Do Bees Sleep? When, Where, How Long?

A bee hive with sleeping bees as the sun goes down

Bees have a mighty reputation for their hard work, visiting thousands of flowers in a single day during the warmer months. But as the sun goes down, do bees take some time to get a little rest? In this article, we’ll look at whether bees sleep or are they an insect superpower that never rests. Let’s dive in.

Do bees sleep?

Based on research by Walter Kaiser in 1983, honey bees sleep an average of 5-8 hours at night. Like humans, bees follow a similar pattern of relaxed, light, and deep sleep. They also exhibit a relaxed posture before going to sleep, like most mammals.

When a bee sleeps, its body temperature will drop. It also appears to go into a deep form of sleep that requires brighter light to wake it up. These are sleep characteristics that you also see in humans.

Like mammals, bees sleep with a relaxed posture and are immobile. They also demonstrate similar electrical activity in the brain.

Researchers haven’t spent as much time looking at bumble bee sleep behavior. However, beekeepers have often observed bumblebees sleeping, unresponsive with similar drooped antennae.    

How to tell if a bee is sleeping

Bees don’t have eyelids, so their eyes won’t let you know if they’re asleep. However, when bees reach the deep sleep stage, their thorax and abdomen tip drop down while the wings come to rest on their body. You’ll also know a bee is sleeping if its antennae stop moving and droop downwards.

Other signs of a sleeping bee include flexing legs as its head drops down to the ground. Bees will often fold their legs under their body or hold onto their legs during sleep. An extremely tired bee may fall over to the side as it falls into an exhausted state of rest.

Why do bees need sleep?

Bees need to sleep to recharge their batteries, like humans. If they don’t maintain a regular sleep schedule, bees suffer from reduced performance in their daily roles. Simple tasks like navigating home on a different route will become a challenge.

Reduced sleep impedes the honey bee’s ability to waggle dance. This is a communication method where the worker bee performs circular motions, instructing other foragers where food sources can be found. Studies found that sleep-deprived bees were poor communicators and didn’t waggle dance with the same precision.

A bee’s memory also gets affected by poor sleep patterns. They have a hard time locating known food sources and orientation flights take longer.   

Where do bees sleep?

Rather than sleep in random positions, honey bees slumber in a location that fits their role in the colony. Younger bees sleep closer to the center of the nest, often in honeycomb cells. Older forager bees sleep towards the edge of the hive. While older bees have a fixed sleep pattern, younger bees don’t; this is like comparing baby and adult humans.

During winter, honey bees huddle in a group inside the nest to stay warm. In the cold months, you won’t see bees sleeping on flowers outside; instead, they choose the warmth of the beehive.

Honey bee scouts searching for a new hive location will often sleep away from the hive. They may have a sleepover at a potential new hive location before the rest of the swarm follows.

  • Honey bee drones sometimes choose to sleep away from the hive on a comfortable plant.
  • Female bumblebees usually sleep in the nest, but males will sleep outside on flowers.
  • Male solitary bees sleep outside the nest and will sometimes sleep on flowers and grass stalks away from their nest.
  • Female solitary bees sleep in the comfort of their nest. 
A bee sleeping inside a flower
Bees will sometimes sleep in flowers.

Do bees rest?

All types of honey bees rest when needed, especially the male drones who may take it easy all day. Worker bees are less inclined to rest, thanks to their rigorous schedule. But as night arrives, they don’t always stop work and sleep immediately. Worker bees may choose to find a quiet spot to groom themselves or relax in an immobile state. 

Commonly asked questions

When do bees sleep? 

Honey bees follow different sleep patterns based on their role in the colony. Forager bees follow a similar day-night cycle to humans, probably because they’re unable to forage in the dark. Young honey bees may sleep in the day or night, although researchers have found sleep times are the same at any age.   

What do bees do when they wake up?

Based on research, honey bees have been found to groom after waking up. After that, they will get started working or go back to sleep.

What time do bees go to bed?

Honey bees sleep for five to eight hours with the foragers working in the hours of light and sleeping at night. Younger bees in roles like nursing will get the same amount of sleep, but it could be at any time within a 24 hour period.

Fast facts

  • Honey bees get 5-8 hours of sleep each day.
  • The first invertebrate to have its sleep recorded was the honey bee.
  • Foragers sleep at night when sourcing nectar and pollen isn’t possible.

Summing up

Honey bees are hard-working insects, so they need 5-8 hours of sleep to regenerate each night. As night falls, foraging bees will return to the colony and settle into sleep, near the periphery of the hive. Younger workers get the same amount of sleep, but they may not follow the same day-night sleep pattern. Instead, they sleep day or night, as needed.

Research has found that without sleep bees do not function well. Their mental and cognitive faculties begin to shut down, making hard work of simple tasks.  

References:

Bees deprived of sleep have difficulty waggle dance signaling. Barrett A. Klein et al. (2010).

Sleep-deprived bees have difficulty learning a new route home (Beyaert, L., Greggers, U. and Menzel, R. (2012). Honeybees consolidate navigation memory during sleep. J. Exp. Biol. 215, 3981-3988).

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