How Lions Sleep


It is clear that sleep plays an important role in the health and well-being of humans. It appears to be important in the rest of the animal kingdom as well. While there are animals that need only very little sleep, there is no clear evidence of a species that does not sleep (1) at all. Migrating frigatebirds (2) sleep for less than an hour per day while gliding or soaring on long flights of up to 10 days. Jellyfish (3) do not have brains but show evidence of a sleep-like state during the nighttime hours by turning upside down and pulsing.

Sleep deprivation and sleep loss can be harmful to humans and animals alike. In fact, research has shown that rodents and flies can die from sleep deprivation (4) more quickly than from food deprivation.

The amount of sleep that an animal needs varies greatly across species and is affected by a variety of factors (5) such as age, body mass, environment, diet, and the safety of their sleeping location. There are many animals that get significantly more sleep than humans, including, but not limited to, lions.

How Much Do Lions Sleep?

It is difficult to measure the exact sleeping duration and patterns of lions, but wild lions have been known to sleep or rest for up to 21 hours per day (6). There are a few factors that might explain the long hours of sleep in lions:

  • Lions Are Predators: As predators, lions are able to sleep longer and more deeply (7) than prey since they do not need to constantly be on guard for their safety.
  • Lions Are Carnivores: Research has shown that meat-eating animals (carnivores) sleep more (8) than animals that eat both meat and plants (omnivores) or plants only (herbivores). This may be because herbivores are often more vulnerable (9) to predators and need to stay awake and alert. Also, herbivores are generally grazing animals, which means they need to spend more hours of their day eating, leaving little time for sleep. Carnivores, such as lions, do not need to spend long waking hours grazing for small amounts of food.
  • Lions Need to Conserve Energy: Lions do not have many sweat glands and need to rest often to conserve their energy. Since it is cooler at night, lions are usually their most active (10) and do much of their hunting during nighttime hours.

Where Do Lions Sleep?

Many people may picture a jungle when they think of lions. However, lions are most populous in African grasslands, open woodlands, savannahs, and plains. A group of lions (11), or a pride, generally consists of about 15 lions, including a couple of male lions, five or six females, and a few cubs. Prides are quite territorial and will defend an area of anywhere between 8 and 150 square miles, marking their territory to warn other animals of their presence. Since lions have very few predators to worry about, they are generally seen sleeping in an open, shaded area or under a tree. The choice of a sleep site may partially depend on how much shade can be found as well as proximity to a watering hole or profitable hunting and feeding areas.

Are Lions Nocturnal?

Lions do seem to do most, but not all, of their hunting at night. They are generally considered nocturnal and it has been reported that lions have a higher success rate when hunting on moonless nights (12). Lions have excellent night vision, and they are nearly 6 times more sensitive to light than humans.

Most of what we know about lion sleeping patterns and behaviors today is based on observation. It is easier to track and observe the lives of lions in captivity, such as a zoo or rehabilitation center, but tracking the daily activity of a lion in the wild is a challenge and can be dangerous. There is still much to learn about the daily activities of lions and their lengthy cat naps.

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