Do Bugs Really Sleep? Exploring Insect Sleeping Habits

Like all living things, bugs sleep. How long they rest varies from species to species. Queen bees and queen ants generally get more sleep than their subjects.

Oct 13, 2023By Colt Dodd
do bugs really sleep exploring insect sleeping habits

Some species, like bees, share similar sleeping patterns to humans. They sleep at night so they can collect nectar during the day. This is nearly the opposite of bed bugs that sleep during the day so they can feed on snoozing hosts at night.

Some bugs don’t “sleep” but enter a state of inactivity. Butterflies are a good example. They don’t sleep at night but instead roost and remain mostly inactive until daybreak.

Even Bees Get Some ZZ’s

up close picture of a bee on a flower
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Every bug has a circadian rhythm. This describes a living thing’s physical, mental, and behavioral routines throughout a 24-hour period. An average person’s circadian rhythm may involve being awake for 16 hours, and then going to sleep for eight. A person’s circadian rhythm will likely depend on their environment, habits, and health.

The same applies to bugs, except slightly different. Its circadian rhythm is different by the one thing it needs to survive: food. There is no point in wasting energy when there isn’t a food source available, and the threats outweigh the benefits.

So, the nocturnal cockroach will “sleep” or largely remain inactive throughout the day when it risks getting squished by human tenants. Then, at night when everyone’s asleep, they wake, and the feast begins.

Bugs Can Sleep from Hours to Days

a giant weevil up close
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

How long a bug remains at rest varies from species to species. According to the Journal of Insect Behavior, red imported fire ant queens can sleep for nine hours at a time. Sometimes, they nap throughout the day for about six minutes at a time.

The same cannot be said for worker ants in the same colony; they’ll sleep for five hours at a time, taking periodic one-minute naps. As a result, worker ants are awake 80 percent of their lives, always lending a hand to keep the colony thriving.

Most Bugs Sleep Like Mammals

a cricket on a twig
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to National Geographic, bugs share many traits that humans do––and sleeping regularly is one of them. Without sleep, bugs can turn into sloppy communicators, making them less efficient when working together as a colony. They even need more sleep when finally given the opportunity to rest, something called a “sleep rebound.”

The publication lists some bugs that have regular sleep schedules:

Bug lovers may notice their favorite six-legged friend absent from this list: butterflies. That’s because scientists aren’t 100 percent sure whether they sleep. As noted, they roost in large groups and remain largely inactive. Some even enter a state called “torpor,” meaning it slows down its bodily functions for certain periods.

Per Monarch Joint Venture, monarchs go into torpor when temperatures dip below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s because they can’t fly! So, they’ll pause their bodily functions until it’s warm enough.

How Do You Know if a Bug’s Sleeping?

a housefly in the wild
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Bugs don’t have eyelids, so when looking at a fly sitting on the windowsill, it’s hard to know whether it’s sleeping. However, there are also signs that a gnat is napping. These include:

  • It’s drooping. When a cockroach sleeps, it may relax its antennae or curl them around its vital organs for protection.
  • Closed wings. Winged bugs may close their wings to prevent them from getting damaged.
  • An increased arousal threshold. This is just a fancy way of saying that the bug needs more stimulation than it usually would to react. For instance, a fully awake fruit fly could dodge a fly swatter. A sleeping fly… well, you know.
  • A stationary position. Just like how most animals don’t move in their sleep, neither do bugs.

Many bugs have consistent patterns during the day that indicate when they’re sleeping. Tarantula owners will attest that their spider companions are more active at night than during the day.

Observing Bugs at Rest

a fly blending in with a tree
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It’s not hard to catch a glimpse of a snoozing bug. It’s very similar to approaching another sleeping thing. All one needs is, well, a bug. To observe these creatures at rest, you should:

  • Avoid turning on the lights. Just like if someone turned on a light while you were sleeping, one shouldn’t do that if they hope to watch a sleeping bug. Bugs use light to reorient themselves, and a sudden burst of light could rouse it.
  • Approach slowly. Bugs can pick up on vibrations that indicate another living thing is near. You should tread carefully around a sleeping insect.
  • Remain quiet. Soundwaves can also create vibrations thatcan disturb a sleeping bug.

While watching a sleeping bug can lend special insight into its habits and lifecycles, you should avoid approaching a dangerous bug, like an Africanized bee. Upon waking, it may launch into attack mode, following a threat for hundreds of feet until it’s neutralized.

Bugs Need Sleep to Function

a wasp or bee on a flower
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Imagine staying up all night reading articles about bugs or playing video games. During the day, you may feel irritable, less effective at your job, and overall “meh.” Bugs feel the same way when deprived of much-needed rest. A sleep-deprived bee may:

  • Be unable to avoid predators. At the top of its game, a bee can detect predators and escape. When deprived of sleep, it could be unable to avoid threats posed by hungry badgers, flycatchers, and strikes.
  • Be an ineffective communicator. Bees rely on the “waggle dance” to point other bees in the direction of food. Tired bees are ineffective dancers, and this makes them poor team players.
  • Die. Will a bug die because it didn’t get a good night’s rest? No. However, could irregular sleep patterns lower their immune systems, making them more susceptible to infections, diseases, and parasites? Yeah.

There are just some things that all living beings do, and sleeping is one of them. Even if an animal only requires a few minutes of shut-eye to function, sleep is sleep.

Colt Dodd
By Colt Dodd

Colt Dodd is a sighthound enthusiast with three years of freelance writing experience. He has an Italian greyhound/Shetland sheepdog mix named Homer. In his spare time, he enjoys going to dog parks and writing fiction.