Do Cows Lie Down To Sleep? (Or Do They Sleep Standing Up?)

Cows can doze lightly on their feet, but they always lie down at night when they need to sleep properly. 

In this article, we’re going to look at some cow sleeping habits, figure out if cows can sleep standing up and learn why you never seem to see a cow sleeping on their side.

Do Cows Lie Down To Sleep

Do Cows Lie Down To Sleep?

Cows lie down to sleep at night, but they can also doze while standing, gently dozing while standing up. Dozing cows might close their eyes, but they are not sleeping.

When cows need to sleep deeply, they always lie down.

Why Do Cows Lie Down To Sleep?

Cows can doze off gently while standing up, but they always lie down when they need a deeper sleep. Let’s look at a few reasons why cows always lie down to sleep:

1. Conservation of Energy

Cows lie down for most of the day because it enables them to conserve their energy while continuing to ruminate. The same is true for sleeping cows, who can continue to digest their food even while they are sleeping.

2. Potentially Dangerous to Sleep Standing Up

While cows are perfectly able to remain standing for daytime dozing, it would be dangerous during deep sleep, where the cow would not be alert at all to their surroundings.

Falling into deep sleep while standing could be dangerous for a cow, it’s much safer for them to be lying on the ground while they are sleeping.

3. Recuperation

Cows’ legs have a clever set of muscles which work in unison to allow them to lock up their leg joints. This biological feature is called a stay apparatus and is also present in horses and other large herd animals.

Read More: Do Cows Have Knees? (Cow Leg Joints Explained)

Cows’ stay apparatus lets them stay standing in one place without having to constantly shift their weight, thereby reducing the amount of energy they need to expend to stand up.

Although this method of resting reduces the strain on their legs from being on their feet for long periods, it doesn’t give them a chance to fully rest their muscles, which is essential for growth and repair.

Cows lie down to sleep to rest their legs, allow their bodies to repair strained muscles and joints, and to allow their hooves to dry out from standing in wet ground all day.

Can Cows Sleep Standing Up?

No, cows can not sleep while standing up, but they may sometimes close their eyes and rest while standing.

According to National Geographic, cows may doze lightly on their feet, but they always lie down at night to sleep deeply.

There is a persistent urban legend that says cows sleep standing up, which has led to the incorrect belief that it’s possible to sneak up on a cow while they are sleeping on their feet and tip them over.

Cows sleep for up to 14 hours every day, though they only sleep for a few hours.

Can Cows Lie Down on their Sides?

There’s a common myth that cows can’t sleep on their sides, or that once they lie down on their side, they can’t get up again. This is completely untrue, cows can sleep any way they choose and can always get up again.

Usually, cows lie down with their front legs under their body, and their back legs kicked out to one side. They do this so they can get up quickly (using their front legs) if they need to.

Although cows usually lie with their front legs folded backwards under them, cows can definitely stretch themselves out and lie completely flat on their sides too. On a hot day, you will see cows stretching out like this enjoying the sun.

In research from the University of Zurich, it was postulated that the reason cows rarely lie outstretched on their sides like this is because their digestive system works by gravity, and lying on their sides might interfere with their ability to ruminate (digest their food).

Do Cows Sleep On Their Backs?

Cows can’t sleep on their backs, simply because their massive bodies can not balance on their backs in the first place. 

Do Cows Lie Down At Night?

Yes, cows lie down at night. Cows only need a few hours of sleep each night, but they lie down for up to 14 hours every day.

Cows lie down at night even when they aren’t sleeping, to help conserve energy and digest their food. Cows can see at night, so they can look out for predators even when they are lying down.

What Does It Mean When A Cow Lies Down?

Cows lie down to take the pressure off their hooves, and to conserve energy when they are ruminating.

When a cow lies down, it means that they are tired, or that they have just eaten and need some time to digest their food.

Read More: What Do Cows Eat?

Superstitions Surrounding Cows Laying Down

One common superstitious belief around cows lying down is that cows lie down before it rains. 

While this is a nice thought, in reality this is not true and is just a product of confirmation bias.

Cows stand up and lie down around 16 times every day. That’s over 7,000 times every year! If we based our predictions on cows’ rest schedules we’d have very strange weather!


Cows can gently doze while standing up, thanks to their stay apparatus, a mechanism in their legs which allows them to lock them in place and remain standing without expending energy on staying upright.

Although they can doze during the day on all fours, cows always lie down to go to sleep at night, when they need a deeper sleep.

There are several advantages for cows which are only possible when they lie down to sleep. These include allowing their joints and muscles to fully recover from the stresses of the day, and allowing their hooves to dry out after spending all day in the boggy ground.

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