How Do Elephants Sleep?

By Jenny Green
Elephants live in groups of females and juveniles.
Anup Shah/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Elephants are the largest land mammals, but they still manage to lie down to sleep. Elephant species include the African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) and Asiatic elephant (Elephas maximus), both of which sleep on their sides for long periods or cat nap while standing, leaning against a tree for support. Captive elephants may have different sleep patterns from elephants living in the wild.

Sleeping Giants

Elephants sleep in a series of naps during the night. In captivity, elephants sleep 3.1 to 6.9 hours at night, lying down for one to 4.5 hours at a time and getting up to feed between naps. Studies of wild elephants indicate they also lie down to sleep at night, for 0.67 to two hours at a time. Wild elephants may also sleep during the daytime. Bull African bush elephants have been observed taking naps about 40 minutes long between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., according to André Ganswindt and Stefanie Münscher of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, in article for South African National Parks.

Human Impact

Living in close proximity to humans causes elephants to change their sleeping habits. Elephants are naturally diurnal animals, which means they sleep at night and are awake during the day, but wild African elephants can become nocturnal when living near villages and farmland. This may be because human activity is reduced during the night.