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Do Turtles Sleep Underwater?

Yes, turtles sleep underwater. However, it isn’t that straightforward. While almost all turtles sleep underwater, some (such as box turtles) don’t. Turtles such as mud turtles, musk turtles, and painted turtles sleep underwater for 4 to 7 hours.

Every now and then, they resurface to breathe before returning back to sleep. Apart from sleeping, many turtles such as the painted turtles and Japanese pond turtles hibernate underwater.

These turtles can survive for several months without breathing. They do so by respiring in and out of their cloaca.

Table of Contents

1. How Do Turtles Sleep?
1.1 Sea Turtles
1.2 Freshwater Turtles
1.3 Land Turtles
2. Hibernation

1. Do turtles sleep underwater? How Do Turtles Sleep?

Turtles do not sleep as humans do. Their sleep is more akin to rest. Turtles usually pick a spot with a constant temperature within the acceptable range and simply stop moving.

Some turtles may withdraw into their shell. Turtles also prefer to be hidden while resting. This is to ensure that they are well-protected from predators.

1.1 Sea Turtles

Green Sea Turtle swimming on the bottoms of Hawaii
Green Sea Turtle swimming on the bottoms of Hawaii.

Marine turtles prefer to rest in shallow waters. This allows them to quickly come up for air when needed. They only need to surface for a few seconds every few hours.

They prefer coral outcroppings and underneath overhanging rocks. While asleep, their metabolism slows to almost a halt. This allows them to use oxygen much more slowly

1.2 Freshwater Turtles

Mississippi Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica) on land near water in Tarrant County, Texas, USA
A Mississippi Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica) on land near water in Tarrant County, Texas, USA. – Source

Freshwater turtles have unique sleeping patterns and preferences depending on the species. Painted turtles are known to sleep at the bottom of ponds or aquariums.

Down here, the turtle absorbs oxygen through the cloaca. Since the turtle can’t absorb much oxygen this way, their metabolic rate needs to be very slow.

Some turtles such as mud turtles can also absorb oxygen underwater. As with painted turtles, this way of absorbing oxygen is very low and not sustainable. They may come up for air every few hours.

The turtle may choose shallow waters if that is present. With the right rocks (aquatic features), you can create a shallow part of the enclosure with a hollowed log or hiding spot.

This way the turtle will feel comfortable resting in these shallow waters. The Zoo Med Floating Turtle Log is a nice option for smaller turtles, and even medium size turtles can get on top of it.

Map turtles also sleep underwater, however, they do sleep on land as well. This is perfectly normal. When they sleep on land, they prefer marshy grassland.

All aquatic turtles prefer to sleep underwater, although some are known to sleep on land. Also, most freshwater turtles bask during the day.

This activity resembles sleeping as they generally lie very still. It is necessary to provide a basking platform and a basking lamp for the turtle.

Many North American freshwater turtles also brumate/hibernate during the winter. Depending on the species, the turtle may hibernate underwater or on land (in a dark soft moist place). Prepare the turtle’s enclosure for hibernation/brumation, if you must.

1.3 Land Turtles

Box turtle in its dry leaf enclosure taken by Ryan Somma
Box turtle in its dry leaf enclosure taken by Ryan Somma.

Land turtles such as box turtles sleep on land. You need to provide both a moisture box and a hide for the turtle.

Additionally, the turtle hibernates/brumate during the winter. During this period, the turtle needs a less warm and dark environment. The metabolism and bodily process of the turtle slow down.

2. Hibernation

Temperate turtles hibernate when given the chance. Hibernation is a tricky process. In the wild, not all turtles that hibernate make it. A lot die from being too weak or because conditions may not be right.

Hibernating turtles are also easy targets for predators. You can do everything right and the turtle may still not survive hibernation.

Many turtle keepers prevent hibernation by keeping temperatures warm throughout the winter. If your area gets cold during winter, then you may need to hibernate the turtle. Temperatures need to drop to about 50 F for the turtle to hibernate.

Hibernation boxes (hibernaculum) can be used. These can be placed in fridges with temperatures just above freezing.  Similarly, hibernation boxes can be placed in basements.

A basement window can provide a little daylight and some air.  The hibernation boxes for freshwater turtles are lined with rubber pond liners and filled with moist leaves for the turtle to submerge in.

Hibernation boxes for freshwater turtles generally have two compartments divided by a sloping divider. The slope allows the turtles to move between both compartments. One compartment holds moist leaves and the other compartment holds water.

Freshwater turtles also hibernate in ponds with substrate they can dirt into.

It is essential to check the hibernation patterns of the turtle species. A month to hibernation, inspect the turtle, and ensure that it is well.

Also, fast the turtle, this gets rid of all undigested food in the turtle’s digestive system. When the turtle starts to brumate, digestion slows to a halt. Undigested food in the turtle can decay and cause illness.


Many turtles sleep underwater and in fact spend almost all their time underwater. However, most turtles can’t breathe underwater. Several adaptations allow turtles to survive and sleep underwater for several hours.

An active turtle can go 30 minutes without breathing before it needs to come for air. A sleeping turtle can go even longer, depending on the species.

Turtles such as the painted turtles are perfectly adapted to spend hours and even months (when brumating) underwater. This is because they are capable of extracting small amounts of oxygen from water.

Turtles are also ectothermic or in simpler terms – ‘cold-blooded’. As such their metabolic rates is directly related to the temperature of their environment.

The metabolic rate of the turtle will in turn determine how often, it needs to breathe. During the day when it is warm, the turtle will need to breathe more often.

This can be every few minutes. The turtle may even spend this time on land. During the night when the temperature drops, the turtle may need to come up for air less often.

Many turtles endemic to temperate zones also hibernate. Although brumation/hibernation isn’t technically sleeping, the two activities are very similar.

Just like sleeping, turtles may hibernate underwater. During hibernation, turtles can go several months without breathing.

It is important to know the sleeping habits of the turtle that way you can determine how it sleeps and the conditions needed. If you have any questions or info, leave a comment. Thanks.

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