How to tell if your snake is sleeping

Just like all living beings, snakes need to catch some z’s to rest and restore themselves. But telling if your snake is sleeping can be quite the challenge, since you can’t rely on seeing your snake’s closed eyes as a sign. Instead, you’ll need to learn to look for other signs that could indicate your snake is napping.

Taking the time to learn these signs will allow you to properly care for your pet snake and will keep you both much safer, especially if you need to handle it and don’t want to inadvertently interrupt its sleep.

Green snake curled up over a branch
blickpixel/1906 images/Pixabay

Do snakes have eyelids?

No, snakes don’t have eyelids, so they can’t close their eyes (interestingly, they can’t blink either). Instead, they have a brille on each eye, a layer of transparent scales that covers and protects the eyes. This means snakes sleep with their eyes open. Your snake might not get “shut-eye,” but he does sleep. So you’ll just need to look for other signs that your snake is snoozing.

How to tell if a snake is sleeping

By carefully observing your snake, you can tell if he’s asleep or awake. The key is knowing which signs to look for, and knowing a bit about your snake’s behavior, too.

Snake breed

The type of snake you have may partially dictate when he goes to sleep. Some snakes stay active during certain times of day, sleeping at other times.

Diurnal snakes, or snakes that are most active during the day, include hognosed snakes, racers, sipos, and patch-nosed snakes. In contrast, other types of snakes like broad-headed snakes and night snakes tend to stay up at night and sleep during the day. The problem is, other snake types, including rat snakes, can vary their routines depending on the time of year, so there’s really no knowing when they might decide to doze off.

While judging by your snake’s breed isn’t a foolproof way to tell whether he’s asleep, it can help give you an idea of what times of day your snake is likelier to take a nap.

Seasonal effects

The season can play a role in snake sleeping habits. Most snakes spend about 16 hours per day asleep. In the winter, that can climb to 20 hours.

Post-feeding nap

If your snake has recently eaten, he may be sleepier than usual. A big meal can make your snake drowsy, and he may sleep 20 hours a day after a recent feeding.

Sleeping position

While awake and asleep look pretty much the same in snakes, there are a few clues to help you tell the difference. A sleeping snake will stay in one position for hours — though this is also the posture a snake can assume while hunting. Or you might notice that the constantly flicking snake tongue isn’t engaged in its usual activity, or that he doesn’t react when you open the top of his cage or otherwise move around the area.

Is it brumation?

To further complicate matters, snakes in cold climates undergo a period called brumation, which means that they decrease their activity during the winter to save energy. If your snake is in brumation, he may move around less than usual. He probably won’t eat during this time.

If you disturb a snake that’s in brumation, he may act startled and confused, but when you put him down again, he won’t stay active.

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Safely handling your snake

If you suspect your snake is sleeping, then you need to be careful in handling him. Picking up or disturbing a sleeping snake can startle him, and he might strike you in response. (Chances are, you’d be startled, too, and a bit irritated that someone woke you up from your nap.) Suddenly waking a sleeping snake can stress him and won’t have a positive result for either of you.

Instead, if you suspect your snake is sleeping, it’s best to let him alone and allow him to wake up on his own. You can try making some gentle noises or introducing a strong-smelling food to his environment to prompt him to wake up. If possible, though, let your snake get his beauty rest and go back to handle him when he’s awake.

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