New tortoise owners often complain that their pet is sleeping far more than they would deem ‘normal.’ Many are unsure how much sleep a tortoise actually needs so find it difficult to assess if their tortoise is sleeping too much (or indeed too little).
How Much Sleep Does a Tortoise Need?
How long a tortoise sleeps will typically depend on its age. Baby tortoises can sleep for up to twenty-two hours a day while older tortoises will usually only sleep when its dark or when they have no access to UV lighting (if kept indoors). If your tortoise seems to be sleeping a lot during the day, then it is likely due to incorrect lighting or heating in its enclosure.
Tortoises typically hail from warmer parts of the world and are used to certain temperatures and a lot of UV light. This means that you will need to replicate these artificially if you do not live in an area with a similar climate.
Your tortoise’s enclosure will need a UV bulb that provides both light and heat. You will need to provide a temperature gradient so that the tortoise can move from hot to cooler parts of the enclosure as required. Remember, tortoises are cold-blooded creatures and cannot regulate their own temperature. It will only ever be as warm as the temperature of the environment it is in.
Without adequate lighting and heating, your tortoise might become cold and then try to conserve energy. This means it will likely sleep much more and move about far less when awake. You might also notice that your tortoise is refusing to eat.
If your tortoise is sleeping more than normal, your first port of call is to check the temperature of the enclosure to ensure it is at the right level. The overall temperature of enclosure should be between 68F and 80F, with a basking temperature up to 100F. If the temperature drops below 68F at night, you will need to buy a ceramic heater that does not give off light but can keep the enclosure warm enough for your pet. You can purchase UV light bulbs and ceramic heaters at a local reptile store or online (here is a selection on Amazon – opens in a new tab).
In the wild, tortoises hibernate when the weather gets cooler, but there is differing advice as to whether or not captive tortoises should hibernate. Some believe that it is the owner’s responsibility to hibernate their tortoise while others admit that this is something that they have never done.
The reality is that some tortoises need to hibernate every year while others do not, and this usually depends on the species in question. Hibernation is essential to some species of tortoise as it helps to control their growth rate and otherwise benefits them in terms of their health.
You might find that your tortoise will go into hibernation by itself, but it is more likely that you will need to help it along. During hibernation, tortoises slow their breathing and heart rate and will stop eating, drinking, and moving.
Those who have little experience with tortoises might be forgiven for thinking their pet has died or is ill because it appears to be sleeping too much. Do remember though that hibernation is completely normal for tortoises.
In the wild, the usual time for a tortoise to hibernate is during the months from October to May, although this can vary somewhat depending on the species and the location. Before you consider hibernating your tortoise, talk to a vet about whether or not your tortoise is healthy enough and indeed whether it is necessary for the species of tortoise you own. The vet should be able to advise you on the best practice for your particular species of tortoise.
A tortoise will lose a percentage of its body weight during hibernation, so the vet will tell you how long it should be hibernating for. It is important that the creature does not lose any more than ten percent of its body weight during the hibernation period as more than this could affect its health and wellbeing.
Should I Wake My Tortoise?
A tortoise should never hibernate for longer than twelve weeks, so it might be necessary for you to wake yours from its hibernation. How this is done is extremely important because doing it incorrectly could affect its health.
There are also other indications that your tortoise should be woken up to avoid sickness. If you are using seasonal changes to hibernate your tortoise, you should wake it up when the temperature goes above 50F. Similarly, if you notice urine in the hibernation area, it is time to wake your tortoise fully as this would indicate that it is already partially awake.
When waking your tortoise from hibernation, you should move the hibernaculum (hibernation chamber) from outside if that is where it was kept to inside in order to increase the temperature. You can place the hibernaculum beside a radiator until it reaches room temperature. After this, place the tortoise back into its heated enclosure, ensuring the overall temperature is at least 86F.
It is important to ensure that the enclosure is getting enough light as the tortoise will require UV light to stimulate hormones that will enable it to fully wake up and start eating again.
Water is essential as the tortoise wakes up as it is likely to be dehydrated. Water will help to flush out any toxins and is required before food is offered. Some owners like to place glucose in their tortoise’s water to help increase energy levels.
If you are considering waking your tortoise from hibernation for the first time, I would recommend talking to your vet for advice on how and when to do this. It is vital that you look for signs of sickness in your pet as it awakens from hibernation and to seek veterinary advice immediately if you suspect something is not right.
If your tortoise is sleeping a lot, it is best to check the temperature of its enclosure in the first instance. In some cases, heat lamps can malfunction without a person realizing, leading to a reduction in the temperature. It is best to invest in a good thermometer to monitor the temperature of the enclosure. Should you notice a drop, then it could be time to buy new heat lamps.
If your tortoise is sleeping more than normal and is also showing signs of illness, contact a vet as soon as possible.
- Featured Image (Leopard Tortoise): Bernard DUPONT – CC BY-SA 2.0
- Texas Tortoise: Clinton & Charles Robertson – CC BY-SA 2.0
- Speckled Cape Tortoise: Abu Shawka – CC BY-SA 3.0
- Spur-Thighed Tortoise: Donkey shot – CC BY-SA 3.0
- Gopher Tortoise: Andrea Westmoreland – CC BY-SA 2.0
- Radiated Tortoise: Charles James Sharp – CC BY-SA 4.0
- Red-Footed Tortoise: Bjoertvedt – CC BY-SA 3.0
- Boulenger’s Cape Tortoise: Abu Shawka – public domain
- Chaco Tortoise: Arteivanna – CC BY-SA 4.0
- African Spurred Tortoise: Melissa Mitchell – CC BY-SA 3.0