Do Turtles Sleep Underwater? [Truth Revealed]

Being a first-time pet owner, especially for a turtle, can be stressful. You will constantly worry about their health and safety and would do anything to ascertain that they are okay. One concern among new parents is whether turtles can sleep underwater; therefore, if that’s the case, can they drown?

Turtles can sleep while underwater since they spend most of their lives in the ocean. Due to their ability to hold their breaths and slow down their metabolism, they can sleep for an uninterrupted four hours and only awake when the oxygen runs out.

We understand the worries that come with keeping exotic pets like turtles; that’s why we will address this major concern. We researched all the turtle’s sleeping habits and patterns to help answer all your questions and put your mind at ease. Read on as we go deeper into the turtle’s world.

Do Turtles Sleep Underwater

Can Turtles Drown Underwater?

Like other reptiles, turtles use their lungs for gaseous exchange. It is fascinating to know that they can stay for hours at a time underwater while holding their breath. We aim to debunk the myth that they can also breathe when submerged, and there is no way that they can drown.

Like any other reptile or creature with lungs for respiration, turtles can drown when they stay underwater for too long, which goes against the popular belief that they can breathe while submerged. Scientifically, turtles don’t have the necessary systems to help them draw oxygen from the water. They only rely on their ability to slow down their breathing and hold their breaths for hours. When the maximum hours elapse, they have to pop their heads out for more oxygen.

While still on land, the turtle breathes like any other terrestrial animal. The air they obtain is enough for use when they submerge, and they back it up with the gift of slow metabolism. The same principle applies when they are hibernating. As long as they have enough air in their lungs, they can hold their breaths for hours. Some researchers have also established that they can perform cloacal respiration, where they breathe using the pores in their tails or butts.

Although they can survive long in the water, they need to be calm to utilize the oxygen levels properly. If the turtle is stressed, say it is trapped in a fishing net, it breathes heavily, which depletes the air in its lungs. Unless it gets more oxygen, it can drown and die within a few minutes. The good news is that if you find it early while still unconscious, there is around a fifty percent chance of survival. It is easy to tell that a turtle is drowning. It will appear to be in a dormant state and have no reflexes. With a closer look under radiograms, the lungs will have water and some tissue alterations.  

Can Turtles Sleep Underwater?

Turtles spend the better part of their lives in water and only come ashore when they need to bask or lay eggs. It makes you wonder whether they can safely sleep underwater.

Most turtles can sleep in the water. Due to their ability to stay submerged for a long time, they have evolved to sleep safely even at several feet below the water surface. Using various techniques to manage the oxygen levels in their bodies, turtles can stay for up to seven hours without coming up for air. It is these techniques that make it hard for them to drown and come in handy during hibernation. When they need more air, they usually emerge and immediately go back into the water. It is the only home they know and the safest place for them to sleep undisturbed.

Various species like the painted and the red-eared sliders turtles can stay for hours while submerged and stay put without oxygen replenishment. Therefore, it is safe for them to sleep in water without the fear of drowning. In contrast, some terrestrial species like the box turtles spend most of their time on land and sleep there. Unlike their close relatives, they live in dry tanks; hence, there is no need to go into the water to sleep.  

When and Where Do Turtles Sleep?

Most new owners keep checking on their pets whenever they are asleep, hoping that they are okay. It is only normal to want to know your buddy’s sleeping habits.

Like any other animal, turtles love to sleep in comfortable places. They evaluate their surroundings to ensure that they will rest safe and sound. Once they settle on the perfect place, it becomes their permanent spot. Most are diurnal animals and as such, they spend the larger part of their night sleeping, but some species like the snapping turtles have nocturnal tendencies. If you have the nocturnal types, you will notice that they stay active during the night and rest during the day. Most pet parents have diurnal species like the sliders and cooters that stay awake during the day because they need to bask when regulating their temperature or absorbing UVB.

Your turtle will carefully select a favorite sleeping place in the tank. It could be somewhere warm or any other cozy place that it prefers. It can sleep for around four hours or more, but it has to stay undisturbed. Experts advise that it is best to let it have a full night/ day’s sleep and provide a conducive peaceful environment. Rest is essential for it to regain energy, and it has a direct correlation to your pet’s health. Adequate sleep is healthy for your turtle, and it is wise to let them wake up on their own. 

How Long Do Turtles Sleep? 

It is crucial to know how long turtles sleep in order to give them ample time to rest. Unless your pet is slipping into hibernation, it will rest for a certain number of hours. 

Usually, turtles sleep for up to four hours, but it depends on several factors. They sleep in the same position during these hours, barely making any significant movements until they awake. Different turtles sleep at various times, but it ranges from three to four hours. The period may vary depending on the turtle’s species and living conditions since they tend to sleep longer when they are comfortable and feel safe. You can also help by heating their enclosure to provide a warm resting place. 

Turtles can stay underwater for at least four hours by holding their breath the entire time. If the oxygen level drops, they can always go to the surface for replenishment. The low temperatures underwater allow them to reduce their metabolism, meaning that they use up less oxygen in the process. Given that they need to come up for air frequently, they cannot sleep deeply like humans and other terrestrial animals. They have to stay alert to avoid drowning. 

How Do Turtles Sleep?

Turtles have various sleeping habits depending on the species in question. It also depends on where they reside since those in captivity may sleep differently from those in the wilderness. We are here to help you learn more about your buddy.

Turtles love to sleep in comfortable spots with conducive temperatures. Some will sleep in the wild while submerged, as some prefer sleeping on the shores where they feel safe and cozy. Turtles in captivity have better living conditions since the owners can help regulate their temperature levels and provide everything they need. Pet turtles sleep in their favorite tank corners as long as they are warm and comfortable, and if you have a basking area, the turtle is likely to rest close to the heat source unless the region is unbearably hot. 

In the vast ocean, the turtle has to sleep underwater and hold its breath while at it. However, they can’t sleep heavily since they will have to replenish their air supply, resuming their sleep. It is also common to find a turtle burrowing in the sand below the water surface.

Other times, they come to the shallow ends or hide near logs or rocks. You wouldn’t want your pet to struggle when it’s time to sleep. Therefore, you can place a log in the water to help it climb to the water surface to breathe. Generally, a turtle’s sleep will depend on the prevailing tank temperatures. At optimal levels, they sleep for approximately four hours every night as they maintain the same position. 


Turtles are one of the animals that love their sleep and cannot go without it. You will also find them resting on several occasions while basking. Since they spend the larger part of their lives in water, it is their safest place to sleep.

Unlike fish, which have gills to help in underwater breathing, turtles have lungs like other land animals. Therefore, they have to hold their breath while submerged. They can go for four or seven hours without the need for more oxygen, depending on the individual and the species. Although it hardly happens, turtles can drown if they stay too long underwater. They have to occasionally draw more oxygen from the air and use it while submerged.

Harvey Wells

I am an intense cool pets lover. I have tortoises, tarantulas and a few other exotic pets. And I would love to share what I have learned.

Recent Posts