How Gorillas Sleep. Exploring the Sleeping Habits of Gorillas

Gorillas, these magnificent creatures that share about 98% of our DNA, have long fascinated researchers and nature enthusiasts alike.

From the pictures and videos, you can clearly see a resemblance to humans but this is nothing compared to when you actually see them with your own eyes - in close proximity. Standing a few feet from a group of gorillas, seeing the emotion in their eyes, hearing their grunts (and the occasional fart), so many questions come to mind. 

Questions about what they like to eat, what they do all day, and how they sleep for rest.

In this article, we'll dig deep into how gorillas sleep and the vital implications of a good night's sleep for gorillas.

gorilla mother and baby

How Gorillas Sleep

Gorillas sleep for about 13 to 15 hours per day, much like humans. They construct new nests nightly out of leaves and branches, ensuring comfort, and safety from predators as well as maintaining hygiene.

In the afternoon, before sundown, the dominant silverback of the gorilla family leads the rest of the group to a final eating location where the gorillas will also sleep for the night. Their sleeping nest are built early when they have monitored that there is no danger in the area.

Mothers with infants will make a nest to fit them and their infants while every other gorilla will make their own sleeping nests out of leaves and shrubbery. 

During sleep, gorillas exhibit human-like behaviours, including snoring and shifting positions. These intricate rituals emphasize their intelligence and social nature. 

Gorilla Sleep Patterns

Gorillas, much like humans, have distinct sleep patterns. Unlike us, however, gorillas tend to sleep for around 13 to 15 hours per day. This extended rest period is essential for their physical well-being and mental acuity.

Gorillas experience different sleep stages, including REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM sleep, which are crucial for their overall health.

Sleeping gorilla

Sleeping Nests and Behaviors

Gorillas exhibit interesting behaviours related to sleep. Each night, they construct new nests out of leaves and branches. This nightly ritual serves several purposes, primarily ensuring safety from predators and maintaining hygiene.

These nests are carefully crafted, highlighting the gorillas’ intelligence and resourcefulness.

While sleeping, gorillas, like us, may snore and shift positions, indicating their similarities with human sleep behaviours. It is also likely that some gorillas are light sleepers with others being deep sleepers - again, just like us.

Threats to Gorilla Sleep

There are numerous threats to good sleep for gorillas. Unfortunately, most of these are human-driven factors. Habitat loss especially through deforestation leads to increased stress levels, which is not good for sleep and rest.

Additionally, tourism, while offering economic and conservation benefits, often intrudes on gorilla territories, causing disruptions in their natural way of life.

Such disturbances can lead to heightened anxiety, affecting their sleep quality and well-being. This is why gorilla tourism is a carefully implemented activity with more rules than most wildlife engagements.

tracking gorillas in the jungle

Gorilla Sleep and Primate Research

The study of gorilla sleep provides valuable insights into primate cognition and behaviour. Observing their sleep patterns helps researchers understand the complexities of primate minds, offering glimpses into the emotional and social aspects of their lives.

Furthermore, research on gorilla sleep contributes significantly to the broader field of sleep science, providing comparative data that enhances our comprehension of sleep across various species, including humans.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why do gorillas build new nests each night?

Gorillas build new nests primarily for safety and hygiene. Making fresh sleeping nests every day ensures that they are protected from predators and parasites, maintaining a clean and secure sleeping environment.

Given that gorillas don't have toilets, staying in the same place would increase their risk of contracting diseases.

2. Do gorillas dream?

While the exact nature of gorilla dreams remains a mystery, their brain structures suggest the potential for dreaming.

Similar to humans, gorillas experience REM sleep, a phase associated with vivid dreaming in humans. This similarity implies that gorillas might indeed have dreams, although there is no definitive proof.

But here is something worth pondering, what kinds of dreams do you suppose gorillas would have? Keep in mind they don't have the same fears, egos and desires as humans.

3. Can gorillas suffer from sleep disorders?

Like all the other animals, gorillas can experience sleep disorders. Stress, disturbances, or illnesses can disrupt their sleep, leading to some sleep-related problems.

Researchers study these disorders to enhance our understanding of primate well-being and develop conservation strategies to mitigate such issues.

In the wild, these are much harder to study but long-term studies have been able to determine some things that stress gorillas and disrupt their normal life.

This is why it takes a long time to habituate gorillas and a limited number of people are allowed to see them for a limited time (1 hour) each day. Bigger groups or longer periods with gorillas would disrupt their natural life.

4. How do gorillas communicate during sleep?

Gorillas communicate non-verbally even during sleep. Subtle gestures, movements, and sounds convey information to other members of their group. These non-verbal cues help maintain social bonds and group cohesion, even in their sleep.

This is the same as humans do.

Final Thoughts

In the same way, sleep is a very important part of our natural human activity, gorillas do need their sleep. By looking deep into gorillas and their sleep, we get to appreciate the delicate balance of life in their natural home.

From the construction of nightly sleeping nests, the impact of human disruptions and the possibility of them dreaming as humans do, gorilla sleep is both a clever and interesting natural activity.

Understanding how gorillas sleep gives an informed insight into much of the conservation work and how it directly influences the tourism of gorillas and other primates. Now you know why a limited number of people is allowed each day - and for a limited time.

With this knowledge, you can contribute towards their conservation and continued research through tourism or directly working with the people doing conservation and research.

Related articles