Welcome to our complete guide to the sleeping hamster! Answering that all important question how long do hamsters sleep for? And when should we be concerned about the amount of sleep they are getting?
Hamsters are SO cute. And just when you are watching your wide-awake hamster and think he can’t possibly get any cuter, he dozes off. Voila! He gets even cuter!
Whether we are talking about human sleep or non-human sleep, the entire science and study of sleep’s purpose and function in life is still quite new.
But we do know one thing – sleep is just as essential for a healthy hamster as it is for a healthy human.
Of course, when you see your adorable little fluff ball sleeping day in and day out, it is only natural to wonder “why is my hamster sleeping so much?”.
This is exactly what we are going to explore in this article!
How much sleep does your hamster need? Do hamsters sleep all day? Is my hamster sleeping because he is sick?
Read on to find out the answers to each of these questions and more!
Do hamsters sleep?
For new hamster owners in particular, it can often seem like your hamster sleeps all the time!
So if you are caring for your very first hamster, and you have caught yourself worrying that there is something wrong because she is sleeping so much, there is something you need to know about hamster sleep patterns.
Scientists disagree about whether hamsters are truly nocturnal (active at night) or if they are instead crepuscular (active in low light and at dawn/twilight).
In either case, hamsters typically sleep during the full daylight hours and become more active when the sun is barely visible or not visible at all.
Evolutionarily speaking, the reason for this sleep-waking pattern is simple: in the wild, the areas where many breeds of wild hamster live get quite hot during the day. So the wild hamster evolved in two key ways to successfully combat the daytime heat.
They dig burrows underground to live in and they sleep during the day and hunt, mate and socialize at night.
As well, in the wild, the small and (apparently) delicious hamster is a popular prey animal. Here, sleeping underground in cool burrows during the hot days when most predators are awake and on the prowl just makes good survival sense.
From a big picture perspective, wild hamsters evolved to sleep during the day over a period of thousands of years.
So while it is true that domesticated pet hamsters no longer have the survival worries of their wild cousins, they also don’t necessarily realize this yet from a DNA/evolutionary perspective.
In fact, the first wild hamsters came to the West quite recently in 1930. Originally designated to become “lab rats” (literally). Hamsters bred so prolifically and were so cute and personable that it was inevitable they would end up as pampered pets instead.
So for now, with less than 100 years of domestication under their belts, today’s pet hamsters still faithfully follow their old wild ways when it comes to sleep and waking patterns.
When do hamsters sleep?
Hamsters really rely on getting all the sleep they need during the daytime hours.
If they don’t get sufficient daily sleep during these hours, their health can begin to suffer. They can also experience higher stress levels and may become aggressive or even bite.
As with sleep-deprived humans, sleep deprivation in hamsters has also been shown to impair memory and performance of daily tasks.
In some cases, chronic inadequate sleep can shorten a hamster’s life span.
So clearly you don’t want any of these outcomes for your precious little one! Taking the time to learn more about hamster sleep patterns, including the historical significance of these in the wild, can help you provide an optimal habitat environment for your new pet hamster.
How long do hamsters sleep?
Many hamster owners aren’t typically home all day long to observe their sleeping hamster’s actual sleep-wake cycles. If this describes you, you may legitimately be wondering, “how long does a hamster sleep?”
Here, just as one person may need more sleep each day, while another person may need less sleep, daily sleep cycles can vary from one hamster to the next. Although they tend to remain consistent across hamster breeds.
As well, your hamster’s life stage can impact the amount of daily sleep your pet needs.
For instance, even among Syrian hamsters, who must be housed alone, one Syrian hamster may need more or less sleep than another Syrian hamster. And for other hamster breeds that are kept in pairs such as the dwarf hamster, there may be additional variance in sleep patterns due to the influence of their cage mates’ sleep-wake habits.
As a pet hamster owner, what you need to remember is this. As long as your pet hamster is healthy in all other ways, typically a hamster will sleep between six and eight hours per day, with the majority of sleeping hours happening during the daylight hours.
This is especially important to know right at the beginning when you are still getting to know your new pet hamster’s unique sleep patterns.
This way, if you know that most hamsters will sleep during the day between six and eight hours per day. And your pet hamster is sleeping for 12 hours at a stretch or is sleeping day and night, you can decide when it is time to call your veterinarian and schedule an exam.
Then once you become familiar with when your hamster is most likely to fall asleep and wake up, you will be able to more quickly spot sleep cycle variances that might indicate there is something amiss.
How do hamsters sleep?
A sleepy hamster will not necessary just nod off regardless of what is going on around him.
Going to sleep makes a hamster vulnerable. Even in captivity, hamsters still retain their wild identity as prey animals, and as such they also retain their tendency to remain on “high alert” until it seems completely safe to fall asleep.
So it is important that everything in your pet hamster’s habitat be “just right” to encourage your hamster to sleep restfully on a daily basis.
What can you do to help your sleepy hamster feel safe to go ahead and fall asleep and stay asleep for as long as he needs to?
The first and most important component is to make sure the ambient room temperature is conducive to sleep. One research study showed that too-cold temperatures in particular had a detrimental impact on quality and quantity of sleep in laboratory hamsters.
Waking your hamster up
Think back to the last time someone woke you up in the middle of a sound sleep. It might have felt pretty jarring, right?
Maybe they had a great reason for waking you up. But you didn’t care much about that until you had reoriented yourself to suddenly being awake.
Your pet hamster will have a similar reaction if you try to suddenly wake her up. And, unlike you, she may not be so polite in expressing her displeasure about being suddenly woken.
But sometimes you don’t have a choice because there is a genuine need to wake your hamster up in the middle of the day.
For instance, you might be moving to a new home. Or you may have a veterinarian appointment scheduled for her. Or you may need to take her to boarding because you are going out of town.
Regardless of how legitimate your reason is, it is very important to plan ahead. Allow some time to gently wake your hamster up. Otherwise, you risk getting bitten or ending up with a sick, stressed hamster on your hands.
Here are some tips to wake your hamster up gently:
- Gradually raise the lights in the room until it is fully bright.
- Talk softly to your hamster.
- Go ahead and change your pet’s food and water while continuing to talk softly.
When your hamster has roused, you can handle her gently or pet her softly to encourage her to finish waking up.
Do everything softly and slowly to avoid triggering your hamster’s self-protective response.
Hamster sleeping at night
Many hamster owners wonder if they should worry about their hamster sleeping at night. This is not a question that has one simple “yes” or “no” answer.
Rather, any time your pet hamster departs from what you recognize as his normal sleep-wake schedule, it is time to sit up and pay attention. If the departure continues to occur for more than a day or two in a row. This means it is time to start figuring out what is going on.
Often a hamster will sleep for a few hours during the day, then wake up for a bit, then go back to sleep, then wake up for a bit, and so on. This doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with your pet hamster.
In fact, this is actually quite normal. Just as you probably don’t go to sleep at night and proceed to sleep for eight solid hours without waking even once.
Changes In Hamster Sleep
However, when your hamster starts sleeping during the day and then also sleeping at night, it is quite possible there is something that isn’t right with your hamster’s health or environment. The most common reason why a hamster will suddenly start sleeping all the time is that the temperature is too cold.
Biologists disagree on whether hamsters truly hibernate or whether they go into more of a deep extended sleep state called torpor. But in either case, near round-the-clock sleeping is most frequently caused by too-cold temperatures.
You can read more about what causes this and to do about it in “Do Hamsters Hibernate?”.
Another reason why your pet hamster might begin sleeping during the day and also at night is a lack of sufficient food and water. In this case, your hamster might have a lack of energy from insufficient nutrient intake. You can remedy this by providing more food and water to see if that returns your hamster back to his normal sleep patterns.
Finally, a common reason why you might observe your hamster sleeping more extensively is illness. If your hamster doesn’t feel well, he might choose to spend more time curled up resting.
As with any change in your hamster’s regular daily habits, if it continues for more than a day or so, it is a great idea to reach out to your veterinarian and ask if you should bring your hamster in for a checkup.
How long do Syrian hamsters sleep?
Syrian hamsters are the most common and popular breed of pet hamsters in the world. They are solitary by nature, and will become aggressive if housed with another Syrian hamster.
And while wake-sleep routines may differ from one Syrian hamster to the next, in general, Syrian hamsters are pretty set in their ways across the board. So long as their daily routine is not disturbed, they have a reputation for enjoying robust good health.
But when their habits are disrupted, you may witness biting, habitat destruction, eliminating away from the designated area, extended sleeping and aggression/retreat behaviors.
Otherwise, you can expect to see a pet Syrian hamster sleep between six and eight hours per day during daylight hours.
Syrian hamsters are also the breed most likely to bite their handlers if woken up suddenly, so do try to avoid this.
How long do dwarf hamsters sleep?
Dwarf hamsters are less aggressive than their Syrian cousins. They can be housed in pairs into adulthood and tend to prefer this to the solitary lifestyle Syrian hamsters love.
Dwarf hamsters have also been observed to exhibit less rigid wake-sleep schedules than Syrian hamsters, and tend to be more amenable to being woken suddenly without biting. Owners say they are also amenable to being trained to sleep and wake on a different schedule if desired.
However, regardless of the hamster breed, the average amount of daily sleep a hamster needs to stay healthy will still be from six to eight hours depending on the individual.
Do baby hamsters sleep a lot?
Hamster babies, called puppies, are ridiculously cute. Like puppies, they are born both blind and deaf. Unlike puppies, they are also born hairless.
As such, they are completely dependent on their mom for survival at birth.
After about a week, the babies will begin to develop their eyesight and hearing and begin growing their fur. During week two, they will start figuring out how to forage and look for food on their own. By week three, they will resemble smaller versions of adult hamsters and will soon be ready to be rehomed.
Not surprisingly, when they are not eating or eliminating, baby hamsters are typically sleeping. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to go from being a blind, deaf, hairless pup to a fully functioning, independent adult hamster in less than four weeks time. Lots of sleep is essential to this process.
Unless you are breeding your own adult hamsters, it is unlikely you will ever have to care for the special needs of a hamster younger than three weeks old. If you do find yourself in this unique situation, be sure to ask your veterinarian for specific advice on the needs of newborn and very young hamster pups.
Why is my adult hamster sleeping a lot?
In this article, we have explored sleep-wake cycles in different ages and breeds of pet hamsters. In a way, it is easy to see why early 20th century biologists were so keen to study hamsters in a laboratory environment, because in many ways they are so much like people!
Like us, hamsters’ sleep cycles can vary between breeds and from individual to individual within the same breed. As well, hamsters may begin to sleep more or less under certain types of circumstances, such as when the temperature is uncomfortable, when they feel stressed, when there is not enough food available or when they do not feel well.
You will be your hamster’s best friend and advocate as you get to know her unique sleep-wake patterns and daily routines. Your firsthand awareness of your hamster’s normal activities will give you the insight to sense when something may not be right so you can nip it in the bud quickly.
Being a hamster owner is such a special gift and privilege! You get the chance to know this beautiful, gentle, petite and precious mammal up close and personal, and she will trust you with her care and with her life.
For this reason, if you have questions about the specifics of your pet hamster’s sleep-wake cycle, sleep hours, daily habits or overall care, don’t wait – ask your veterinarian right away. Asking the right question at the right time will ensure your pet hamster’s life is as healthy, happy and fulfilling as it possibly can be.
Resources and Further Reading
- Cirelli, C., et al, “Is Sleep Essential?,” PLoS Biology Journal, 2008.
- Bradford, A., “Hamster Facts: Diet, Habits & Types of Hamsters,” Live Science, 2014.
- Dell’Amore, C., “Your Hamster May Have Surprising Origins,” National Geographic, 2014.
- Humane Society Of The United States
- Palchykovaa, S., et al, “Sleep deprivation and daily torpor impair object recognition in Djungarian hamsters,” Journal of Physiology & Behavior, 2005.
- Sichieri, R., et al, “Influence of ambient temperature on the sleep-wakefulness cycle in the golden hamster,” Journal of Physiology & Behavior, 1984.