How Do Giraffes Sleep? Do They Sleep Standing Up Or Do They Lie Down?

Rajnandini Roychoudhury
Jan 24, 2024 By Rajnandini Roychoudhury
Originally Published on Oct 26, 2021
Giraffe in nature
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 6.7 Min

Giraffes are fascinating creatures that roam the open grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa.

Giraffes are beautifully spotted herbivorous mammals that weigh up to 4,250 lb (1,928 kg). A giraffe has an average lifespan of 25 years.

We all know giraffes as the tallest mammal on land. Adult giraffes can grow to a staggering height of 14-19 ft (427-579 cm). Their long legs and even longer necks mean that they have an advantage over other animals in exploring leaves, their primary food, on the tallest of trees. Even their 21 in (53.3 cm) tongues are longer in comparison to other animals and help them pluck food from the most unreachable branches. Their long legs make them fast runners reaching a speed of 35 mph (57 kph) over short distances. Apart from their height and gait, there is another peculiar trait that makes giraffes unique in the animal kingdom, they sleep the least among wild mammals. Sleeping in the wild is not the same as sleeping on cozy beds in our comfortable homes, because in the wild, every minute an animal is asleep, it is at risk of becoming a meal for another species. Hence, the sleeping patterns of wild animals have evolved to protect them from being preyed upon. Giraffes sleep notoriously less, sometimes surviving on only 30 minutes of sleep in the day.

In this article, we unpack the strange sleeping habits of giraffes in the hope that it would help you understand this magnificent animal and the laws of the wilderness better. If you like reading this article, you could spend time reading more fun stuff on why do coyotes howl? And when do bears hibernate?

Do giraffes lay down to sleep?

Giraffes can sleep either standing up or lying down, but most of the time, adult giraffes sleep standing.

It is not uncommon to see baby giraffes lying down with their legs tucked underneath their bodies, using their lower backs as pillows for their heads. Adult giraffes, on the other hand, rarely sleep like this and even if they do, it's only for a few minutes when the coast is clear. This is primarily because lowering themselves to the ground is one of the few instances when their height becomes a disadvantage. A giraffe isn't the most agile animal during the process of sitting down or standing up. This is also the reason why giraffes drink water once every several days because bending to the water hole is an immense task and puts them in a vulnerable position for predators lurking around.

A giraffe sleeps fully standing and in a half-alert state, sometimes literally with one eye open! The animal does not sleep for more than a few minutes at a time and is always alert, ready to wake up and run for its life if the need arises.

How long do giraffes sleep in captivity?

In captivity, the story is different. A giraffe in a zoo or other captive environments tends to develop longer sleeping hours. Although the duration of their naps is still a few minutes at a time, they can sleep for as long as four and a half hours per day, with much of their sleep happening in the night. This is because of the negligible possibility of a predator attack in a zoo. Let's just say, being comfy makes them complacent enough to change their sleeping habits. They also tend to lie down on the ground, with their head on their rumps, more in captivity than they do in the wild.

A study of their sleeping patterns has also revealed that the sleep cycle of a giraffe could be affected by stress. Just like us humans. Stressful situations for giraffes could be a transfer of the animal from one zoo to another or if the giraffe loses its mate. In such situations, they don't sleep at all!

How much sleep do giraffes need?

A giraffe doesn't need more than its stipulated 30 minutes of sleep per day. It can function brilliantly on just that much. Baby giraffes can sometimes sleep for longer but that is only when an adult is watching over them.

More often than not, a giraffe sleeps in a half-sleep resting state where even its eyes remain half-open. They continue to remain alert during their sleep in that they are upright; their ears continuously keep twitching to catch the sounds of another animal approaching. They rarely sleep for more than five minutes. A giraffe has to sleep intermittently to protect itself or its babies from becoming a winner meal for lions and other big cats.

What Do Giraffes Sleep Like? Do they sleep standing up or lying down?

Why do giraffes sleep so little?

The primary reason for the giraffe's short sleeping periods is that lying down in the middle of the jungle in an unconscious slumber is an invitation for lions and other predators to come and feast.

A predatory animal is always on the lookout for easy prey. What could be easier to hunt than a huge animal lying down, asleep? Moreover, standing up and sitting down is an awkward and time-consuming process for giraffes. It takes several minutes and the animal is not known for its defense mechanisms. They do not possess thick hides, sharp teeth, or any kind of armor to help defend against an attack from another animal. On their feet though, giraffes are in a different league. They are tall and big and can run particularly fast so they are pretty hard to catch! No predator dares mess with them.

Another factor behind the ridiculously short sleep time is the giraffe's diet. Giraffes are constantly munching and, like cows, they chew on their cud. This means that they regurgitate partially digested food particles and keep chewing on them to break them down further. Giraffes eat hundreds of pounds of leaves every week and spend most of their active time chewing. This process does not allow them the luxury to lay down for resting.

When do giraffes sleep?

Giraffes are probably the biggest advocate of the concept of power naps. Unlike us humans who sleep eight hours at night, a giraffe takes quick power naps of short periods throughout the day. If you have been on a wild safari and spotted giraffes, it's probable that you saw the animal asleep and did not realize it. They often doze off for a few minutes while grazing in the grasslands. Spotting the animal sitting down is extremely rare.

So, that's the science behind the curious sleeping habits of giraffes. Giraffes are beautiful, peaceful animals that are now considered Vulnerable, with their population rapidly decreasing. The reasons for the decline include poaching for their coat, habitat loss, climate change, forest fires, and degradation, to name a few. They are in the need of our combined efforts to raise awareness towards the animal and the reasons for its decline. We hope this article made a contribution to that effect and hope you enjoyed reading it to learn new things about this beautiful animal.

How long do giraffes sleep in the wild?

Giraffes have the shortest sleep requirement of any other mammal in the wild. Overall, the average sleeping time of a wild giraffe is not more than half an hour per day. In the wild, the threat from predators is the biggest deciding factor when it comes to sleeping hours. As such, predatory species sleep for longer hours than prey since the threat is lesser to the former.

It is easy to assume that a wild giraffe would sleep for long hours. After all, an animal that large would need a lot of rest to preserve its energy, right? Think again! In the wild, adult giraffes seldom sleep for longer than five minutes at a time. Talk about quick naps! They sleep standing and keep modifying their position during their quick nap to always be ready to run. Even when they sleep standing, giraffes curve their necks like a pretzel to rest their heads on their hindquarters.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for how do giraffes sleep? Then why not take a look at why do beavers build dams or giraffe facts?

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Written by Rajnandini Roychoudhury

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English, Master of Arts specializing in English

Rajnandini Roychoudhury picture

Rajnandini RoychoudhuryBachelor of Arts specializing in English, Master of Arts specializing in English

With a Master of Arts in English, Rajnandini has pursued her passion for the arts and has become an experienced content writer. She has worked with companies such as Writer's Zone and has had her writing skills recognized by publications such as The Telegraph. Rajnandini is also trilingual and enjoys various hobbies such as music, movies, travel, philanthropy, writing her blog, and reading classic British literature. 

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