How Do Snakes Sleep?
Ever wondered, when does your pet snake sleep? How do the snakes sleep without eyelids? What are the telltale signs of a sleeping snake? On average, how many hours of a day do serpents really sleep? But before answering to any of these, do snakes sleep?
My name is Pourandokht Mazaheri, a member of the Herpetology research team and a correspondent writer of the Snake Store. Besides my own personal interest in these magnificent reptiles, I have been an active part of several research groups focusing on the behavioral analysis of snakes and their living habits- both in the wild and captive conditions. Snake’s sleep pattern has been one of the most debated subjects, which years of experimental studies on investigating the origins of sleep in a variety of snake species have shone a light upon.
Snakes sleep for long periods (16-20 hours) with their eyes open and often with rapid eye movement. Sleep patterns depend on the snake’s species. While half of their brain rests, the other half guards these astonishing reptiles from potential dangers and snake predators as a defense mechanism.
This report explores the following topics:
- Scientific validation on snake sleep
- Snake’s rest duration and behavior during rest
- Molting and brumation (reptile’s dormancy period that is similar to hibernation)
- An overview of serpentine sleep based on eating, sickness and seasonal habits
- Physiology of snakes brain during sleep hours
- Revealing sights of a sleeping snake
Here is a detailed report on one of the most well-kept secrets of nature- the serpentine sleep:
1- Do Snakes Sleep?
Every creature in the animal kingdom needs rest, in some form or another, including fish, sharks, birds, mammals, and us humans. Scientific evidence supports the fact that all creatures need rest.
One of the best ways of analyzing if an animal is awake or asleep is to use an EEG monitor.
This "electroencephalogram" is a scientific brain wave monitor. However, snakes have never been involved in EEG experiments, as no scientist has had enough interest to research this subject until now.
Snakes rest with their eyes open and do not close their eyes to start the process of falling asleep. Unlike most creatures, snakes have no eyelids. It is amazing to see a motionless snake and cross its expressionless gaze while awaiting a reaction.
2- Questions about snakes sleep
a) How long do snakes rest?
It's hard to tell when snakes are awake, as they rest with their eyes open. This leads us to the question: How long is a snake's rest? Do they sleep every night or nap during the day? We do not know as much about snakes as we do about other creatures.
We know that they can sleep up 16 - 20 hours a day but the details of a snake's rest period are unknown to scientists, as they often lie down and remain stationary when awake and hunting. The sleeping habits of snakes continue to baffle scientists today.
b) How do snakes fall asleep?
It is not possible to know if a snake is resting or not by looking at its eyes, so we must look for signs of movement. A completely motionless snake suggests it is in a deep sleep. A snake reduces its breathing rate and relaxes when asleep, just like other animals (including us humans). It positions itself so it is comfortable and safe from predators. The brain sinks into sleep as the breathing calms. The main difference is that the snakes do not need darkness to sleep.
c) Why are molting snakes less active?
A snake is less active when they molt because they're more vulnerable than usual. Their blue eyes result from the formation of an extra eye socket under the old one before the old one has fallen. This means their vision is not as good as it is normally. They have to hide to avoid predatory threats before the eye cap is removed, so they may not see clearly. As it is unclear when a snake is awake or sleeping, it is better to leave them alone, either to sleep or remain inactive. They may see you as a threat if you tried to handle them as they can't see you at all. Leave them until they move, and then help them if necessary.
d) Do snakes sleep more after eating?
Snakes sleep more after they eat. Snakes are cold-blooded, so they have to warm their stomachs to digest food. They go to warmer, sunnier places and remain there for as long as possible. Keeping the belly warm promotes intestinal bacteria and speeds up the breakdown of food, first in the stomach, and then in the intestine.
e) Are snakes less active in winter?
One last point to consider is that snakes are more active in summer than in winter because they are cold-blooded. Snakes do next to nothing during wintertime. They conserve energy during the winter months, a process similar to hibernation.
f) Do sick snakes need more rest?
A snake may be unwell if it is sleeping more than usual. The medical term 'lethargy' refers to a lack of energy to move around or do anything, and being weaker than normal. For example, a snake might be quiet and appear to be sleeping, but when you pick them up, they are too weak to wrap themselves tightly around your hand.
Lethargy is a common symptom of many conditions your snake may experience but should only be of concern when accompanied by other symptoms that need to be looked into.
g) Why does half the snake’s brain sleep, while the other half still works hard?
Birds keep one eye open, glancing around while staying alert of their surroundings. This is very important for some animals that need to be on guard in case they have to escape from a predator. It does not mean that snakes experience unihemispheric sleep, but it would make sense:
Snakes are always vigilant of predators and some may not move fast, making their escape difficult. Predatory snakes often lie in wait, ready to ambush their unsuspecting prey. It would be a great advantage if half their brain slept while they were "hunting" enabling simultaneous rest and hunting, which does not apply to other animals. It is not difficult for snakes to sleep with their eyes open. Humans sleep with closed eyes as light stimulates our senses, which is the opposite of letting your brain sleep. An urban myth suggests that snakes close their retinas while they sleep, but no scientific evidence supports this.
h) How do snakes conserve energy?
Snakes are cold-blooded, and this affects the way they use energy. Mammals including humans use up to 70% of their energy intake to keep their bodies warm. To function correctly, our organs need to be at a certain temperature, so we "spend" a lot of our energy just to keep warm. We need to eat regularly to maintain a high energy level.
As snakes do not need to maintain high energy levels, you would expect them to be more active than humans. However, snakes rarely eat as they need to conserve their energy. This is achieved by being inactive most of the time; by sleeping or staying still.
i) Snake eyes anatomy
Human eyelids not only encourage sleep but also protect and lubricate the eyes from external hazards. Snakes don't have eyelids. They possess transparent scales called "pre-corneal goggles" to protect their eyes and vision. These scales also prevent the snake's eyes from drying out. Snakes shed these scales like the rest of their skin. A sign that a snake is about to lose its scales is cloudiness in its eyes.
j) How do you know if a snake is asleep?
It is almost impossible to know just by looking at a snake if it is asleep or not (their eyes do not close). You will not see them drift off to sleep as they do not have eyelids in the traditional sense. Their eyes do not gradually close like ours do when we desperately try to stay awake. Snakes often remain relatively still, so sleeping would not make much of a difference. One can only decipher if a snake is asleep or awake by disturbing it. If a snake is approached while asleep, their reaction will certainly differ from when they are awake.
A sleeping snake will not move or respond to you, positively or negatively; it will just remain still. An awake snake will almost always react as you approach them - it will either come to you if it recognizes you as a non-threat or it may behave defensively.
A snake does not move its tongue while asleep. When awake, snakes only move their tongues occasionally, even when stationary. This assists their senses in smelling the surrounding air and feelings if something is about to happen. A snake's breathing also appears to slow down when it sleeps along with its heartbeat, which is more difficult to see. A snake's heart rate may drop to only 5% of normal during 'haze' - a prolonged sleep similar to hibernation.
If you wake up a sleeping snake, they will be quite surprised. This may be some fun for the owner, but the snake may see such unpleasant actions as threatening. They will also feel more nervous at bedtime, and even if you are a budding researcher interested in how much snakes sleep, you should not regularly disturb them.
3- How about watching the snake sleeping?
After reading this article, you are now a confidante of the snake’s mysterious sleep patterns, its duration and in relation to their feeding habits- backed by scientific validation. If you are a snake owner or a wild snake enthusiast, you can now behave according to your meandering reptile’s needs during sickness, molting period or the cold season brumation.
Aside from understanding how these reptilian creatures indulge in sleepwalking, according to their brain sleep physiology. You also become one of the handful of people who has an eye for recognizing a sleeping snake- a much needed skill to keep yourself safe from a grumpy sleeping serpent.
Do you consider yourself among the people who are fascinated by serpentine allure and never get enough of gazing at their shimmering beauty?
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