Do Betta Fish Sleep? The Real Answer…

“Do Betta fish sleep” is actually one of the most common questions we get from new Betta owners.

So if you’re asking yourself the question, don’t feel stupid. It’s actually quite hard to figure out (they’re sneaky when it comes to sleeping).

But understanding how betta fish sleep is something every owner should learn. That’s why we thought it was a good idea to put together this helpful guide.

When you’re done reading it, you’ll be a complete expert!

Do betta fish sleep?

For most creatures in the animal kingdom, getting a few hours of sleep is a given. You can observe cats and dogs sleeping. Even lizards and reptiles seem to close their eyes from time to time.

But what about betta fish? At first glance, it looks like these fiery fish spend all hours of the day showing off their beautiful fins.

However, betta fish also sleep!

Although not everyone knows it, all fish need sleep. It is an important biological function. During this time, your little Betta is reducing its metabolism and saving energy.

Of course, underwater environments are very different from the land we are used to. In nature, fish must remain vigilant if they want to stay alive.

Even if your Betta is confined to the safety of a good tank, that natural instinct to stay alert remains. This is even more true with Bettas due to their territorial nature.

As a result, betta fish sleep very differently from mammals. They are considered “light sleepers”. Your fish does not fall into the same deep REM cycle as you do. Instead, they rest lightly while being wary of their surroundings at all times.

What does it look like?

Seeing a betta fish sleeping can be a bit alarming! Unlike land mammals, fish are not able to snuggle up and close their eyes.

Like all fish, bettas do not have eyelids. Thus, they keep their eyes wide open throughout their nap!

Color changes are quite common in Betta fish when they are also sleeping. Bettas are notorious for their vivid colors, which isn’t good when it comes to staying out of sight of predators.

Author’s note: Bettas are thought to dull their color when they sleep to make them less of a target when they sleep.

A Betta fish swimming close to the substrate before sleeping

But that’s not the weirdest part of the betta’s sleep cycle.

You see, these fish often get into rather precarious positions when resting. Typically, you will find them sleeping at the bottom of the tank. The head can rest on the substrate while its bottom floats a little.

In most cases, this sleeping position is all about overcoming the challenges they face in the tank! Before being bred in captivity, betta fish lived in slow-moving rice paddies. The lack of significant water flow in their natural habitat allows them to rest easily.

In a tank with a filter, this is not the case.

Even the gentlest flow could end up pushing the Betta all over the enclosed environment. To overcome this, they will sink to the bottom of the tank to rest where things are a bit calmer.

This is the most common position, but it is certainly not the only option. You might see your fish lying on its side. They may even curl up a bit in an L-shaped position. Although alarming, this is completely normal!

Betta fish with soft surfaces to rest on benefit the most from these positions. They enjoy soft plant beds and vegetation for resting. So, when these spots are available, don’t be surprised if your Betta fish curls up for a nap once in a while.

Now, if you don’t have those soft resting surfaces, your fish might take things to extremes and create one!

It is not uncommon to see Betta fish getting stuck between rocks or on top of tank equipment. As long as the location is stable and supportive, the fish will be creative when trying to sleep.

Perhaps the most alarming place these fish can sleep is on the surface of the water. Many owners have reported seeing their fish laying eggs on floating plant leaves!

Although you would think this would be dangerous for the Betta or a sign that it is sick, it is not.

Betta fish are anabantoids. They have a unique organ, called the labyrinth, which allows them to breathe atmospheric air. That is why these fish rise to the surface and periodically take a breath of fresh air.

Make no mistake: these fish cannot live out of water full time! They should still stay moist. That’s why these large floating aquarium plants are perfect for this species. Using them allows their bodies to remain partially submerged.

How long do they sleep?

If you’ve never had the pleasure of catching your Betta fish sleeping, consider that a good thing.

As we mentioned before, bettas are very light sleepers. They don’t need a ton of rest, but they still need to stay healthy. However, getting long periods of rest throughout the day is not always possible.

This is why most will sleep at night. Betta fish actually need a stable day/night cycle. This does not mean, however, that you have to set up lighting in the aquarium for this to happen. Ambient lighting in a well-lit room is more than enough to trigger their circadian rhythm.

However, this means that the fish needs darkness at night to rest. If you have aquarium lights, never turn them on after hours. Betta fish need 12 to 16 hours of darkness to stay healthy.

A betta fish sleeping in the aquarium

In good conditions, Bettas will take advantage of this to sleep. Chances are it’s the same time you’re snuggled up in bed!

This is why most Betta owners don’t even realize that these fish are sleeping.

Author’s note: Now, the exact duration of the Betta sleep cycle is unknown. But it’s best to assume they sleep in short bursts throughout the night when everything is quiet and clear.

Beyond standard nighttime sleep, you might observe your fish taking periodic naps during the day. That shouldn’t be too much of a concern as long as those naps are short and infrequent.

If your Betta fish spends a lot of time sleeping during the day, it could be a sign that it cannot rest peacefully at night.

There are several causes for this. If there are other fish in the tank, your Betta may refuse to sleep due to their territorial behavior. Too much light at night could also prevent them from falling asleep.

If so, make some adjustments to the environment to ensure your fish is able to sleep. It’s all part of providing them with good care.

How to Tell if Your Betta Fish is Sleeping, Sick or Dead

It’s easy to confuse a sleeping fish with a dead fish. In fact, that’s the conclusion most owners make before even considering the fact that their fish is resting!

So how do you tell the difference?

Observe their sleeping behavior

The easiest way to identify a sleeping Betta fish is to observe its behavior while it sleeps. Without making too much noise, watch your fish carefully and pay attention to their gills and mouth.

Betta fish still need to breathe while they sleep. So you should see the gills and the mouth opening occasionally. These breathing movements will be slower than when awake. But, it will always be observable.

Another telltale sign is the eyes. As we said earlier, eyes will remain open. If the eyes look a little dull or cloudy, it could be a sign that the fish has died.

Keep an eye on them while they’re awake

You should also use your betta fish’s behavior when awake as an indicator of its overall health. Often Bettas will appear to be sleeping when they are close to death. So, paying attention to their behavior can help you identify potential problems fairly quickly.

First, take a look at their appearance. Dull coloration is common when fish are sleeping. But he should straighten up as soon as they wake up and start swimming. If their color is dull when awake, take that as a big red flag.

A brightly colored Betta fish after sleeping

Also watch out for some telltale signs of illness. White or metallic spots all over the body indicate that your fish has Ich. Meanwhile, significant swelling around the belly associated with raised scales could mean that your fish is suffering from dropsy.

Check out the flippers too. If the fins look torn or ragged, it could be a sign of poor health. Bettas are best known for their beautiful, fluttering fins. When these fins look less worn or are held close to the body rather than extended, your fish could suffer.

Beyond their appearance, note their behavior. Lethargic, slow movements or prolonged periods without eating are signs that something is wrong. The same goes for hiding for days.

Combine these odd behaviors with off-kilter swimming patterns and you have the marks of poor health. Chances are your fish is close to death.

Author’s note: There is no getting around the fact that sleeping Betta fish look like they are dying. It’s such an abnormal sight for the most part that owners usually assume the worst. However, healthy sleeping Betta fish will always perk up.

Remember that these fish are light sleepers! The slightest noise can wake them up. Let them sleep! It is only when they are unresponsive to light, sound, or food that you should be concerned.

Now you know

Now you know the answer to the question “do betta fish sleep” as well as the intricacies of how they do it.

But this knowledge is not just for fun. It should be used to provide the best possible care and give your Bettas a habitat that keeps them healthy and well rested.

If you have any other questions about the sleep process that Betta fish go through, feel free to ask us! We love to communicate with our readers and regularly answer questions whenever we can.

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