You just brought home your first pet rabbit and, so far, so good. Well, except for your pet’s sleeping habits. You assumed your rabbit was nocturnal, so you had expected them to sleep during the day and be awake at night, but they’re not.
Table of contents
Sometimes, you spot your pet rabbit dozing at night, which throws you off. You’re starting to wonder whether rabbits are really nocturnal after all.
Nocturnal or Not? Do Rabbits Sleep at Night?
If you own a gerbil, mouse, rat, or hamster, those pets are all nocturnal. What about your bunny? Are rabbits nocturnal?
Rabbits are not nocturnal. If you’ve seen yours sleeping during the day and then awake at night, that’s purely coincidental.
If a rabbit isn’t nocturnal, then what is it? They’re crepuscular!
What does it mean to be crepuscular? A crepuscular animal is active twice per day, first at dawn and then again at dusk.
Domestic rabbits such as your pet don’t have to worry about predators, but their status as a crepuscular animal is still a prey response.
Rabbits are technically prey animals. They don’t have much to defend themselves except for sharp teeth (see also ‘How Many Teeth Do Rabbits Have?‘). Even with teeth, their first instinct is to flee from danger, not stay and fight. They’ll do that only when forced to.
Dawn and dusk are two periods where natural light is minimal. Wild rabbits use these times to forage without worrying so much about being spotted by predators.
Another advantage of their crepuscular ways is that rabbits become active just as nocturnal predators are retiring. This behavior is great natural evasion!
Pets don’t always lose the behaviors and traits of their ancestry, and in the case of rabbits, that includes maintaining a crepuscular sleep schedule.
Even though your rabbit can’t forage in their enclosure, nor do they have to evade prey, they’re up with the sun and then awake again when the sun sets.
When Do Rabbits Sleep? For How Long?
Now that you understand that your pet rabbit is crepuscular, you feel like that explains a lot of their habits when awake. If dusk and dawn are a rabbit’s two most active periods, when does your bunny get some shuteye?
Rabbits will sleep at night, although not through the entire evening as the average person does. Their natural instincts act as a sort of alarm clock, ensuring your rabbit is up before the sun to keep a keen eye on everything going on in its cage or enclosure.
Another period your rabbit will get some Zzz’s is during the day, usually in the afternoon. Since you probably have other commitments, such as work or school, you might not have known that this is a popular period for rabbit snoozing!
Rabbits regularly get 11 hours of sleep, which is longer than most people sleep. However, like many domestic species, rabbits don’t sleep for 11 consecutive hours. They break their sleep into nighttime and daytime periods.
Some rabbits sleep less, about eight hours, sometimes eight and a half. This does not necessarily mean your rabbit is sick or in otherwise poor health. That said, if your rabbit sleeps for longer than 11 hours, it’s not a bad idea to schedule an appointment with your vet.
You can tell whether your rabbit is sleeping by looking out for the following signs:
- They’re snoring (this sound will be faint; keep in mind that not all rabbits snore)
- They breathe more slowly when slumbering, although this is a subtle sign of sleep
- Their noses stop moving; when awake, a rabbit twitches its nose all the time, but in sleep, it gets a break
- Their ears will fall flat, unless your rabbit already has flat ears
- They’ll be in a different position than usual since rabbits can sleep in all sorts of positions
Rabbits are naturally light sleepers, so it’s not a good idea to get too close to your rabbit if you think it’s sleeping. You might accidentally awaken your rabbit from its slumber and frighten the poor thing, as it won’t be sure at first if you’re a predator.
Can Rabbits See in the Dark?
Rabbits don’t see well in the dark, and certainly not as well as some other creatures. This is for several reasons.
For starters, rabbits are far-sighted. This gift allows a rabbit to see a potential predator from a great distance, possibly even before the predator spots the rabbit. The bunny can then get to safety. Yet being far-sighted also reduces a rabbit’s depth perception.
If you’ve ever noticed your rabbit bumping into things that are right in front of them, that’s why. In the dark, that issue can be magnified.
Second, a rabbit lacks a tapetum lucidum, which is a tissue layer behind the retina. The tapetum lucidum reflects light to allow for night vision in animals.
Without a tapetum lucidum, in pitch blackness, a rabbit will have to use its other senses to navigate, because its sight will not help them.
Rabbits can learn their environment, so in a home like yours, they get to know their way around. In the dark, your bunny would still be able to navigate provided the conditions around your home don’t change.
A rabbit’s sight is much more useful for dim but not dark conditions.
Do Bunnies Like the Dark?
Wild rabbits spend most of their time in dens underground, and these dens are sparsely illuminated. At night, the den can become pitch-black.
In most instances, being in a dark environment can cause anxiety and stress in a rabbit. After all, if the rabbit can’t see in front of its face, how could it possibly spot prey? A rabbit could be attacked at any time without being able to flee or otherwise defend itself.
As we talked about in the last section though, a rabbit can familiarize itself with its environment through smelling and hearing. Familiarity breeds comfort, so even if the area is dark–such as a den–a rabbit might still feel comfortable.
Do Rabbits Need a Night Light?
You never realized that your rabbit doesn’t like pitch blackness. You want to do whatever you can to make your bunny comfortable while they’re in your care. Should you turn on a night light for them?
This is a nice gesture, but your rabbit does not need a night light. Periods of daylight and darkness indicate to the rabbit what time it is so they know when they can safely sleep.
Keeping a light on during a time when it’s dark could cause health issues in your rabbit. Research done on rabbits that were exposed to constant light found that the rabbits had brain lesions that were likely caused by elevated stress, says the Journal of Experimental Medicine.
Further, the rabbits gained more weight than rabbits kept only in the dark, the journal notes. Rabbits usually graze during their crepuscular periods. If the rabbit was fooled into thinking it was always dawn or dusk, they might continuously eat.
Interestingly, the study also noted brain lesions in rabbits that were kept perpetually in the dark. This may be because rabbits need sunlight to synthesize Vitamin D.
The takeaway here is that rabbits need dark-light cycles the same way people do: to indicate when to sleep versus when to be awake as well as when to eat.
If you feel like your rabbit’s behavior warrants a visit to the vet, you can ask the vet about using a night light. In most instances, the vet will recommend you not do it.