Are gerbils nocturnal? The gerbil sleeping habits

Are gerbils nocturnal

The sleeping habits of gerbils have always been subject to debate, and that’s mostly related to another ongoing debate about the best pet, hamsters, or gerbils. The answer to the question are gerbils nocturnal is apparently a key element and a proof for the gerbil side of the debate that they make better rodent pets.

However, the fact that this question is still asked although people have been adopting gerbils as pets for years is surprising.

The reason why no one seems to be sure about whether gerbils are nocturnal or diurnal is that the ones in captivity adapt to their environment and their owner’s lifestyle.

I have been a gerbil owner all throughout my life and my gerbils all seem to be adapting to my habits, when I was a kid and slept early they were mostly active before I went to bed and early in the morning, but when I was sleeping late so were they and that’s why gerbil owners have different opinions on the matter.

Are gerbils nocturnal?

No, gerbils are not nocturnal, and they are not diurnal either, gerbils are crepuscular animals, being more active at the transitions between light and dark.

In other words, gerbils sleep during the day and also during the night in cycles of a couple of hours but they reach the peak activity levels at approximately 6–8 a.m. and 6–8 p.m., the hours of the day which encompassed dawn and dusk. 

According to a published study in Physiology & Behavior Journal about activity rhythms in the Mongolian gerbil under natural light conditions, the results showed that top activity levels were reached at 6–8 a.m. and 6–8 p.m.

In another study published in the same Journal about the Sleep patterns in the Mongolian gerbil, they concluded that the gerbil in captivity, unlike most rodents that are nocturnal, is a crepuscular animal, being more active at the transitions between light and dark.

How long do gerbils sleep?

On average a normal gerbil in the wild sleeps in cycles of two to four hours all throughout the day, they are equally active during the day and the night averaging around 12 hours of sleep.

Gerbils sleeping patterns are not exactly the same and there are many factors that could make an impact on their sleeping habits such as:

The environment

In the wild gerbils live mostly in desert areas hence the name desert rats, where the temperatures are very hot during the day and could get very cold during the night, that’s why gerbils avoid going out at these times and prefer dawn and dusk to be their most active hours.

Gerbils in captivity will most likely adapt to the weather in your area, and they like the moderate room temperature. Making sure the room temperature is not too hot or too cold for your gerbils would be the best thing to do.

The presence of other gerbils

The presence of other gerbils around would directly affect how long do gerbils sleep, a lonely gerbil will have a hard time keeping his body warm since most gerbils in clans or even in little groups tend to sleep together in tiny piles to bond and maintain warmth.

Living in a clan does not mean all the gerbils in the clan will have the same sleeping patterns and would go to sleep at the same time, it is normal to see groups sleeping while others working on their burrows or scavenging food.

However, in the case of a large group of gerbils, most of the time there will be a group piling somewhere while the others are active but it’s not uncommon to spot some gerbils that sleep alone even in the presence of other gerbils piling together, this is mostly due to some gerbils being rejected from the clan.

Age of the gerbil

Adult healthy gerbils are the most active and could stay active for prolonged periods up to six hours. younger and old gerbils on the other hand are a lot less energetic and tend to sleep for longer periods.

An aging gerbil’s body produces less energy and he’ll sleep longer to maintain it longer, while younger gerbils need the energy for physiological growth.

Interaction with the owner

The interaction with humans is certainly a factor in the sleeping habits of a domesticated gerbil.

If human interaction happens in a relatively similar time on a daily routine, they would probably adapt their sleeping hours to it.

Gerbils do know that their human owners are the source of their food and water, so they’ll be more stimulated when they are around.

Of course, this is not always the case as sometimes too much activity could be way more important than food.


For prey animals, especially ones that live in burrows, adapting their sleeping habits to their predators is a good idea.

Gerbils are certainly not on the top of the food chain and their status as preys sure has an impact on their daily schedule.

Snakes and birds are the gerbil’s natural predators, birds tend to be diurnal while snakes are mostly nocturnal, so they have no choice but to be crepuscular and go out to forage food and water during dusk and dawn when most predators are not around.

Gerbilarium conditions

The cage conditions for domesticated gerbils have a deep impact on their sleeping patterns, in the wild, gerbils sleep in burrows they dig, keeping them warm and safe, if your cage simulates the same environment, it will be easier for them to sleep peacefully.

It is always better to have a deep cage for your gerbils to allow them to make their tunnels system and have it placed in a spot that experiences regular day/night cycles.

This is the gerbil cage we recommend for a small group of gerbils 2-3 gerbils.

  • The deep base provides enough space for your gerbils for burrowing and making tunnels.
  • Made of glass which makes it durable and chew-proof.
  • Plenty of room to install accessories for your gerbils to prevent boredom.
  • Good price, it’s very cheap for a cage of this size with accessories in it.

When do gerbils sleep?

Gerbils sleep in cycles of a few hours and wake up for similar periods, so they do sleep during the day and the night and can be active in both.

Do gerbils sleep in the day?

Gerbils sleep in the day but not all day long as we explained earlier they are not nocturnal animals, so you can expect multiple hours of activity during the day.

In the wild and in captivity gerbils take naps during the day but even if they do adapt to a nocturnal lifestyle they still can’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time, most of the daytime activity happens after dawn.

Do gerbils sleep at night?

Gerbils do sleep at night but only for a couple of hours every time and with similar wakening hours in between.

Gerbils are as active at night as they are during the day with most of the nighttime activity at dusk, but still, you can expect some levels of activity at night.

Do gerbils need light at night

Gerbils don’t need light at night they are used to being awake and active at night in their natural habitat where there is no light at night.

Should you cover a gerbil cage at night,

Unless you’ve installed your gerbils’ cage in a spot where there is light all day long, there is no need for you to cover their cage.

If natural light is coming in then your gerbils would be just fine without a cage cover.

How do gerbils sleep?

are gerbils nocturnal
are gerbils nocturnal? gerbils sleeping

Gerbils in clans tend to sleep in a pile to maintain warmth, they have different sleep patterns but in a large enough clan there will be always a little group sleeping in a pile while the others are active.

Gerbils in small groups snuggle next to each other or one on top of the other for warmth.

It is normal to see gerbils sleeping alone even in a large clan, it is not always a sign of union, but if the same gerbil is always sleeping alone then he’s probably been rejected from the clan.

Where do gerbils sleep?

In nature, gerbils sleep in their burrows to keep themselves warm and safe from predators, but in captivity, it will depend on the cage conditions, if provided with a deep enough cage with enough bedding to make a solid tunnel system they will use it, if not they’ll just hide somewhere in the corner.

Even with a deep enough cage, it’s not unusual to see your gerbils just piling up in an open space of the cage, partially because they know they’re safe from predators and sometimes it will depend on the temperature in the cage.

It’s also not unusual to see a gerbil wake up change position to the bottom of the pile and sleep again, that’s mostly due to the top gerbil getting too cold.

Do gerbils sleep with their eyes open?

Gerbils don’t sleep with their eyes open, they sleep in their burrows where they are safe to close their eyes while sleeping.

Gerbils that sleep with their eyes open are not really sleeping but resting, when anxious or not feeling safe to close their eyes gerbils could just rest while keeping an eye open for potential danger.

A gerbil that seems to sleep with eyes open might be ill or really anxious and nervous, if this behavior continues a visit to the vet is necessary.

Do gerbils adjust their sleeping patterns?

Gerbils are born crepuscular animals, but changes in their environment seem to have a huge effect on their sleeping patterns.

It is this capability to adapt that seems to cause confusion and push people to ask are gerbils nocturnal since every gerbil owner seems to be observing a different sleeping pattern.

In the wild gerbils have plenty of environmental factors to think about and most importantly food and predators. However, these two factors are absent in captivity, gerbils are safe from predators and food is abundant

In most cases, gerbils seem to be adapting their sleeping habits to the feeding time especially if it’s served on a daily basis at the same time.

Gerbils would also be active when the owner is around since they associate food with the owner, so they would shift towards a nocturnal or a diurnal system depending on your own sleeping and activity patterns.

However, no matter how the gerbil’s sleeping pattern changes it will always remain a cycle sleeping, with them being awake for a few hours and then sleep for approximately the same period.

If you want to speed up the process of adapting your gerbils sleeping hours you need to make your daily routine and interactions in specific times.

Do gerbils sleep a lot?

Why are my gerbils sleeping all the time? it’s a question often asked in forums and social media which I find inaccurate.

If every time you check on your gerbils they seem to be sleeping then you did not do a great job at synchronizing their sleeping pattern with yours.

There are plenty of reasons your gerbils could be oversleeping such as:


A sick gerbil would be more isolated and could sleep for longer hours than his healthy companions, just like us health issues cause fatigue to the gerbils and lead them to be less active and sleepier.

Gerbils are exposed to many health issues, especially senior gerbils; respiratory issues are very common in gerbils and would cause them to oversleep. It is important to use good quality bedding to avoid any respiratory problems, as some cheap beddings are full of dust.

The gerbils have a very sensitive digestive system that they would get ill from a sudden change in diet, that’s why it is never a good idea to suddenly change their food but to do it gradually by increasing the amount of the new diet slowly.


Gerbils are social animals that live in clans, that’s why it is never a good idea to adopt one gerbil, all pet stores and breeders suggest you take at least two.

A lonely gerbil will be less active than ones in pairs or in a clan, and not only it’s best to adopt in same-sex pairs (unless you want baby gerbils every couple of months) you should adopt from the same litter to ensure they go along.

Loneliness will cause your gerbil to oversleep since they don’t have much to do when left alone and they get bored very easily.


Gerbils get bored pretty easily and if not provided with some toys they will spend more time sleeping. Gerbils are very active and like to chew on toys and play around that’s why providing toys like a running wheel is always a good idea.

Chew toys are also an excellent addition to the gerbil’s cage since they love to chew (that’s why it’s never a good idea to put plastic objects in their cage).

Letting the gerbils out of the cage every now and then to explore is also a good idea but you need to make sure the surroundings are well secured especially if you have other pets like cats or dogs.