Every living animal needs sleeping to replenish energy for the next day it awakes, including your chickens. But, sleep means exposing yourself to threats. Your chickens can be dinners for predators that hunt at night.
That’s why some birds sleep slightly differently compared to humans. You will notice that a chicken looks like it is taking a nap but having 1 open eye. Do chickens sleep with their eyes open?
Do chickens sleep with their eyes open?
Chickens can sleep with one of their eyes open and the other one closed. While in this form of sleep, only half of the brain is resting, the other one is awake to alert for predators.
Just like human brains, a chicken’s brain has 2 hemispheres, with each of them being attached to the opposite eyes, the left hemisphere is attached to the right eye and the right hemisphere is attached to the left eye.
With one side of the brain being active, the chicken has the ability to be asleep and awake at the same time.
Keep in mind that the chickens won’t necessarily sleep with 1 eye opened every time. They can still sleep with both of their eyes closed at night since chickens can’t see very well in the dark.
Unihemispheric sleep is a behavior in birds where one of the brain’s hemispheres is awake, while the other is sleeping.
The active hemisphere will be associated with an opened eye; the resting hemisphere will experience slow-wave sleep and is associated with a closed eye.
Compared to sleeping with one eye opened, sleeping with both eyes closed is associated with rapid eye movement sleep and bihemispheric slow-wave sleep.
For baby chicks, those coming from eggs incubated in the light will usually sleep with their right eye opened, while those coming from eggs incubated in the dark will usually sleep with their left eye opened (source).
Therefore, unequal light stimulation in the egg’s embryo can direct whether the chicken sleeps with the right or left eye opened after the egg is hatched.
You may also like: What time do chickens sleep?
How do chickens sleep?
On a perch
The perch is where the chickens naturally want to sleep; it is also where you will want your chickens to sleep most of the time. The type of perch being the most suitable for the chickens can vary from breed to breed.
Chickens are safer when they are above the ground away from predators. They can rest on an actual branch of a tree or even a 2 x 4 piece of lumber with the wide side facing up and high above the ground.
So why is sleeping on a perch ideal for chickens?
- To avoid waste
Chickens usually pass lots of food that they got during the daytime when they sleep at night. This waste will fall away from the chickens when they are in the air while sleeping.
On the other hand, if the chickens are on the ground or in a nesting box, the waste can potentially stick to the chickens’ bodies and cause health problems.
- To avoid predators
Chickens have very poor vision when they are in the dark, so they will be completely defenseless unless they hide somewhere or in this case, staying up on the perch out of the reach of predators.
In a ball
You can also find chickens curling up in a ball while sleeping. Baby chickens do this instinctively and press up against their sibling hatchings most of the time.
This is fine for those baby chicks since it is the most ideal way to sleep when they haven’t fully developed feathers to keep themselves warm. In this case, staying warm is more important than leaving waste.
These are the situations where it is okay for adult chickens to sleep in a ball, on a surface:
- Nesting hens
Nesting hens want to be cozy on a nest more than being up high on a perch. This provides heat for baby chickens, protects, and nurtures the chicks as well.
Just like many other animals, baby chickens need the care and love from their mother; they depend on their mother to find food and water. So it is necessary for the hens to form bonds with the baby chicks
- Meat-producing chickens
The meat-producing chickens should never get up on a perch since they are physically incapable of landing without getting hurt. Only a short hop from a roughly 12-inch high perch can render your chickens’ legs broken.
How do get the chickens to use the perch?
Put them on the perch
You should put your chickens on the perch daily when they are about to sleep. If they jump off, just put them back up. The chickens may take some time to get used to this position.
Get an ideal perch
In order for the chickens to sleep on the perch, they need to stay there firmly. Small chicks will have trouble staying on a large roost since they can’t properly hook their claws onto the wood.
Make sure that the roosts’ size is suitable for your chickens so they have a good grip while on the perch. The last thing you want is your chickens slipping off while they are in deep sleep.
So, do chickens sleep with their eyes open? Chickens can sleep with 1 eye opened. While in this sleeping form only one of their brains’ hemispheres is active.
This ability to be asleep and awake at the same time is known as unihemispheric sleep, where 1 hemisphere will experience slow-wave sleep and the other remain active to alert for predators.
The asymmetrical stimulation of light onto the embryo, while the eggs are being incubated, can determine whether the chickens after hatching will sleep with the right or left eye opened.