Elephants don’t have nests, dens or any other kind of ‘home’ and therefore have no designated place to rest, instead they will sleep wherever they happen to be, assuming there is room for them to settle and it is safe to do so.
Whilst elephants do sometimes lie down to sleep, they will also snooze on their feet, resting on trees, rocks or each other to steady themselves for short naps.
Elephants do not sleep for very long, in captivity they might sleep for up to 6 hours a day but in the wild African elephants only sleep 2 hours a day at most, sometimes going for several days without sleeping at all. Most of this time is broken up into smaller naps of 30 – 60 minutes and elephants will sleep both at night and during the day.
This is largely thought to be due to elephant’s sheer size. Bigger mammals generally sleep less than smaller mammals, so it makes sense that elephants, the largest of all land mammals, sleep very little.
Another reason elephants spend so much of their day awake is food. Elephants need to eat a lot of food each day to survive and as much of their diet has low calorie density they spend much of their waking time finding food and eating. This is one of the main reasons elephants in captivity sleep up to three times as much as their wild counterparts, because there is less pressure on them to find food. Captive elephants are provided higher quality foods by their keepers and don’t have to travel to find food either.
It has also been observed that wild elephants sleep patterns can change dramatically based on human intervention. Elephants are normally diurnal in the wild, they sleep at night and are active during the day. However when living near humans elephants can turn nocturnal, meaning they sleep during the day and are awake at night, to minimise contact and potential conflict with humans.