seem that tortoises are always sleeping, especially hatchlings and younger animals. If a tortoise appears asleep constantly, you may feel concerned, but it’s usually normal.
Tortoises have a diurnal sleep schedule, so they’re awake when it’s light and asleep when it’s dark. They also have a monophasic sleep schedule, sleeping for about 12 hours without awakening.
Baby tortoises sleep for 19-22 hours per day to assist their growth and development.
Tortoises that sleep excessively may have the wrong temperature and light levels in their enclosure, but some simple adjustments will optimize their environment.
Sometimes, constant sleeping is due to illness or stress. If a tortoise always seems weak, tired, and lethargic, it likely has a health problem that would benefit from a veterinary assessment.
When Do Tortoises Sleep?
Tortoises sleep when it gets dark, as they have a diurnal sleeping pattern. This applies to all common pet species, including the following:
- Hermann’s tortoises
- African spurred tortoises
- Leopard tortoises
- Indian star tortoises
- Russian tortoises
- Marginated tortoises
- Red-footed tortoises
- Greek tortoises
- Egyptian tortoises
However, tortoises can’t tell the time, so they determine night and day based on the amount of light (or lack thereof) entering their enclosure.
Tortoises that live outdoors will naturally fall asleep when the sun goes down. Indoor tortoises will fall asleep when their UV lamp is turned off and wake up shortly after it’s turned on again.
If a tortoise is housed at the right temperature and with the right exposure to UV light, it’ll naturally sleep in the late evening, wake up first thing in the morning, and remain awake during the day.
Should I Wake My Tortoise Up In The Morning?
You can safely wake up a non-brumating (hibernating) tortoise in the morning. Of course, it’s best to let the tortoise wake up when it feels ready to ensure it’s well-rested and won’t be startled.
A healthy tortoise will naturally wake up by itself if the enclosure’s temperature and light levels are optimal. Remember, all tortoise species have different temperature requirements.
If a tortoise is sleeping all day and night, it may be trying to brumate.
This is dependent on having a brumating tortoise species. For example, leopards, sulcatas, and Indian stars don’t brumate. Changing weather conditions and shorter days can trigger brumation.
Avoid letting tortoises brumate until they’ve fasted sufficiently to digest the food in their stomachs, which takes 2-6 weeks. Emptying the stomach takes longer for larger tortoise species.
Undigested food will ferment in the stomach, leading to bacterial infection and disease.
Many owners struggle to determine the difference between a dead and brumating tortoise. If a tortoise has been brumating for longer than 16 weeks, it should be woken up.
Why Is My Tortoise Sleeping So Much?
A tortoise should sleep during the nighttime, but there are reasons why it may sleep for longer:
Sleep is important for growing tortoises, as it takes a lot of energy to grow and develop into an adult. Baby tortoises (hatchlings) will sleep for 19-22 hours a day, depending on their species.
When the baby tortoise grows and matures into a juvenile tortoise, it should transition to a diurnal sleep schedule, only sleeping during the nighttime.
A healthy adult tortoise will usually sleep for up to 12 hours.
Temperature Is Too Low
Tortoises depend on light to determine when to sleep, but they also rely on the temperature. When temperatures are too low, you may notice the tortoise sleeping more often.
The temperature needs of the tortoise are species-dependent. Tortoises need a warm habitat with a basking spot, which can be achieved with a heat lamp or a UV lamp.
During the day, tortoises need a temperature gradient, with a cool and warm end. This allows ectothermic animals to regulate their temperature as they’re environmentally dependent.
The temperature on the warmer side of the enclosure should be about 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooler side of the enclosure should be about 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tortoises don’t mind cooler temperatures in the evening, but temperatures can get too cold. The nighttime temperature for most tortoise species should be about 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Monitoring the nighttime temperature with a thermometer is essential. If the nighttime temperature gets too cold, there are options for heaters that don’t emit light, like ceramic heat emitters and heat mats.
Tropical tortoises have slightly higher temperature requirements than other species.
Tortoises use lighting cues to determine when they should sleep. However, some habitats don’t have enough lighting, use the wrong type of light, or use their lights incorrectly.
You’ll hear about UV lamps the most when setting up a tortoise table or enclosure. UV light is important for a tortoise’s health but provides little visible light.
Visible light is how tortoises determine whether it’s night or day. So, set up an enclosure with UV and visible light throughout the habitat.
According to the Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery, UV light is vital for tortoises’ health. UV light synthesizes vitamin D3, which is essential for calcium absorption.
Tortoises use UV light to signal behavioral changes. Some owners also believe that UV makes their tortoises more active and brightens a tortoise’s shell colors.
Switch off any light bulbs after 6-9 months. UV bulbs are notorious for burning out regularly, but there’s no current workaround for this problem.
Don’t wait to replace the bulb until it completely burns out. A bulb will output less UV light long before it stops working. If you replace the bulb too late, the tortoise may not get the UV light it needs.
Lights can be a source of heat for an enclosure. However, UV lights may not generate enough heat, and not all basking lamps generate UV. Instead, use a combination of lights or a mercury vapor bulb.
Tortoises exposed to natural sunlight will have a better understanding of the seasons.
In the winter, a tortoise will naturally enter brumation patterns. If you notice the tortoise grows less active in October or November, it may be preparing for brumation.
Brumation describes hibernating reptiles, which is essential for reproduction and overall health. It’s when they’ll stop eating food and sleep until the temperatures become warm again.
Most tortoise species naturally get sleepier during wintertime. However, if you notice the tortoise becoming less active, you might want to check the light and temperature levels.
Brumation can be a difficult time for tortoises if their owners are ill-prepared. According to Veterinary Record, researchers noted a 7.78% mortality rate of brumating captive testudos.
Disease And Illness
Tortoises need more rest when unwell. If a tortoise is sick, expect it to sleep more than usual. You should also expect a sick tortoise to appear less active, so it may be lethargic and weaker than usual.
Tortoises can become tired and weak for the following reasons:
- Respiratory infections: Tortoises may experience fatigue and lethargy due to breathing problems.
- Intestinal parasites: Parasites in the intestines, like worms, can disrupt nutrient absorption and cause inflammation in the gut.
- Metabolic bone disease (MBD): Tortoises with MBD may experience muscle weakness and lethargy, making it harder for them to move around normally.
- Dehydration: As dehydration becomes more severe, a tortoise will likely experience kidney damage and decreased urine production, leading to a disinterest in food and weight loss.
- Vitamin deficiency: A lack of vitamins A, D, and E, in particular, can cause tiredness and lethargy.
If a tortoise appears sick, take it to a vet for an examination, treatment, and ongoing advice.
Stress affects tortoises in extreme ways but can lead to depression, causing them to sleep longer. This knock-on effect on the immune health makes it more difficult to fight illness and disease.
Reasons for stress are wide-ranging but include the following:
- Poor nutrition.
- Wrong temperature and humidity levels.
- Lack of space.
- Little enrichment.
- Changes to their routine.
- Predatory animals.
Once a tortoise’s needs are met, you should notice that they have a healthier sleeping schedule.
Check the UV lamp and temperature levels when a tortoise is healthy but regularly oversleeping. The lamp may need replacing, or you may need to adjust the temperature.