It’s a common misconception that chickens sleep standing up, but this is hardly the truth.
So how do chickens sleep?
And how can you accommodate that as an owner?
We cover everything you need to know and more, so let’s get into it!
How Do Chickens Sleep? Do Chickens Sleep Standing Up?
Chickens prefer to perch off the ground and sleep on a roost; they do not sleep standing up.
Chickens fly, walk, or hop up to their roosting areas and then sit on their feet to sleep.
Cornish crosses are the exception to this rule. They are too heavy to make it onto a perch, let alone maintain their balance on such a heavy body.
Instead, they will choose to sleep on a flat but elevated surface. I always provided a few blocks of firewood for mine to sit on, and they seemed to appreciate that.
You may see a chicken standing still with its eyes closed. While this could look like a leg-locked nap, the chicken is merely resting their eyes and enjoying the sunshine. They could be relaxing, but they are not truly asleep.
Why Do Chickens Perch?
It’s a natural instinct for chickens to perch at night. Even if you get new chicks that you raise without any interaction from older hens, they will immediately seek a high place to sleep at the first opportunity they get.
If you raise your chicks in a tote, dry water tub, or large wooden brooder box, you’ll likely see them hopping up and perching on the sides as soon as they develop feathers on their wings.
Chickens are almost completely blind at night, so they cannot see potential danger very well.
They also sleep from dusk to dawn, with some chickens being heavier sleepers than others, without failure.
This makes them susceptible to several nocturnal predators, especially: foxes, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, stray dogs, owls, possums, cats (wild, feral, and domestic), weasels, wolves, and bears.
Sleeping off the ground, tucked away in a safe area, especially a dark space where they are hard to spot, makes their sleep much safer and more comfortable.
Before chicken coops, wild chickens (junglefowl) would sleep in shrubs, trees, and taller bushes.
Their feathers blended right into the foliage, and they wouldn’t move or make any sounds to alert nearby predators.
To Stay Clean
Chickens frequently drop manure throughout the night. S
Sleeping on the ground would put them in a messy position to soil themselves, or they would have to get up and move to a clean area to relieve themselves.
Sleeping off the ground allows them to sleep soundly, without moving, and while staying nice and clean.
Chickens tend to sleep in the same spot night after night too.
If they slept on the ground, they would breathe in dangerous and unhealthy toxins all night because they would be in their manure from the night before.
Mites and other harmful insects are much more likely to be on the ground too, which is why it’s so important chickens roost rather than lay on the coop floor.
When Do Chickens Sleep?
Chickens will sleep from dusk until dawn, no matter what the season.
Like humans, they are naturally inclined to sleep more during the winter and much less in the summer.
Living in northern Montana, my hens will sleep nearly sixteen hours a day in the winter, thanks to our long, cold nights and dark, cloudy winter days.
On some coldest and darkest days near the winter solstice, a few of my older hens would practically live on their perches.
They would only come down to eat and drink before snuggling up for more sleep.
In the summer, on the other hand, they only sleep about seven to seven and a half hours at night.
Almost all chickens sleep through the night, and as long as no loud noises or intruders bother them, they should not make any noises or get down from their roosts until morning.
Older chickens may randomly take a nap or two during the day if they feel secure enough. As chickens age, they need more sleep.
Where Do Chickens Want To Sleep?
Chickens want to sleep in an elevated space where they are off the ground and feel safe from predators.
While most are happy with the chicken coop, a few may wander to new spaces.
Chickens at the bottom of the pecking order may want to avoid sleeping with the rest of the flock, especially if the other chickens are aggressive.
Heavy chickens may not feel capable or comfortable sleeping on a rod or perch.
Flying up to their roosting spot could be difficult, or it could be too painful for them to hop down in the mornings.
Heavy breeds like Wyandottes and Orpingtons are prone to sore or broken feet from jumping off their perches.
Of course, Cornish Rock Crosses (rapidly growing meat birds) cannot access perch bars at all.
Just because a chicken can’t sit on a proper roost doesn’t mean they don’t want to be elevated to sleep.
Consider building a ramp for chickens to climb up and down or providing a few upturned pieces of firewood or cinder blocks for the chickens to sleep on.
In the past, I have used metal grills intended for barbecue grills as roosting areas for extra heavy chickens.
I set them on two cinderblocks, only six to eight inches off the ground.
I had one senior hen who was a pet (safe from the cookpot) who slept here.
My sweet, gentle giant Cornish crosses would also sleep on these grills, which I found comically ironic.
Mama hens who are broody or with chicks will also sleep on the ground or on your lowest perches available.
I set up perches eight inches off the ground.
Still, they usually ended up on a large piece of upturned firewood, snuggled up under their doting mother.
How Long Do Chickens Sleep?
Chickens will sleep for as long as it is dark.
Most of the time, they sleep completely uninterrupted from dusk until dawn, no matter how short or long the natural night lasts.
How To Set Up a Perch for Your Chickens
Pick a Good Section of the Coop
First, choose an area of your coop that will be unproblematic for droppings to land.
Do not set roosting bars over food or water sources.
Also, avoid putting nesting boxes in areas where you will walk (definitely don’t attach perches over your entry person-sized door).
Ensure Enough Space
Next, make sure you have adequate room for your intended number of chickens (more on this in just a moment). Some sections of your coop may allow for more space than others.
Stagger Perches (If Needed)
If you plan to have levels of roosting bars, do not set them up in a perfectly vertical line. The lowest bars should be the longest (if in a corner) and protrude the most. Each subsequent bar after that should recess inwards, closer to the wall, and higher and closer to the ceiling. Doing this will make it much more difficult for your chickens perched up higher to dirty the chickens below.
Usually, the chickens with the highest-ranked pecking order will sleep at the top, while the chickens low on the totem pole will sleep at the bottom.
Use Appropriate Materials
Wooden dowel rods, natural branches, tobacco sticks, and two-by-four boards are good ideas because they are easy for the bird to grip.
They are not nearly as brutal on tender feet in the heat of summer or cold of winter (like metal).
Rubber poles can work well. So can grippy plastics.
Don’t use metal or slick plastic because they are difficult for chickens to grip, which can lead to bumblefoot. Sand down the wooden perches because those painful splinters can also cause bumblefoot.
I even added a few short two-by-four boards on the interior sides of the coop so my older chickens, who are usually my children’s pets, would have an elevated and comfortable spot to sleep.
They need to be cleaned more frequently, but it’s worth the effort to me, so they have a good quality of life.
Prepare for Droppings
If you want to make cleanups easier, consider putting something underneath the perches to make it quicker and easier for you to clean up after your flock.
Some people lay down tarps and wash them regularly.
Others toss down straw or wood shavings and replace the medium often.
And other brilliant people keep a sandbox beneath the perches so they can effortlessly pick through the sand like a giant litterbox.
I have not used sand before, but it’s on my to-do list.
Use Perches That Are Thick Enough
Chicken coop roosts should be at least two to five inches in diameter.
Not only do thicker perches support more birds with smaller risks of snapping, but this is a relief for the chickens not to have to grip the bar so tightly to stay upright.
Thicker roosts are also warmer because they can settle down on their feet to warm them while they sleep.
How Much Space Do Chickens Need To Perch?
Every chicken should have about ten inches of space on the perch. Wyandottes may need a foot of space each, while bantams only require six inches.
Giving even more space is a good idea if you have exceptionally aggressive or shy chickens in your flock.
This makes sure that your lowest-ranked birds still have a safe, bully-free zone to get much-needed sleep.
Pecked-over chickens will eventually stop sleeping in the coop if they feel unsafe, making them a target for predators (or freezing to death in winter).
One of my favorite flock observations is the difference in free perch space between summer and winter.
In the summer, every inch of the wooden bar seems completely necessary.
The chickens space out and leave gaps in between themselves.
In the wintertime, they all compress together in a huddle to warm up, and it looks like the coop is only at half capacity.
Help, My Chicken Is Sleeping On The Ground
If you see your chicken sleeping on the ground, it could be OK or a sign of an issue. Here’s how to tell the difference between the two.
Uncomfortable chickens may sleep on the ground, especially inside impressions on the cool earth, to cool themselves off faster.
Don’t panic if you see a chicken stretched out while sleeping on the ground when it’s hot. They’re just trying to cool off for comfort.
Usually, you’ll see this during the day rather than at night.
Usually, it is cooler for chickens to sit atop a perch with slightly outstretched wings to cool off a bit faster.
If a chicken is being pecked over by their flockmates, it may sleep on the ground to avoid confrontation.
Other birds may even intentionally knock him or her down.
If this is the case, set up more perches, so the lowest-ranked birds are guaranteed places to sleep.
Inaccessible perches may be difficult to grip, too high to fly up to, or too high to safely hop down.
They could also not have enough space or be too filthy for the chicken to feel comfortable sleeping there.
Heavy birds may not be able to hop or fly to the perch or are too heavy to be balanced on the bar.
Even though it is natural for all chickens to desire to sleep at higher elevations, not all will know how to do this or reach the sleeping spot.
Gently set them in place on the roost if you think they do not know better.
If they can’t fly to it, make a ramp, or bring the perches down lower.
Illness or Injury
If a chicken isn’t feeling well, it may be doing the chicken equivalent of sleeping on the couch rather than trekking upstairs to its bed.
Here are five common chicken diseases, plus how to treat them.
Final Thoughts About Chickens Sleeping Standing Up
Now that we know that chickens don’t sleep standing up, we can better understand and accommodate their chicken coops to suit them.
We also know why chickens roost, when they sleep, why they perch, where they want to sleep, how to set up an appropriate roost, and how to tell if a chicken is doing well.
I hope you found this helpful!