Home > Pet Care > Gerbils > Are Gerbils Nocturnal? Gerbil Sleep Explained

Are Gerbils Nocturnal? Gerbil Sleep Explained

By Eddie Chevrel


Updated on

Gerbils have a unique sleep pattern that’s hard to understand if you’ve never owned these kinds of pets. Their sleep habits might get in the way of your own sleeping schedule, making it harder to get enough rest.

Are gerbils nocturnal? The answer to this question is yes and no. Gerbils are actually metaturnal, meaning that they have an irregular sleep activity that is neither nocturnal, crepuscular nor diurnal. They can sleep at any time of day or night.

This gerbil guide will also help you to manage your pet gerbils to lessen the noises or activity that your gerbil does at night.

Are gerbils nocturnal?

This is a subject that confuses experts across the board, yet it’s simply science that dictates this answer. Mongolian gerbils are indeed awake at night making this a true statement. They do have a habit of waking and sleeping at the hours when dawn and dusk are happening, so this is also true. But their sleeping pattern also goes beyond this and doesn’t quite match the crepuscular definition either.

The real truth in this category is introducing a new identification that correctly defines what they actually are. Gerbils are more suited for being metaturnal, which refers to an organism that survives with sporadic sleeping patterns. This includes sleeping during the day and night at various times that don’t follow a set schedule that is obvious to track.

What is a normal gerbil sleep schedule?

Gerbils don’t follow a schedule you can set your watch by. The best answer is to understand that gerbils will sleep when they want to sleep, so they will be active both at night and in the day. This can happen after eating, after playing, after chewing on something, and everything in between.

There are obvious triggers that will wear down a gerbil due to activity. This is hard to track since most habitats will have two or more gerbils. Depending on the amount of activity they experience, some gerbils will be more active than others.

When a pet gerbil decides to take a nap, it won’t hesitate to settle down and go to sleep. They can go into their nest or they can lay down wherever they want. They can sleep for 10-15 minutes at a time or it can be longer depending on the level of noise.

How to ensure your gerbils get enough sleep

Where you place your Mongolian gerbil cage is going to be important to their sleep pattern since they aren’t quite nocturnal. It also has a direct influence on how their attitude is affecting them if they lose sleep. There is nothing worse than a gerbil that is cranky since they might not be willing to let themselves be handled and might even try to bite you if provoked.

If you keep the gerbils in your room, you don’t have to modify your waking hours to accommodate their sleep patterns. They will find a place to sleep that is dark if there is too much light. This is what they would do in the wild, so obviously, they’ll retreat to their burrow if there is a lot of light.

That is why Mongolian gerbils don’t seem to mind if the light is on since they can always retreat to their burrow. If they don’t mind the level of light, they can also crash out outside their nest if they want to take a quick nap. So if they are in a room that has a light on, they will not care about it at all.

Even if you keep them in your room and you turn off the light, they will navigate around their cage nonetheless. Since they are rodents, they have senses that you and I don’t have for moving around in the dark. Just because it’s dark is not an automatic trigger for them to go to sleep.

Should I cover my gerbil cage?

While covering the cage works well for most birds and makes them quiet, pet rodents do not work this way. A pet gerbil will get nervous and agitated because it cannot see outside its cage.

And because they are rodents, they might want to chew this covering or material if it’s close enough. This can be dangerous if these have threads since it might block their digestive system.

Where do gerbils normally sleep in the cage?

Your gerbil is going to sleep in any spot inside its habitat – except for the areas where they deposit their feces – which is the reason why a good cage setup is important. Gerbils are burrowing rodents so you can see Mongolian gerbils sleeping inside a burrow they made, inside a hidey house, inside a toilet paper tube – any hiding place that is comfortable for them. When there are others inside a habitat, they will come together at times to rest or sleep.

Because gerbils don’t all have the same sleep schedule they won’t always need to sleep with others. But because a pair of gerbils will be playing together and chasing each other, it’s more than likely they will soon get tired and rest together. They can also get tired if they were active and then eat something.

How do I make my gerbil sleep?

There is only so much that you can do to get your gerbil to sleep. That’s where you need to have a habitat that keeps them busy with plenty of things they can enjoy. They need things to gnaw so their teeth aren’t growing too long. They also need places to explore so they don’t get bored.

Being active and nosy is normal gerbil behavior. With plenty of activities in their habitat, they will socialize, play, eat, and ultimately sleep as a result. The key to this is providing all of these activities so they can make your gerbil active enough to fall asleep.

Gerbil sleeping issues

It’s not very common that your gerbil will have sleep issues, but they can sometimes react as they would while they are awake. This can include squeaking or chirping at times. They can also make little crying noises that sound like shrilling squeaks.

Like most animals that sleep, gerbils dream from time to time. They will duplicate actions in real life such as chewing, teeth grinding, and barking. You might see some twitching or running of the legs during an agitated dream.

If they are making noises such as wheezing or anything that sounds off, it can be a health reason. There might be too much dust in the bedding that causes this and if you can hear it clearly when they are sleeping, you might want to swap the brand of your bedding to see if it helps.

What position do gerbils normally sleep in?

Gerbils are very social animals that like to sleep with a partner. It won’t be uncommon that two gerbils will snuggle together side by side. You might also see one gerbil sleeping on top of the other. When there are more gerbils in a group, they can also group together in a huddle for comfort.

There is no limitation on how they sleep and will include laying on their side, on their back, curled up in a ball, or stretched out straight. It just depends on how comfortable they are. About the only position that gerbils don’t sleep is standing up as guinea pigs often do.

If they have built a nest, a gerbil will like to sleep in a position that is best for them based on the room temperature. If they are warmer or colder, they will adjust their sleeping pose to conserve and regulate body temperature. This is why the room where you keep your gerbil needs to be constant throughout the year.

Can I change my pet gerbil’s sleep pattern?

You cannot change your gerbils’ sleep patterns. They will sleep when they want and that’s about all you can expect. If they fall asleep at the time you want to play with them, it’s probably because they are simply tired.

Changing any of their sleep patterns is actually a bad idea since this will make them more nervous. Because they have such a random method of activity and sleep, they are a lot like tiny machines. They will start up and then shut down following erratic patterns, and there is not much you can do about it.

Why is my gerbil sleeping all the time?

If your gerbil is sleeping throughout the day, it could be diet-related if they are not given enough nutrients. That is why a balanced diet is essential for your gerbil all year round.

In areas that are customarily cold, a gerbil will show hibernation-like symptoms. Cold weather will naturally make them more sluggish and sleepy, which is why you need to regulate their room temperature. If they are sleeping at odd times or is not part of their sporadic sleeping schedule, it’s time for a visit to the vet.

Gerbils that sleep way too much might be sick or are getting sicker from an internal blockage. This is why you need to watch their eating habit to see if they are eating the same. If they are not active at night or during the day, this is a sign they are getting sick.

How can I reduce gerbil noise at night?

Despite their size, gerbils can make a lot of noise at night because of their nocturnal activity. Sounds such as chewing loudly might make it harder to fall asleep so some owners try all sorts of things to limit the noise, but the easiest is to place them in another room.

If you can’t move them elsewhere then you can try putting them in your closet if it is possible to get air circulation. The easiest way is to have earplugs if they are too noisy at night.

What are some good gerbil sleep accessories?

The real secret is the substrate material they use for burrowing in. This is one of the things that are the best sleep accessories. They won’t be as demanding as other pets when it comes to sleeping accessories, so sleeping blankets, socks, and tents or just an extra for you to have fun watching them while they sleep.

Related articles:

Resources and further reading:

Avatar photo
About Eddie Chevrel

Eddie Chevrel is an animal journalist and the founder of ThePetSavvy. He's very passionate about exotic pets and spends most of his free time doing research, meeting, and interviewing people working with animals. Learn more about The Pet Savvy's Editorial Process.