How Do Tiger Sharks Sleep: Sleeping Habit & Patterns

Tiger sharks are one of the largest predatory sharks in the world’s oceans. Reaching lengths over 16 feet and weighing over 1,400 pounds, these formidable hunters are rightfully feared by other animals. Known for having unique black stripes down their sides and an aggressive demeanor, tiger sharks have a reputation as voracious predators.

This raises interesting questions about how tiger sharks sleep and rest given their large size and violent disposition. Do these dangerous sharks ever fully relax enough to sleep deeply? Or are they constantly alert and ready to spring into action at the first sign of prey or a threat?

Given that many sharks need to swim constantly to breathe, how exactly do tiger sharks settle down to rest? Examining how one of the ocean’s top predators sleeps provides a fascinating glimpse into their behavior and biology. This article will provide answers to these questions dutifully. Read up!

tiger shark

Do Sharks Sleep?

Sharks do sleep, but not in the same way as humans. Unlike humans, sharks lack eyelids and a swim bladder, so they are unable to stop moving and float in place. Sharks must keep water flowing over their gills to breathe.

As a result, sharks have evolved the ability to sleep while continuously swimming. They can rest one hemisphere of their brain at a time, keeping the opposite side awake to control swimming and normal bodily functions. This is known as unihemispheric sleep.

So while sharks do rest and enter periods of low activity, they are never fully asleep in the same way humans are. Their continuous need to swim and pass water over their gills means they exhibit a unique form of sleep.

How Do Tiger Sharks Sleep

Tiger sharks have a very unique sleeping pattern compared to humans and many other animals. They exhibit a behavior known as unihemispheric sleep, which means they put one half of their brain to sleep at a time while the other half remains awake and alert.

This is an adaptation that allows tiger sharks to continue swimming, breathing, and monitoring their surroundings while getting rest. Their eyes may be open but only half of the brain is in a sleep state. Then they alternate, resting one hemisphere while waking the other.

Research shows that young tiger sharks alternate their sleeping hemispheres much more frequently, sometimes every minute or less. As they grow older, their hemisphere-switching slows down to cycles of a couple of hours at a time.

Unihemispheric sleep allows tiger sharks to sleep while minimizing threats to their survival. They can detect predators, changes in water chemistry, or the electrical signals of potential prey all while getting the rest their bodies require. This ability to constantly monitor their environment in a half-awake state provides a key evolutionary advantage for these powerful apex predators.

Sleep Swimming

Tiger sharks sleep and swim continuously to breathe and prevent sinking. They swim slowly in circles or a straight line while half asleep. This allows them to maintain a constant flow of oxygenated water over their gills while resting different parts of their brain and body.

Since sharks have no swim bladder to control their buoyancy, they must keep moving forward to stay afloat. If a tiger shark stopped swimming completely while asleep, it would sink into the depths.

Sleep swimming may look like aimless wandering to an outside observer, but it serves an essential purpose. The pattern and speed vary based on the individual shark and its need for rest. Sometimes the motion is minimal, just enough to avoid sinking. Other times a sleeping tiger shark might swim in wide sweeping circles as different sides of its brain power down.

Duration of Sleep

Tiger sharks are believed to sleep for 8-9 hours per day on average. They exhibit a fascinating sleep behavior called “sleep swimming,” where they keep swimming forward continuously while resting half their brain at a time.

One half of the tiger shark’s brain stays awake while the other half sleeps. This allows the awake half to be conscious enough to keep swimming and avoid predators or obstacles, while the sleeping half gets the rest it needs. After a few hours, the rested half will wake up and the other half will go to sleep.

This cycle repeats, enabling tiger sharks to sleep for extended periods while never fully letting their guard down. Some research indicates tiger sharks may sleep over 8 hours by swimming and resting half their brain at a time.

The Tiger Shark’s Circadian Rhythms

Tiger sharks are believed to have internal circadian clocks like other animals that regulate periods of rest and activity over a 24-hour cycle. Their circadian rhythms likely correspond with daylight hours, directing them to be more active during the day and get more rest at night.

Scientists theorize that tiger sharks have neurochemical and hormonal signals that sync with sunlight patterns and establish set sleep and wake rhythms. The light/dark cycle of day and night helps entrain their circadian clock. This circadian programming prompts tiger sharks’ bodies to rest and renew at certain times of day, promoting healthy biological functioning.

It’s thought that older tiger sharks with more established circadian cycles can have better rest regulation. Younger tiger sharks may have more erratic rest patterns until their circadian rhythms mature. Overall, the circadian clocks of tiger sharks likely encourage a natural bio-rhythm of activity and rest that optimizes their health, growth, and hunting patterns.

Purpose of Unihemispheric Sleep

Tiger sharks exhibit unihemispheric sleep, meaning they can sleep with one eye open. This unique ability allows tiger sharks to rest half their brain at a time while the other half remains alert.

There are two main advantages to this type of sleep for tiger sharks and other sharks that exhibit this behavior:

– Allow sharks to rest while staying alert for predators and prey. Since one half of the brain is awake, tiger sharks can watch for danger or opportunities to hunt while the other half sleeps. This helps them conserve energy while not making themselves overly vulnerable.

– Help them conserve energy. Keeping half the brain awake does take some energy, but far less than if the entire brain was awake. By alternating resting halves of the brain, tiger sharks are able to get adequate rest while not burning through as much energy as full wakefulness would require.

So, the purpose of unihemispheric sleep is to allow tiger sharks to meet their needs for rest and alertness in an efficient way. This unique ability provides an evolutionary advantage that has served sharks well for millions of years.

Differences by Age

Tiger sharks go through various developmental stages from birth through adulthood that may affect their sleep patterns and habits.

Younger tiger sharks tend to sleep more than adults. Tiger shark pups need to rest and conserve energy to support their rapid growth and development. Young tiger sharks may spend more than 20 hours a day inactive or sleeping during their first few weeks and months.

As tiger sharks grow into juveniles and sub-adults, their sleep requirements decrease but they may still spend over 50% of the day sleeping or resting. Their sleep cycles allow their bodies to direct energy toward growth and neural development rather than active swimming and hunting.

Mature adult tiger sharks tend to be the most active sharks, spending more time swimming, migrating, hunting, and interacting with potential mates. Adult tiger sharks require less sleep and may only spend around 25-30% of the day inactive or sleeping in short bouts. Their growth has slowed and their brains are fully developed, so they have lower sleep needs.

The decreasing sleep requirements as tiger sharks age correlates with their increasing size, independence, and need to actively sustain themselves by hunting prey and finding mates. While all tiger sharks spend a significant amount of time sleeping, younger sharks generally require more sleep than fully mature adults to support their growth.

Related: How Many Hours Does A Fish Sleep: Fish Sleeping Habits


Tiger shark sleeping habits are quite fascinating. Even though sharks do not truly sleep like humans do, they have periods of rest where they exhibit sleep swimming. If you find this article helpful regarding the subject, please share. If otherwise, let’s have your concerns in our comment box.

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