Do Betta Fish Sleep?

Updated December 13, 2018

Have you ever wondered if betta fish sleep? This is not a silly question, and many betta enthusiasts have asked at one point or another. In fact, the answer about betta fish sleeping may actually surprise you.

All Fish Need Sleep

Fish may not tuck themselves into bed at night, but they all sleep at one point or another. Fish that are primarily active at night sleep during the day. Fish like bettas that are mainly active during the day do most of their sleeping at night.

What Does a Sleeping Betta Fish Look Like?

The question still remains whether bettas experience sleep in exactly the same way that people do. After all, they can't close their eyes because they have no lids. So it's not immediately apparent what they are up to. Do they fully lose consciousness as people do? Perhaps not since they are very territorial and on constant guard against interlopers even if they are the only fish in their tanks. Still, they do appear to take time out to rest, and this is the equivalent of sleep for humans.

How to Tell When Your Betta Is Sleeping

Now that you know those beautiful bettas (and all fish) actually do sleep, you may wonder how to tell when they're doing it. You can assume a betta will take the opportunity to get some real rest anytime his environment goes dark. This typically happens when you shut off his tank light for the evening. After a short time, he'll find a comfortable spot to rest and basically become inactive for a while until something startles him or the light returns.

Bettas May Take Short Daytime Naps

Bettas sometimes take short naps during the day. If you've ever noticed your pet lying on the bottom of his tank doing nothing in particular, he could be asleep. In other cases, your fish may hang motionless at the top of his tank while he rests. Some people panic when they find their betta in either state because they think their pet has died, and indeed, there is not a lot of difference in the way a sleeping betta and a dead betta look. Thankfully, the fish is simply asleep in most instances.

Bettas also take infrequent naps during the day. You may notice your fish resting at the base of a plant, or perhaps he's even resting amongst the leaves. Bettas like to find a secure place to rest when they can, so they'll scout out spots beneath or inside tank ornaments, behind filters and anyplace else that makes them feel safe from harm. You can create ideal sleeping spots by adding a bushy plant, either a real or a soft, artificial aquarium plant, or by leaning a piece of shale against the side of the tank.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Sleeping and a Dead Betta Fish

Since sleeping bettas can float at the top of a tank or lay on the bottom, it's easy to mistake a sleeping fish for one that has died. There are a few clear indications that your fish is near death, or that he is now dead if you have seen these signs and he doesn't move on his own anymore.

  • If he has recently seemed lethargic, remaining on the bottom of his tank without moving, or in a hiding spot, for days.
  • If you notice him swimming oddly as if he is off balance.
  • If his coloring seems less vibrant than usual.
  • If his eyes seem overly big and as if they're moving out of the body, which is called "popeye."
  • If his fins look ragged and unhealthy, or pressed against their bodies rather than spread out and flowing.
  • If his fins appear discolored with white spots around his body or if they appear to have shiny, metallic spots that are easier to see with a flashlight.
  • If his scales seemed to be raised and pointing away from his body, and his belly is swollen so that he has the appearance of a pine cone from above.
  • If he shows no interest in food.

If you have noticed any of these signs over the past few days or weeks, and your betta is now motionless, you can tell that he has died from all of these signs together:

  • He does not appear to be breathing when you check out his gills and his mouth. The easiest way to do this is to use a fish net to take him out. If he makes no movement away from the net and is motionless and is not breathing, this is a likely sign he is dead.
  • He is lying at the bottom of the tank either on his side or with his back end floating slightly upwards while his head is against the bottom of the cage or in the substrate. Or, if he is not lying on the bottom of the tank, but is floating on the surface on his side.
  • His color looks faded and his eyes look dull.

Betta Water Shock

If your betta fish has shown none of the signs of illness and suddenly appears dead, you may want to check the temperature of the water in your tank first. Bettas in colder water or water that needs to be treated for ammonia and other chemicals can go into physical shock and they can appear lethargic. Sometimes they can even appear as if they are dead and floating with a dull color, but in fact, they are not. If you suspect your betta is in water shock:

  1. Test your water temperature which should be at least 74 degrees and preferably between 78 and 82 degrees.
  2. If your water is below 74 degrees Fahrenheit, use a tank heater to bring the temperature up to the correct level.
  3. Observe your betta after the water is warm enough for him. If he continues to float and is not moving, he is likely dead. If he appears to be regaining his color and eventually moves, then he may have gone into shock and is recovering now that his water is warmer.

Let Your Fish Have His Rest

It's important for all living creatures to rest, so resist the urge to tap on your betta's tank to check if he's still alive when you find him lying still someplace. Chances are good he's only sleeping, and he'll wake up shortly and begin exploring his environment all over again.

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Do Betta Fish Sleep?