If you’re a hamster owner, you may have noticed that your pet seems to be missing most of the day, presumably hidden somewhere inside its cage under piles of bedding material.
If you’ve only purchased your hamster just recently, you’re probably wondering why your pet acts this way. But no worries, we’re here to fill you in on what you need to know. To give you a heads up, your hammy is probably in his sleep!
Wild Hamster Sleeping Patterns
A hamster in the wild is a small crepuscular rodent, which means that it sleeps during the day when most predators are on the prowl and the sun is covering everything with a thick blanket of heat. It awakens shortly before sundown when the temperature has cooled down significantly and leaves its burrow to gather food and hunt.
It moves silently and quickly, eating what small amounts of food it can find and storing the rest in its cheek pouch to bring back home.
What’s on the menu? Grain, seeds, any edible plants, vegetables, and fruits that it can lay its paws on. If it comes across a lone cricket or another small insect on the path, it might just help itself to a quick mouthful of protein. This is because hamsters are omnivorous, which means they can eat both plant-based foods and meat.
Once its foray into the wilderness is complete, the hamster will return to the burrow and take a nap or have a bite from its food storage. Shortly prior to sunrise, it will leave the den and repeat the activity once again.
How long do hamsters sleep? In the wild, probably somewhere around 8 – 12 hours a day.
Captive Hamster Sleeping Patterns
Now that you have learned how hamsters in the wild have learned to sleep in the day and come out at twilight, let’s take a look at hamsters in captivity.
Even though they are no longer in their natural habitat and need not fear the sun or wild predators, their instincts still take control of their actions. This is the reason why they’ll attempt to hide in their cages and sleep during the daytime and suddenly reappear in the evenings.
Since they no longer have to leave their home for long periods of time to eat and search for food, hamsters in captivity end up being more nocturnal than crepuscular. This means that they will still become active around dusk but they may stay active all night long until morning. Since they have a lot of extra time on their hands at night, they put it to good use by exercising.
Certain species of hamsters can tend to be active to a limited extent during the daytime while in captivity. These include the Syrian, Winter White Dwarf, and Campbell’s Dwarf.
A pet hamster sleeps lightly and is easily awakened by loud noises. This response may be due to instincts learned in the wild where it would have always needed to stay alert to any threats of danger. When disturbed during sleep, some hamsters such as Syrians can become quite agitated and upset.
It can’t see very well during the day and when it’s startled from its sleep, it immediately thinks that it is being attacked. This could activate a defense mechanism that results in attempts by the hamster to attack or bite its owner.
If you observe your hamster sleeping a lot in the daytime, be aware that this is completely normal behavior and the animal should be left to its devices.
Hamsters are very independent and will only sleep in a bed of their own construction. Attempting to build a bed for them usually ends up with them ignoring it. Instead, provide the hamster with construction materials and it’ll build a sleeping nest by itself.
Some materials that you can put in its tank are ripped-up pieces of paper, cardboard, hay, or wood chips (not pine or cedar). It’ll use whatever it can find lying around to build a comfortable place to hide and sleep.
It is very important to keep a hamster’s sleeping area clean. It often brings food and defecates in its bed, so replacing the bedding at periodic intervals is recommended. However, be careful not to disturb the area too much.
Hamsters get used to the scent of their sleeping area, so try to remove a little bit of the bedding at a time and not all at once. This will eventually allow you to provide fresh bedding while the hamster doesn’t lose familiarity.
When the weather becomes cool past a given temperature, certain behavior is triggered in hamsters that cause them to enter “hibernation mode”. While they are not actually sleeping, at first glance it may look like they are asleep or even dead.
That’s because a hamster will decrease its activity and slow its breathing to the point that not the slightest movement can be detected. According to the ASPCA, the best temperatures for hamsters are between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
This hibernation behavior is called “torpor”. Hamsters can go for long periods of time in this state without eating food. If you notice your hamster exhibiting this, check the room temperature and turn off the air conditioning or open a window.