Gerbils are cute and social, fuzzy, and active and never seem to sleep. They tend to constantly be active, unless, of course, you want to play with them. You can hear them in the night if their cage is in your bedroom.
Do gerbils need light at night? No. Gerbils have better night vision than humans do, so are able to see just fine at night. Leaving a light on at night will actually disrupt their circadian rhythm or day/night sleep cycle.
I would like to discuss the relationship between gerbils and light sources, how their sleep schedule works, and how their eyes are designed and what this means about their sleep schedules. I also want to look at babies versus adults and great ways to keep them entertained, which may help provide some entertainment for you as well.
Daylight and Gerbils
Gerbils do not need extra light at night due to their sleep cycle. Like humans, gerbils are diurnal, so light at night can mess with their sleep cycle. They do need the darkness to be able to rest when they can, but they are capable of seeing at night or in low light just fine.
What is Diurnal?
Diurnal is when a creature is active mostly during the day. While a gerbil may be active through part of the night, many diurnal creatures are active through part of the night, just like humans. Like gerbils, humans are also diurnal, but we are also active through part of the night. We don’t just go to sleep when the sun goes down, and neither do gerbils.
They do like to enjoy the quiet that the night brings as they wind down for the night and to sleep. Even though a gerbil does not sleep like we do at night, you may notice their activity more because the normal noisy chaos in your home has quieted down, and you can hear the activity of your gerbil more at night.
The Gerbil Sleep Schedule
Gerbils don’t take long sleeps during the night as humans do. By nature, they do tend to have a much shorter sleep/awake cycle than humans do. They will sleep for an hour or two, then be up for the same amount of time. This allows them to conserve energy and recharge their little batteries on a regular basis. Similar to a phone with a small battery.
For this reason, gerbils may not seem like they are awake much during the day, but are up all night. This is due to the fact that night and day does not affect them too much in their activity levels. However, living with humans can make them be up longer during the day and sleep more at night, though they will still have periods of activity at night.
Gerbils Eye Design
When you look at the design of the eyes in certain animals, including humans, you will learn about things like rods and cones. These different types of cells process levels of light differently, giving that animals better or worse night vision.
Rods – Are active to be able to process images in low light levels, also known as night vision.
Cones – These are active while being exposed to bright light and make it possible to see better in bright light conditions, such as in sunlight.
In humans, our eyes have more cones than rods (reference to the shape of the cells), and this enables us to be able to see in the light better. These help to see more colors and focus less on a shaper image or movement. While this does result in poor night vision, it allows for us to be able to focus more for day hunting than rodents.
Gerbils, on the other hand, have more rods than cones in their eyes, and this enables them to be able to see better in lower light conditions. Their eyes, in contrast to humans, are more adept at being able to see at night with minimal light. While in nature, they may not be running around outside, they may still be active inside of their nests or hideouts.
You may wonder if you need to train your gerbil to be more active during the day to help them sleep at night, and this is not actually necessary. By spending time with your gerbil, they will get the idea, all on their own, that their human is awake during the day, so they need to be as well. You will still need to allow them rests during the day to recharge their little batteries, though.
Baby Vs. Adult
If you got your gerbil as a baby, you may find that it does sleep an inordinate amount of time, but this is completely normal. Babies, in general, do sleep a lot as their batteries are smaller than adults, and this is no different between humans and gerbils. All babies sleep more, no matter the species.
As your gerbil grows into adulthood, however, you will find that they have a more defined sleep pattern and do not need as much rest throughout the day as they did when they were younger. Their naps will get less often, though they will still require frequent naps, they also will be shorter in length. This is just the nature of a small animal.
Their hearts must beat faster, they need to breathe faster, and all of this requires energy. Not to mention that small creatures just equate small batteries. Gerbils from baby through adulthood tend to be little balls of energy, but it is not unlimited energy.
While babies may seem like they have more energy and, in general, this does tend to seem true, their energy definitely has limitations. Finding ways to contain this energy can be an issue and will require more supervision when they are not in their cage as babies do tend to get in trouble. If you have the room, having a little friend for your gerbil is best as they are social creatures.
Gerbils, or any small rodent, are fun to watch, especially if they are given plenty of things to do. They love to dig and play, so if you are able to provide an area that has deeper bedding, you may find they like to create hideouts in the bedding. For this reason, some people like to keep gerbils in tanks rather than wire cages.
An ideal situation would be a tank that is connected to a wire cage so they are not spending all of their time in an area that is enclosed and can lend to the buildup of ammonia, though with most homes, this is not possible. Another option would be a home in a wire cage and spending time in a tank with lots of bedding.
Regardless of your setup for your gerbil’s home, having things for them to do can help to keep them busy and give you something to watch as they are busy little creatures. Just having a running wheel can be an issue, especially if it wants to run at 3 am. So having other activities for it is optimal.
Gerbils, while not being the most intelligent of the rodent species, are capable of being trained, at least to a point. You can train them to perform different tasks, for a treat, of course. Just make sure treats are kept small, or they will fill up on the yummy stuff and not want to eat their normal diet, instead opting to wait for the next treats.