For last week’s EleFACT Friday, we talked about the hearts of elephants, and we mentioned that their heart rates actually speed up when they are lying down and resting. This week, we want to talk about the common falsehood that elephants cannot lie down for long periods of time, like when they want to sleep. While it’s true that elephants in the wild get significantly less sleep compared to the elephants who are in our sanctuary, it’s not because their weight prevents them from lying down or causes them harm when they sleep. It’s simply because an elephant like Maia doesn’t need to be on guard, aware of dangers, searching for food, or constantly on the move like an elephant in the wild would be.
Elephants can sleep both lying down and standing up. Research has shown that elephants in the wild are more likely to sleep standing up, saving them the energy and time it would take to pick themselves up off the ground. Mammals lose tone in their skeletal muscles during REM sleep, so for an elephant not in the wild to experience a deeper, REM sleep, it would need to lie down. Elephant legs are in almost complete vertical position under their body, like the legs on a table, which provides incredible support. For elephants who sleep standing up, these strong legs help prevent the risk of buckling.
At Elephant Sanctuary Brazil, Maia is the only elephant who naps so hard that you could approach her without waking her.
Video below shows her enjoying one of those serious, muddy naps