How do whales sleep? Do they drown when sleeping?

How do whales sleep? Do you ever wonder how they sleep when there is no bed to rest in? It may be hard to imagine, but marine mammals like whales have well-developed sleeping strategies that allow them to function regularly in their underwater environment. They sleep in many methods and positions. These include simply resting quietly in the water, either horizontally or vertically, or sleeping while slowly swimming next to another member of their pod or in small groups. 

In this post, we’ll explore the different behaviors and habits that enable these creatures to get some rest despite swimming in the ocean.

Here’s the answer: How do whales sleep?

Despite being in the water, whales have several sleep-related behaviors that enable them to get the rest they need.

The most common sleep positions for whales are either horizontal or vertical in the water. When sleeping horizontally, they usually rest near the surface and can even seem to doze off while remaining slightly submerged. Whales also often sleep vertically with their tails pointing down as if standing on a bed of air bubbles below them. This technique is beneficial for keeping them safe from predators.

Whales can also sleep in small groups, often with a few members of their pod. This behavior helps to ensure their safety and allows them to rest without completely stopping swimming. In this case, whales typically keep one eye open while sleeping and move along slowly with the group.

How Do Whales Sleep!

In addition to these sleep behaviors, whales also use some other methods for getting restful periods. For example, when threatened or disturbed by predators or loud noises, they can release gas bubbles from their blowholes to create an uncomfortable atmosphere for their predators. This method of sleeping is referred to as “bubble netting” and can be used to stay safe while still obtaining some rest.

Finally, whales can also use their melatonin-producing pineal glands to create an internal “night cycle” that helps regulate the length of their sleep periods. This circadian rhythm is similar to what humans experience on land and helps whales maintain a regular schedule of sleeping and feeding.

How do whale calves sleep?

Whale calves tend to sleep more than adults and have unique strategies for rest that help them stay safe in the open ocean. Young whales can often be seen sleeping vertically or horizontally with a parent nearby. This technique allows the calf to drift along with the pod while still being able to receive protection from its parents.

How can whales sleep without drowning?

Whales have a few unique traits that allow them to sleep without drowning. It is a process known as unihemispheric slow-wave sleep.” This occurs when one side of the brain remains active and alert while the other side is in a restful state. This allows whales to continue to breathe and keep one eye open for predators while still getting the rest they need.

When sleeping, whales remain near the water’s surface and use their fins to help maintain their position. They will also sometimes rest in shallow waters, where they can reach the surface if needed.

How long do whales sleep?

Beluga whales are renowned for their ability to sleep up to 30% of the day, while other whale species spend an average of 7% sleeping. However, all whales sleep in 15-30 minute increments throughout different parts of the day. Taking nap breaks allows whales to rest and recuperate more efficiently than if they were asleep continuously!

Whales cannot sleep for extended periods of time since their body temperature will begin to drop from lack of movement, making it fatal.

How Do Whales Sleep!

How long do blue whales sleep?

Blue whales take short naps of around 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Surprisingly, they sleep in chunks of only 15 minutes and devote almost 7% of their day to sleep! Fascinatingly, while dozing off, blue whales’ bodies shut down; however, half their mind remains awake so that they remember when it is time to breathe again.

How long do killer whales sleep?

Although adult orcas spend an average of 5-8 hours sleeping, newborn calves appear to sleep erratically for at least three weeks post-birth–similar to young dolphins. Orcas can sleep with a single eye still open, enabling them to keep a vigilant watch over their environment even while sleeping.

How long do humpback whales sleep?

Humpback whales may rest for up to 30 minutes without movement; however, due to their body heat loss from inactivity during sleep, any longer than this could be fatal.

As a result, they can manage only half an hour of continuous sleep. Therefore, their sleeping pattern is divided into phases, and when it’s time to get some rest, these creatures ascend toward the water’s surface.


Whales are fascinating creatures that have developed several unique strategies for getting rest despite living in an unpredictable and dangerous environment. They have several sleeping behaviors, such as horizontal or vertical positions and bubble netting, that help keep them safe while still allowing them to get some rest.

Furthermore, whales also have an internal “night cycle” created by their pineal glands that helps regulate the length of their sleep periods. So the next time you spot a whale out at sea, remember that it may be catching some Zs too!

See our article How Fast Can a Whale Swim? to understand more about whales’ sleep behaviors.