Are Hamsters Nocturnal Or Diurnal? Their Sleep Behavior Explained

Written by Janet F. Murray
Published: November 3, 2022
© Alexruss/Shutterstock.com
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Hamsters are trendy caged pets and are often the first pets parents buy for their children. If you are interested in getting a hamster, you should learn as much as possible about this tiny rodent, including its sleeping patterns. Hamsters sleep six to eight hours daily and are fluffy and adorable but are they nocturnal or diurnal? This article explores the sleep behavior of hamsters and discusses whether hamsters are nocturnal or diurnal.

Pet Hamsters Are Nocturnal

Hamster with the lifted paw on a white background.
Wild hamsters are crepuscular, but pet hamsters become nocturnal to adapt to their domestic environment.

©Elya Vatel/Shutterstock.com

Hamsters are nocturnal animals, so they are inactive during the light-dark cycle. These tiny rodents spend a significant portion of their time sleeping (approximately 41%), and the amount of time spent sleeping lengthens with age. Hamsters sleep six to eight hours daily, depending on their breed. If you startle these nocturnal creatures, they may behave aggressively toward you and their cage mates. When awake at night, they exercise, forage, and eat. 

Pet hamsters are nocturnal because their owners are likely active during the day, which triggers their instincts. Their instincts tell them to avoid movement as they would avoid diurnal predators. But some hamsters do not mind human activity and demonstrate diurnal behavior. However, hamsters are typically crepuscular in the wild and more active during dusk and dawn. 

Why Are Wild Hamsters Crepuscular?

Wild hamsters have a more flexible schedule and are crepuscular creatures. Being crepuscular means they are active in the light at sunrise and sunset. This time is when the light is more comfortable for their sensitive eyes, and the temperature is more acceptable for energetic activity. In the wild, hamsters are prey and have evolved to align their behavior to avoid predators. Because of this evolution, they come out of their shelters primarily at dawn and dusk, as their main predators are diurnal.

Another reason for being crepuscular is that most hamsters come from desert areas and cannot tolerate extreme heat. Neither can they withstand frigid temperatures. So, hamsters are most comfortable in a temperature range of 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit, which is usually around sunset and sunrise. Consequently, being active during twilight is an evolutionary advantage that promotes their well-being and survival in harsh conditions.

Some Hamsters Are Diurnal Rather Than Nocturnal

Some hamsters are active during the day. This activity is infrequent, but it can happen. Depending on the hamster’s personality, it may come out and explore during the day if it feels safe in the area. They may also be active during daylight hours because of noise in their environment, including human activity and moving their cage if they are pets. Similarly, wild hamsters will move around during the daytime if circumstances warrant this behavior change.

Hamsters Experience Nocturnal REM Sleep

Humans spend up to 25% of their sleep time in the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep stage. Studies show that hamsters also experience REM sleep and enter this stage for about the same percentage of the time. The REM phase is well known as part of sleep when humans dream, but despite research, it’s unknown whether hamsters dream like people. However, you may see your hamster slightly twitching its legs or eyes during sleep. Many people think this is a sign of dreaming or other brain activity. Don’t worry if you see these movements while your hamster sleeps, as it is quite normal.

Hamsters Use Their Whiskers To Navigate at Night

The unique placement of the nose whiskers gives the hamster exquisite sensory information about their surroundings. Whisker deflection initiates sequential activity in the trigeminal ganglion, trigeminal brainstem, somatosensory thalamus, and primary somatosensory neocortex. Each whisker’s neocortical representation is recognizable by its anatomically defined “barrel.” This fancy science means that your hamster’s sense of smell is highly developed for moving around at night and avoiding obstacles and predators.

How To Ensure Pet Hamsters Sleep Well

Provide comfortable, subdued lighting in the room during the day, so they are not disturbed. They are not as sensitive to noise as guinea pigs, but you must dim the lights for them when resting. This sensitivity is why they prefer a dark, covered area to sleep. Do not leave the lights on during the day; close the blinds so they can rest in dark spaces.

A good diet is a healthy way to help your hamster sleep better. As long as they eat a balanced diet and have a good selection of treats, they will have fewer sleep problems. Hamsters are curious animals, so build a maze or add a hamster tunnel in their environment for mental stimulation. You could also add tubes for them to explore where they can exercise and expend their energy. You can even put the hamster in a hamster ball and let it roam around the house.

Where Do Pet Nocturnal Hamsters Sleep?

Syrian Hamster eating a carrot on building blocks..
Because pet hamsters are nocturnal, you should provide dark spaces in their cages for sleeping.

©stock_shot/Shutterstock.com

  • Hut

A hut is any structure with a cover. You could use a half coconut shell with an entrance door like an igloo. If you have an empty tissue box, you can cut a hole in the side to make a nice shed for them. Remove the plastic wrap on the box to prevent harming your nocturnal pet hamster.

  • House

You can build a house out of edible wood or a child’s shoe box. Do not place plastic items in your hamster’s cage, as they may chew or swallow this substance. Wood and ceramic are good choices because they last longer, and an empty cardboard food container works well if you’re on a tight budget.

  • A Toilet Paper Tube

Your hamster will love these leftover toilet paper rolls to play with and rest. They can chew them, too, providing one more benefit for your pet.

  • Fleece Sock

Fleece socks are another great medium for nocturnal hamster resting places. Aside from these socks being cozy, they are also soft and can simulate a den. Be sure to clean these socks at least once a week.

  • Under A Fleece Blanket

A small fleece blanket is a fun hideaway that can easily become a safe, comfortable place to sleep. Your nocturnal pet can crumple it up to create a corner to crawl into, making for a wonderful hamster den. Again, you should wash blankets at least once a week to maintain good hygiene.

Sometimes Nocturnal Hamsters Sleep More Than Usual

Hamsters sleep for extended periods for several reasons, but these are not always because of health problems. Extended sleep behavior could simply be due to a sub-optimum room temperature. If the room is too warm or cold, your nocturnal hamster will react and seek a cooler or more hospitable place to rest.

Hamsters can sleep up to 10 hours on a typical day, which could also be related to their age, especially if the hamster is young. If your adult hamster is doing this, something may be wrong. If you notice a change in your pet’s sleeping patterns, take it to a vet for an examination. Sleeping more than 10 hours a day can be a sign of malnutrition. They may also have ingested something that causes them to behave this way, so it is better, for their health, to seek professional advice.

Nocturnal Hamsters May Hibernate

teddy bear hamsters in cozy hole
Most hamsters sleep for six to eight hours daily.

©Happy monkey/Shutterstock.com

Hamsters hibernate when the temperature drops. This change means that the ambient temperature must be below 65 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 24 hours to initiate hibernation. Both Syrian and Dwarf hamsters can hibernate. When hamsters go into hibernation, their breathing and heart rate slow down, and they appear unconscious or dead. A closer look at a hibernating hamster reveals short, irregular breathing and limpness when you lift them. Their feet, ears, and nose also feel very cold. Hamsters cannot wake up and drink water during hibernation and become dehydrated.

Domesticated hamsters have a more stable habitat than wild hamsters, so dehydration is less likely. But when temperatures drop rapidly or below 65 degrees, a hamster’s natural reaction is to hibernate to save energy. Hibernation slows your hamster’s heart rate, conserves energy, and helps it better handle unsuitable weather. As a hamster owner, you don’t want your hamster to hibernate because it can quickly die from the cold or dehydration.

Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference?

Navigate to Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference? for further information about the nocturnal and diurnal phenomenon in various living creatures.

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The Featured Image

A brown and white Syrian hamster on the sand.
A brown and white Syrian hamster on the sand.
© Alexruss/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with more than eight years of content creation experience. My content writing covers diverse genres, and I have a business degree. I am also the proud author of my memoir, My Sub-Lyme Life. This work details the effects of living with undiagnosed infections like rickettsia (like Lyme). By sharing this story, I wish to give others hope and courage in overcoming their life challenges. In my downtime, I value spending time with friends and family.

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