Image of a rabbit sleeping, moon and stars. The caption reads "do rabbits sleep with their eyes open."

Yes, rabbits can sleep with their “eyes open”, but they do not always. Rabbits have three eyelids, one being a nictitating membrane that is translucent. When rabbits are asleep this translucent eyelid is closed making it appear like the rabbit’s eyes are open but, they are actually closed.

Do rabbits sleep with their eyes open?

As stated above, rabbits do sleep with their eyes open but this really is not the norm, the reality is that there is an almost invisible eyelid that makes it look like your rabbit is sleeping with his or her eyes open. This translucent eyelid is called a nictitating membrane. Most mammals, birds, reptiles and fish have a nictitating membrane. It is extremely rare for a primate to have a nictitating membrane, so no you do not have one.

Nictitating membrane purpose

There are many reasons that animals have nictitating membranes. Imagine that you are a bird flying around all day hunting for food. The air is constantly  blowing in your eyes as you fly around. Talk about the worlds worst case of dry eyes! This is where the nictitating membrane comes into play and saves the day. The translucent, see threw membrane closes while the bird is flying to keep its eyes moist while still allowing it to see.

What about rabbits though? I am thinking most rabbits don’t fly around so what is the purpose for our furry pals? Ready… Drum roll please…

The reason rabbits have nictitating membrane is so they can keep an eye out for predators. Basically, rabbits can blink with this clear membrane to clean and moisturize their eyes while still being able to see.

Another reason they have this third eyelid is to be able to rest with their eyes closed but still be able to see quickly if they sense danger. I do not believe that rabbits can enter REM or deep sleep without all their eyelids closed though. So, if a rabbit is in deep sleep his or her eyes will be closed just like ours.

So, do rabbits really sleep with their eyes open

Not really, it just appears that way since the nictitating membrane if closed when they are resting with their “eyes open.” If you were the rabbit you would say my eyes are closed but to us, we say they are open.

How can you tell if your rabbit is sleeping?

It’s all in the nose. If a rabbit’s nose is twitching or wiggling he or she is awake. If it dead still they are asleep. Rabbits have an extremely sensitive nose made up of over 100 million scent cells on the inside. Rabbits can smell better than a dog. This is why you see so many drug sniffing rabbits being used by police departments (JOKE).

Ear position and other body positions can be an indicator of whether your pet rabbit is asleep also. If the ears are relaxed and laying down it is most likely your bunny is asleep or at least relaxed. Speaking of ears did you know that rabbits hear about as well as humans? Most people assume that they can hear much better than us since they have larger ears, but this is not true. The reason for the big ears is temperature control.

Another way you can tell if your rabbit is sleeping by body position. If your rabbit flops over and lays on his or her side they are in a very relaxed state and possibly sleeping or almost asleep.

Twitching and sleep

Does your rabbit ever start shaking or twitching while asleep? Maybe you have seen your rabbit’s feet kicking or heard your rabbit grind his or her teeth while asleep? The reason this is happening because they are asleep and dreaming. Yes, rabbits do dream!

How good can rabbits see?

The answer is a rabbits vision is excellent, way better than yours! Rabbits have a nearly 360-degree field of view around them and can also see above their heads. As you probably know rabbits are a prey animal. Literally everything is trying kill the all the time. Owls, hawks, cats, raccoons and cars are constantly hunting our furry friends down. They only have a few blind spots, one in the front of their nose and the other is behind their tail.

Rabbits sleep schedule

Here are some general guidelines that all pet rabbits as well as wild rabbits will follow under most circumstances. This schedule can help you know when to feed your rabbit.

  • Early morning – This is when rabbits start moving for the day. They will eat, play, run and dig.
  • Morning – Rabbits may continue eating but will eventually bed down somewhere and rest.
  • Noon – Rabbits are least active currently and probably in and out of deep sleep.
  • Afternoon – Most rabbits will still be sleeping at this time still. Some may get up and poop or eat a snack.
  • Evening – Rabbits start moving around, eating and pooping.
  • Night – Some rabbits will stay awake later into the night but by midnight most rabbits are not overactive.

How much do rabbits sleep?

Rabbits do not sleep like we do. Their sleep is often split up into segments rather than sleeping straight through the day. Most rabbits sleep 6 to 8 hours, but it will be split up over the 24-hour period. There is not a lot of scientific data about rabbit’s sleep cycle, so a lot of this information is from owning rabbits for many years.

More on sleep and rabbits

I have several posts about rabbits and sleep.

About the Author

My name is Vanessa and I love my buns. My current house rabbit is Mr. Bunny, he is a black and white Dutch that just turned 9 years old.

I believe that rabbits are a magnificent animal that make great pets for SOME people. My mission is to share what I have learned about rabbits over the past 20 years to improve the relationship between our pets and us. Please contact me or comment if you have any questions or comments.