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Chinchillas can sleep almost the whole day through. That’s unusual compared to other pets, so why do chinchillas sleep so much, and is it normal for them to do so?

How much sleep do chinchillas need? Chinchillas sleep for roughly 12 hours a day, and not all at once. This means your pet sleeps many times throughout the day for a long total amount of time. However, if you notice your chinchilla always sleeping more than this, the issue may be lethargy and you should talk to a vet.

Lethargy is a sign of severe ill health, so learning the difference between lethargy and regular sleep is vital. The guide below will teach you how much chinchillas sleep, when they sleep, and for how long… And what to do if your pet sleeps far too much.

How Many Hours Does a Chinchilla Sleep?

Because they have long been kept as lab animals, chinchillas and their sleeping habits have been studied in depth. The average amount of sleep for adult mammals is 11 hours per day. Chinchillas fall at around this average, spending between 42% and 52% of the time asleep, which is roughly 12 hours. But what’s fascinating about the chinchilla is how short its sleep cycle is, at only six minutes. For comparison, the sleep cycle in people is an hour and a half long.

Chinchillas sleep in blocks of time. How long or short these blocks are depends on your chinchilla’s environment, its temperament, and how much it has to do in its cage. Most owners report that their pets follow a rough two-hours-awake, two-hours-asleep schedule. If this is what your pet is doing too, and if it displays no signs of ill health, there’s no need to worry.

There is no one specific pattern by which all pet chinchillas sleep. So, your experience with your pet may be different. For example, your pet might sleep for an hour at a time and get up for snacks in between. Or, it may sleep in slightly longer blocks of time. It may also spend longer in its hide ‘sleeping’, but in reality, be awake and only resting. There’s enormous variety between different pet chinchillas in this regard, so again, it’s highly unlikely that there’s something wrong with your pet if the only issue is that it sleeps a lot.

Why Do My Chinchillas Sleep All the Time?

At 12 hours, your chinchilla only sleeps an average amount for a mammal/rodent species. But why do chinchillas need more sleep than people do?

The commonly held assumption is that this is a good way to stay safe. Chinchillas and other rodents have many predators which can attack at any time. If a chinchilla spent eight hours in a row asleep, it could more easily be eaten. While this does appeal to common sense, research shows that it likely isn’t the case.

A paper published in the journal Functional Ecology looked at this precise issue. They state that neither sleep cycle length nor overall sleep length over the course of a day is affected by likelihood of predation. Instead, the scientists found that this kind of sleep was associated with energy expenditure. As chinchillas are small animals, they need to feed in frequent small amounts. This prevents them from ‘consolidating’ their sleep into one longer sleep either during the day or the night, because they need to get up and eat. This would explain why many rodents have a similar sleep cycle to the chinchilla. That’s why you’ll frequently see your chinchilla get up, get a snack, and go back to bed.

Moreover, this kind of sleep requires that the animal sleep more overall. This is presumably because the chinchilla cannot fully rest and recover in only a short span of time. But whatever the reason, this means that the chinchillas overall required amount of sleep is dictated by its biology. This explains the chinchilla’s strange sleeping habits, because wild behavior and biology has been retained by pet chinchillas.

The Chinchilla Sleep Pattern

The ‘sleep pattern’ describes the different phases that an animal goes through when it sleeps. The phases each have their own purposes, although these aren’t fully understood yet by science.

Chinchillas have a similar sleep pattern to other mammals. The first period of sleep is slow-wave sleep, also known as NREM (non-REM) sleep. During this sleep phase, the animal is still and does not dream. This is followed by a short amount of REM sleep, which is dreaming sleep, during which the animal might twitch.

Over the course of a night, you cycle between these kinds of sleep twice (or three times if you don’t get up in the morning). Chinchillas cycle between NREM and REM sleep, but because their cycle between these kinds of sleep is so short, they can wake up after ten to fifteen minutes.

Scientists term this kind of sleep ‘polyphasic sleep’. Larger animals have biphasic sleep, which is where sleep is consolidated into two long phases, typically taken together. Pet chinchillas will combine many phases together and sleep for small blocks, e.g. two hours at a time.

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When Does a Chinchilla Sleep?

Chinchillas are commonly called nocturnal, but this isn’t entirely accurate. Your pet may sleep either during the day or at night. Both are normal, although it’s more common for a pet chinchilla to sleep during the day and be active at night.

Do Chinchillas Sleep at Night (Nocturnal)?

When you think of a ‘nocturnal’ animal, you picture an animal which hides and sleeps throughout the day and only comes out at night. That’s not true of chinchillas, which come out both in the day and at night.

chinchilla sleep cycle
Image courtesy of Analysis of Sleep Cycles in the Rodent, by Henry B. Van Twyver.

One term scientists frequently use to refer to the chinchilla’s sleep schedule is ‘crepuscular’. This term refers to an animal which is most active at either dawn or dusk. These times are especially safe because neither night predators nor daytime predators specialize at hunting at these times.

From study, it seems that chinchillas are slightly crepuscular, but can spend time sleeping both during the day and the night. The graph above demonstrates when chinchillas kept in a lab were asleep, and when they weren’t.

The upper dotted line shown in the graph measures how many minutes of slow wave sleep a chinchilla took in an hour. The lower solid line is for ‘paradoxical sleep’, better known as REM sleep or dreaming sleep. The graph shows that chinchillas sleep slightly more during the day, but that sleep is distributed roughly evenly across 24 hours.

Do Chinchillas Like the Dark?

Chinchillas are comfortable in the dark. They don’t display higher sensitivity to noise compared to the daytime. They feel comfortable being either asleep or awake.

A pet chinchilla will be especially comfortable. Your pet will face no potential threats, and will have a hide that it feels secure in. Because of this, your pet will feel safe whether it’s dark or not.

The reason for this is that chinchillas rely on all of their senses. A chinchilla’s hearing is especially sensitive, which is why their ears are so large compared to other rodents. They also use their sense of smell to detect each other and nearby predators.

Are Some Chinchillas Diurnal?

Contrary to other owners’ experiences, you may find that your pet chinchilla is far less active at night. Some owners report that their pets adjust their sleep schedules to stay awake during the day instead.

The rationale behind this idea is that the chinchilla can get more stimulation by being awake when you’re awake, and when things are happening in the house. There’s no reason why a chinchilla couldn’t do this, although this hasn’t been studied yet.

Again, this is nothing to worry about. Unless this change in sleep schedule is accompanied by other symptoms of ill health, it’s nothing to worry about.

Lethargy vs. Regular Sleep in Chinchillas

Lethargy is the term for when an animal sleeps too much. It’s different to laziness, which isn’t a problem in chinchillas. Rather, lethargy is where the animal seems unable to move, feed itself or protect itself, even if it’s hungry or in danger. It’s a sign that your chinchilla is severely ill.

Signs a Chinchilla Is Lethargic

Sleeping isn’t the main thing you have to look for to spot lethargy. Instead, watch your pet when it’s awake and see what it does. In particular, look for:

  • Your chinchilla not enjoying playthings that it used to like playing with
  • Your chinchilla hardly eating and drinking
  • Your chinchilla sitting still for unusually long periods of time

Lethargy is hard to spot until an illness has become serious, and is quickly followed by death. If you suspect that your chinchilla is ill for any reason, lethargy or otherwise, consult a vet immediately rather than an online guide.

There are several causes of lethargy, which compounds the issue. Habitat issues, dietary issues and transmissible illnesses can all cause lethargy or make it worse.

How to Help a Chinchilla Sleeping Too Much

If your chinchilla is not lethargic, but is still sleeping too much, there are several explanations as to why. You may be mistaking rest for sleep, for example; your chinchilla could be awake and relaxing in its hide, rather than sleeping. Alternatively:

  • Your chinchilla may not have enough to do. If your chinchilla doesn’t have toys or exercise equipment, it may have nothing to get up for.
  • You may be feeding your chinchilla high-calorie foods. Chinchillas interrupt their sleep because they need to eat. If you’re feeding it the wrong kind of snacks (like raisins or nuts) it may be getting enough calories that it doesn’t need to get up.
  • Your chinchilla has a lazy personality. Some chinchillas are hyperactive, while others keep to themselves and do little. This isn’t something that needs to be fixed.

Fix the problem of your chinchilla oversleeping by addressing the cause. Provide your chinchilla with more toys, or new toys, to give it something to do. Or, address your pet’s diet so that you aren’t giving it calorie-dense snacks.

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