I have always been wondering if bees and humans have the same need for sleep. Since their daily routine is very similar to ours: they wake up, go to work, collect pollen and nectar and then they come home. So I did a research and that`s what I found out!
Do bees sleep at night?
Bees are very similar to humans, when it comes to sleep. Yes, bees do sleep at night. You can tell that the bee is sleeping, by her legs flexing and her head laying on the floor (don’t confuse it to be dead!), her antennae will be still and she will most likely be sideways on the floor, but it’s also possible that she will just be laying still on her belly. Another interesting thing is, while bees sleep, they tend to hold their feet bend under their body or they hold each other`s legs. The deeper in its sleep, the lower its temperature gets and the brighter a light must be, to waken them up.
What’s the point of sleeping?
Everyone has surely been told when he was a little child, that if he doesn’t go to sleep he won’t grow big and strong, but is sleep relevant for our growth? Yes, because while you sleep your body produces a special growth hormone. With bees, it’s very similar. But sleep isn’t only very important for growing. Sleep also means to rest and bees travel long distances each day, so they also need a long rest. And not only the muscles must rest, but the mind must also find its peace too, at least for a couple of hours a day. There is a theory “Energy conservation theory” which suggests, that a very strong factor in natural selection is the effective utilization of energy resources and by sleeping you can reduce the energy demand, especially in times where it’s inefficient to search for food.
How long do bees sleep?
Depending on the type of bee, her tasks in the beehive and her age her sleep duration may vary. But in general, you can tell that a bee sleeps between 5-8 hours. Honey bees tend to sleep a day-night cycle like humans do, with most of their sleep being at night because bees rely mostly on their eyes to find pollen and nectar-rich flowers and darkness prevent them from it.
Younger honey bees sleep the same amount of time, but in shorter periods and definitely not in the day-night rhythm as older bees do. A study by Eban-Rothschild showed, that younger bees change between 3 different sleep stages: light, medium and deep sleep. And when they woke up, they were only active a couple of hours, before they went to sleep again.
Why do bees sleep?
As with any other living creature, bees need their well-deserved rest. Taking in mind that a honeybee must fly all day long (6-8 km per one go) to gather pollen and nectar, she needs lots of energy and sleep. Sleep-deprived bees can be very confusing for the other inhabitants of the hive because bees are very social insects and when a direction to a food source is given incorrectly, it’s just a waste of time and energy.
Tired bees find it very difficult to find their way back to the hive when visiting new plant fields. It can even come to the point where she gets totally lost and can’t go back to the hive. Just like humans, bees need sleep so they can consolidate memories. Without the needed rest of 5-8 hours, bees start to suffer from similar symptoms to human Alzheimer. Tasks that should be second nature to them are being neglected or fulfilled sloppy or totally being forgotten. Their ability to learn is reinforced while sleeping.
Other insects sleep regime
Every insect has to sleep, that’s for sure. But each individual is different. Some insects prefer to be active at night because they can stay stealth in the darkness, others prefer to go out when the sun goes down, because at this time, their predator is sleeping, others prefer to go out just before the sun comes up because they take advantage of their meal that still sleeps. But in general, you can say, insects who forage for their food in the day time, are sleeping at night and also the other way around.
The Wasp, as a very similar-looking insect to bees, does not sleep, or at least not the way we define sleep. When the night breaks out, they tend to become less active, even in wintertime, female wasps are known to hibernate. They become very inactive and it looks like they are asleep, but they are just drowsing.
Do bees sleep only inside the hive?
Well yes and no. You can’t generalize all bees together, because if you take the honey bees for example, they are divided into many different types, each of them having a different job to fulfill. But observation has shown that, the older bees sleep somewhere near the edge of the beehive, whereas the younger bees (working bees, queen carrying bees) tend to sleep deep inside the hive, sometimes inside a cell. Bumblebees on the other hand tend to sleep wherever they see fit. My personal experience has shown, that if they sleep outside the beehive, they pick flowers or bushes who`s blossom, offer them shelter from the wind and they only fly away if they are disturbed or sense any kind of danger.
Do bees sleep together?
As mentioned before, bees are similar in behavior and need to humans. Like humans talk and communicate, bees tend to dance to one another: dancing in a specific angle and direction, it is indicating where there are many pollen and nectar to find. Honeybees are working as a collective, they do everything together and for everyone. When sleeping it is common that you see them holding their feed together and forming something like a couple. This phenomenon can be seen inside of flowers, but it happens also inside the beehive. So if you are curious, go into the wilderness, wait till the sun is going slowly down and check out some of the bigger looking flowers, maybe you get lucky. BUT don’t disturb the creatures, just observe and keep their peace, because their rest is needed!
Do bees sting at night?
I’ve heard many times people asking if it’s possible to sneak inside the beehive when it’s dark because bees cant sting you while they sleep. Well, that’s total nonsense, they can sting you. Imagine you being at home ready in bed and suddenly someone comes inside your house, your first thought will be to protect your territory, well bees are absolutely the same. Only because its night time and it’s all quiet, doesn’t mean that there are guarding bees. And though, bees are not aggressive at all and rarely show interest in humans, there is nothing in the bee`s biology, which prevents it from stinging at night or any other time of the day.
Sleep is as important for humans, as it is for bees, that’s a fact. Bees who are relying mostly on their big hairy eyes, are collecting food during the day and tend to sleep at night. If a bee tells you it had a good night’s sleep, it means she slept at least 5-8 hours. As we already found out, it’s not a necessity for them to sleep inside the beehive, on the contrary, if the bee feels tired or disorientated or has just found an awesomely looking and well-shaped flower, it can as well nest for the night there. And if you want to see 2 bees holding their feed insight a flower, do it, BUT don’t wake them up!