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Everything You Need to Know About a Sleeping Turtle

Turtles like any other animal need to rest. Most pet turtles are diurnal and as such sleep at night. To ensure the turtle sleeps well, turn the lights off during the evening.

Try and maintain a day-night cycle. This means that the lights in the turtle’s aquarium need to be on for 10-12 hours each day and off for 10-12 hours each day.

This follows the natural cycle of the day. This cycle must be maintained without fail every day.

Additionally, the water conditions must be right as many turtles sleep underwater (this is true of most North American terrapins). A healthy turtle sleeps well.

A turtle that doesn’t sleep well ends up stressed. This can affect the turtle’s appetite and health.

Turtle Sleep Habits

Do turtles sleep underwater?

Water turtle sleeping on bottom of its tank

Can turtles sleep underwater? Pet turtles sleep wherever they find most comfortable.

Some turtles sleep at the surface of the water, some sleep at their basking spots, some sleep at the bottom of the tank while some even sleep floating midway between the water surface and the bottom of the tank.

Regardless of where your turtle sleeps, it will need to breathe every now and then.

As you may already know, some turtles such as the red-eared slider and the painted turtle can go several hours (about 5 hours) without breathing.

So yes, turtles do sleep underwater. Species such as painted turtles, map turtles, sliders, mud turtles, musk turtles all sleep underwater.

There are some species such as the box turtle, that doesn’t sleep in water. Box turtles are terrestrial and as such do not need an aquarium. Box turtles need a dry terrarium. Wild box turtles will hibernate in winter.

Sea turtles also sleep underwater. In all, the sleeping patterns of aquatic turtles are very different from other animals.

Most aquatic turtles sleep underwater for 4 to 7 hours. During this time, the turtle will surface for a moment, replenish their air supply and resume their sleep.

In the wild, freshwater turtles such as the map turtle bury themselves in a marshy patch of grass or moss to sleep.

Additionally, North American turtles such as the musk and painted turtles can even breathe underwater. They can remain perfectly still underwater as they sleep.

The painted turtle and Japanese pond turtle respire underwater using specialized muscles at their rear (this type of respiration is known as cloacal respiration), while musk turtles breathe using specialized muscles under their neck. When brumating, many aquatic turtles rely on this respiration technique.

Since the oxygen level in the water is important, you should ensure it is high enough.

If the tank is large enough and you use a water filter/pump, you can rest assured that there is enough oxygen in the water for the turtles during sleep.

Where do water turtles sleep?

Red ear slider turtle sleeping while basking on a rock
Red ear slider turtle sleeping while basking on a rock

Turtles usually find a particular spot that is comfortable and use it as their permanent sleeping spot.

As such, you may notice that your turtle sleeps at the same spot night after night. This is not always the case, as many turtles also change sleeping locations from time to time.

Do turtles sleep in water?

Well, it depends on the species. While some sleep in water, some sleep on land. Some turtles also sleep in water and out of water.

When do turtles sleep?

Most pet turtles are diurnal and as such sleep at night.

A few species such as the common snapping turtles and stinkpots (Sternotherus oderatus) are actually nocturnal.

As nocturnal turtles, they sleep during the day and are active at night. However, most pet turtle species including sliders, map turtles and cooters are diurnal.

The main reason why turtles are diurnal is because of their need for UVB. The only time to receive UVB is during the day. If you don’t have a UVB light, have a look at this guide on the best uvb bulbs for turtles to understand which is the best option for your setup.

Even diurnal turtles tend to take naps during the day while they bask.

How long do turtles sleep?

Turtles don’t experience deep sleep as humans do. A turtle’s sleep is more of a long rest within which they must come up for air several times a night.

Aquatic turtles can be underwater for 4 to 7 hours, only bobbing their head above water to breathe.

Turtles can stay submerged for so long because of the low water temperature (around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit).

Low temperatures slow the turtle’s metabolic rate down. With a slow metabolic rate, they need less oxygen.

Tortoises, on the other hand, can sleep for much longer. Several land turtle species, such as the Galapagos turtle, can sleep for 16 to 18 hours every day. They are asleep more than they are awake.

Can sleeping turtles drown?

Do not worry about your turtle drowning while it sleeps since it can go several minutes to hours underwater without breathing.

When the turtle needs air, it will automatically resurface. The turtle will only drown if it gets trapped underwater. Ensure there are no obstacles to trap the turtle.

Some turtles can also breathe out of their butts.

For baby turtles, ensure the water level is not too high. The baby turtle should be able to resurface without fully leaving the bottom. Many experts recommend a water level with is about two and a half times the height of the baby turtle.

Just make sure there are no objects to trap the turtle and it won’t drown.

Why Is My Turtle Always Sleeping?

Turtles generally rest a lot even when they aren’t asleep. However, excessive inactivity is often down to temperature.

As such if the temperature in an aquarium is too low, you may find your turtle sleeping more than usual.

In the wild, turtles sleep more as winter approaches and temperatures drop. If this is the case in your captive enclosure, increase the water temperature.

The water temperature needs to be in the 70s at all times. For adults, ensure the water temperature is 70 F to 75 F.

For baby turtles, keep the water temperature between 75 F and 80 F. to ensure the water temperature is rich, monitor the water temperature continuously.

There are thermometers, like the Paizoo Tank Thermometer, that monitor water temperature from the outside of the glass panel.

If the water temperature is low, then get a water heater. The heater must be regulated with a thermostat so you don’t end up cooking the turtle alive.

Submersible water heaters like the Orlushy Submersible Aquarium Heater are particularly essential during the colder months.

Even with the appropriate temperatures, expect your turtle to be more lethargic and to eat less during winter. Check with your herp vet if you’re worried.

Older turtles tend to be less active than juveniles. As your turtle grows, expect it to slow down and to be more inactive.

Do Pet Turtles Hibernate?

Hibernation (or brumation) is determined by the temperature of the turtle’s environment.

In winter, food is difficult to come by. Additionally, because of the cold, the turtle cannot actively search/hunt for food.

It is important for wild turtles to preserve their energy and hibernate/brumate through the cold months.

Both aquatic and terrestrial turtles brumate/hibernate through the cold months. Not all turtles brumate though.

Also turtles endemic to temperate zones of the world, such as North America, brumate.

Pet turtles may hibernate/brumate as well if temperatures drop low enough.

Pet turtles don’t need to preserve energy since food is provided by their keepers. Also since keepers regulate the temperatures of the enclosure, pet turtles needn’t prepare for cold temperatures.

There are benefits to hibernating your turtle, but it comes with risks. When conditions are not properly monitored, it can lead to the death of the turtle.

If you don’t want your turtle to hibernate keep temperatures high. The water temperature needs to be between 70 and 80 degrees F.

During winter, you may need a water heater to achieve the desired water temperatures.

The temperature of the basking spot must be 85 to 95 degrees F. During the cold months, bring outdoor turtles inside where the temperature is high.

Brumation, however, increases odds of breeding success and is the most important part of the cooling period which usually happens from November to February.

Unless you plan on breeding your turtles, there is no need to force them into hibernation. When not done properly, it can lead to starvation, drowning or freezing.

Here are some few steps to take if you plan on hibernating your pet turtle.

  • Make sure the species of your pet turtle brumate. Tropical freshwater turtles don’t brumate.
  • Visit your herp vet. The vet can determine if the turtle is healthy enough to survive brumation.
  • Learn how the species of the turtle hibernates and for how long. For example, box turtles can hibernate from November all the way to April and must be kept in a dark enclosed space. Some turtles may hibernate for 2 months, some for 6 months.
  • Also determine your pet’s brumation needs.
  • Prepare the hibernaculum (this is where the turtle hibernates). Some keepers prepare a box for the turtle. Aquatic turtles may hibernate in water. Outdoor aquatic turtles will hibernate in their pond. Some keepers keep hibernating turtles in the refrigerator. But wherever the turtle hibernates need to be cool (around 45 F), but not cold enough that the turtle freezes.
  • If you’re letting your turtle hibernate in a fridge, it’s advised that you get a separate fridge for him, not the one you store food and drinks in. This is for hygiene reasons and will be a safer choice for both you and your turtle.
  • Put the turtle in a plastic box that fits well and has holes punched in it so the turtle can breathe. Weigh your turtle once a week and check on him everyday without disturbing it.
  • Don’t forget to open the fridge door at least once a day to check up on him. This will also ensure the circulation of fresh air inside the fridge, ensuring that your turtle gets its daily dose of required oxygen. 
  • If this is your first time hibernating a turtle, try to only hibernate him for three weeks, regardless of his age.
  • For aquatic turtles, ensure the oxygen level in the pond they hibernate in is adequate. Improve oxygen levels by using airstones, filters, fountains, and waterfalls.While most tanks will have a system to pump oxygen into the water, ensure that the oxygen system works, and change out the water frequently. 
  • Prepare your turtle for hibernation by feeding it well. Hibernating turtles don’t consume a lot of energy, but since they do so over a long period of time, it’s important to keep them well fed and nourished. 
  • Make sure that instead of immediately setting the temperature to a lower degree, you gradually drop the temperature of the enclosure.
  • Fast your turtle in the month leading to hibernation to eliminate any undigested food. This prevents bacterial infection. Keep the turtle well hydrated regardless. This means that you should provide them with enough water, but restrict access to food for a month.
  • Monitor the turtle’s health. If you see any signs of stress, restlessness, or health issues, check up on the turtle’s surroundings to make sure they’re clean. If symptoms persist, go to a vet and get your turtle checked out.
  • Weight the turtle.
  • Check on the turtle regularly.
  • Once your turtle has finished hibernating, put him in a warm source of light and heat so he can get accustomed to being awake. Lukewarm water baths will also help him get used to coming out from hibernation.

Once again, pet turtles don’t need to hibernate. However,  brumation/hibernation may be triggered when temperatures are below 50 degrees F.

If you want to breed your turtles, then they need to hibernate. Ensure the conditions are right and take all the necessary precautions.


Turtles love to sleep. Land tortoises and land turtles can spend the majority of the day sleeping. Aquatic turtles usually sleep underwater, although some sleep on dry land (such as the basking platform). Keep in mind that turtles can breathe underwater when they’re asleep and it’s perfectly natural for them to sleep at the bottom of their tank.

Regardless of where your turtle likes to sleep expect it to pick a spot and stick to it. Turtles generally sleep for about  4 to 7 hours each night. They might also sleep during the day, or go to sleep for long periods of time if they’re hibernating.

They may also rest in their basking area for long hours. Even when they sleep expect them to wake up frequently to breathe. If your turtle is sleeping too often, it is usually down to the water temperature.

Cool waters with temperatures close to 50 F drastically reduces the turtle’s body temperature forcing it to enter brumation mode. Keep temperatures at the optimal levels and the turtle should rest as normal. Colder temperatures would make your turtle sleep more often and for longer periods of time.

Additionally, the older the turtle gets, the more it sleeps. Turtle life spans are quite long compared to other reptiles, so if you’ve had a turtle for more than 10 years, it’s natural to expect them to sleep for longer periods of time.

We hope that this article has given you a good idea of everything you need to know about a sleeping turtle. If you’re a turtle enthusiast and you want to learn more about different types of turtles, their lifestyle, habitat, and eating habits, feel free to check out our other articles, as well!

 If you have any questions or additional information to add, kindly leave a comment.

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Maris Buttacavoli

Monday 8th of August 2022

I have 2 turtles that I rescued from a dam that dried up in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I built a pond 5’ x 3’ and 5” deep. They are in my enclosed garden. I feed them worms and pellets daily. I do not worry about them during winter because they are from the wild. My problem is that I’m building a house. I have 2 options - return them to where I found them or take them with me to my new place. Also, I’m 73 years old. I worry about them when I can no longer care for them.

India White

Sunday 4th of October 2020

I was wondering what do if my new baby turtle won't eat? He's a eastern painted turtle and I just got him two days ago. I have all the proper tank setup and everything, but I'm not sure why he won't eat. They sent me food for him and I've tried feeding him outside of the tank, but nothing works. I wonder if it's because he's new and he has to get used to it? Any information will help. Thanks!

Asher Garretson

Sunday 20th of December 2020

@India White, you might want to try switching his food. Sometimes they simply don’t like the kind that you feed him. If that doesn’t work then he could be sick, but try to find a vet who specializes in turtles or reptiles to be sure.


Monday 29th of June 2020

my baby Florida snapping turtle is sleeping I think how can you tell if a turtle is sleeping and do baby Florida snapping turtles sleep on land


Tuesday 24th of March 2020

I have a red eared slider. I don't have the proper tank to house him. But he does like to be out of the store and roam around the upstairs. Is it okay to keep him out of the store for 2 days or more? It also attacks its reflection in my mirror. What does this mean? He also likes to climb on my feet and shoes. Is this normal for a turtle?


Saturday 26th of September 2020

red eared sliders are odd fellas. i suppose you could say that it attacks its reflection because it thinks its another turtle. they can get rowdy, particularly if they're two males in a cramped area.

i wouldn't suggest keeping your turtle out of water for more than 12 hours at a time (only if they are older than 2 yrs, as baby sliders aren't as hardy). while they like to roam around and explore sometimes (mine doesn't), they're still aquatic turtles and need water to swallow food, to drink, and defecate in. especially if you don't have a basking spot, letting them out a few hours a day is good. sliders do need to dry off so that they don't get shell rot.

i also wouldn't worry about your slider climbing your feet. mine likes to sniff shoes and pees whenever he climbs something on dry land.