Do Zebras Sleep Standing Up? (Explained)

by Chukay Alex
Updated on

Sleeping is a natural occurrence in both humans and animals. When most people think of sleeping, the first thing that comes to mind is lying down.

However, it has been discovered that most four-legged land herbivores are capable of lightly dozing while on their feet.

This has prompted many people to wonder if zebras also stand while sleeping. Are you one of those who ask this question? Well then, let’s clear your doubts. 

Do Zebras Sleep Standing Up? 

Do Zebras Sleep Standing Up

Yes, Zebras do sleep standing up. This is possible thanks to an innate feature they possess known as a “stay apparatus.”

Stay apparatus are joints that hold the zebra in place while it is standing. This allows them to subconsciously lock their knees into position and sleep without fear of falling over.

When the zebras awaken and need to move, their joints will unlock, allowing them to move around freely once more.

However, when Zebras sleeps while standing, they are not in a deep sleep, but rather snoozing. To get good and restful sleep, they have to lie down.

You can find out more about zebras’ sleep patterns by reading this article all the way through!

How Does A Zebra Sleep?

Zebras are particularly known for their large appetite. Interestingly, that’s not the only intriguing feature they have.

These striped creatures have a unique sleeping pattern.

Zebras will take every opportunity they get to sleep when they are not on the lookout for food or migrating.

It may interest you to know that zebras have two sleeping patterns;

1. First, zebras usually take naps while standing. As earlier stated these are not actual deep sleep but short intervals of naps.

And we also stated that they do this for safety reasons with the aid of their stay apparatus.

Stay apparatus is an adaptive survival mechanism that is super important to these animals.

This adaptation has several advantages that are centered on the zebra’s safety. For example, zebras could easily flee from predators who would try to ambush them while they were sleeping.

A typical plains zebra will sleep whenever possible, but only in large groups so that they can be alerted to danger. Standing up allows them to pack closer together and quickly flee danger.

Not many animals can sleep while standing up so this ability makes zebras somewhat unique.

They do, however, share this ability with some other large mammals such as horses, giraffes, elephants, cows, and some birds.

2. Another pattern of sleep zebras imbibe is REM sleep which is the Rapid eye movement sleep.

This is a unique phase of sleep in mammals and birds.

This is typically a deep sleep also called paradoxical sleep or desynchronized sleep. And to achieve this sleep they must lie down.

This level of sleep is considered to be of particular importance for developing the nervous system, such as for creating new memories and for learning.

This kind of sleep restores the zebras’ body and mind, and without enough REM sleep, they won’t feel rested or rejuvenated.

This is why studies show that animals that are constantly woken up from REM have a reduced ability to learn.

This is consistent with studies of humans, to whom REM sleep is especially important for the memory and ability to learn.

It is therefore to a certain degree a misunderstanding that zebras can “sleep” standing up.

They can only doze in that position, as we humans may do on the sofa, but to achieve proper sleep (REM sleep), they must lie down.

Here are some more fascinating facts about zebras’ sleeping habits:

  • Zebras do not sleep alone. Zebras only sleep when they are in large groups so that they can be alerted of danger.
  • Zebras are good to look out buddies. Usually, they sleep while one zebra stays awake to watch out for danger. The standing zebra is keeping watch over the others, keeping eye on any potential predators or other signs of danger.
  • Another fascinating thing about the way zebras sleep is that during the day, they sleep standing up, while at night they lie down.

Here is an article I wrote on are zebras faster than horses

Do Zebras Prefer To Sleep Standing Up Or Lying Down?

Yes! Many zebras prefer to sleep lying down than standing up simply because it is much more comfortable.

No matter how strong the zebra is, it is quite exhausting standing the whole day and not having adequate rest.

Sleeping while standing and lying down are both important to the Zebra. This is because they have different benefits to zebras.

As earlier stated zebras sleep while standing during the day(more like naps). When they sleep lying down(REM) at night.

They sleep while standing because sleeping while lying down is too much of a risk and it can be dangerous during the day.

Zebras are more prone to attacks during the day than at night. So when zebra lies down, it takes a bit of work for them to get up, which makes them vulnerable to attacks by predators.

To protect themselves, therefore, zebras would rather doze while standing.

Do Zebras Always Sleep Standing Up?

No, zebras don’t always sleep standing up. They lie down to sleep as well, and this pattern of sleeping is super beneficial to the health of the zebras.

Zebras usually only sleep when they are with the rest of their herd.

Sleeping alone is simply too dangerous since it is easy for large predators to sneak up on them when they are alone.

This is also applicable to other animals that sleep while standing such as horses, cows, giraffes.

They are never always on their feet. They will always need to lie down and get proper sleep.

Do Zebras Get Tired Of Standing?

Yes, definitely, zebras get tired of standing. Practically there isn’t any animal that doesn’t get tired of standing.

Even the powerful horses need to sit up sometimes.

Unlike dogs, however, zebras can’t sit down, due to the way their legs are structured they can only sit up.

They practically cannot bend their legs, it is anatomically impossible.

Also check out this article I wrote on do zebras eat meat?

How Often Do Zebras Sleep Standing Up?

Zebras sleep for around 7 hours per day, however, it could be less sometimes since sleeping for that long can be dangerous.

Zebras usually have several short naps rather than several consecutive hours of sleep.

Zebras do not need much deep REM sleep so the majority of their sleeping is usually done while standing up.

As a general rule, zebras will stand up while sleeping during the day and lay down while sleeping during the night.


The importance of sleep cannot be over-emphasized.

It is an important part of staying healthy. Zebras however have proven to be unique over and over again.

They sleep while standing, not sleep per say more like short naps. They do this with their stay apparatus feature.

This feature keeps their knees locked and there’s no single chance of them falling at this state. Their knees unlock when they need to walk.

They sleep while standing to protect themselves from attacks from predators.

Staying in that position keeps them alert and it’s easier for them to run off if need be unlike when they are lying down flat. 

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About the author

Chukay Alex

Chukay is a season writer and farmer who enjoys farming and growing plants in his backyard farm. When he is not farming you can find him at the nearest lawn tennis court, hitting a mean backhand down the line.


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