Do Cichlids Sleep? Can They See In The Dark?

Nov 3, 2021

do cichlids sleep

Do cichlids sleep? It’s a tricky question to answer. This actually depends on how you define sleep.

If you define sleep in terms of the brain’s distinctive pattern of electrical activity, cichlids lack complex brain structures. If you define sleep in terms of prolonged eye closure, cichlids don’t have eyelids. 

So, what’s the truth? Let’s find out!

Do Cichlids Sleep? 

Cichlids don’t sleep as mammals do. They don’t have eyelids to close their eyes or highly developed brains for complex electrical activities. However, at night, they do lay at the bottom motionless and rest. So, we can say, yes, cichlids sleep. 

Just because they don’t sleep like us doesn’t mean they don’t sleep at all. 

We can conclude that cichlids, like any other fish, sleep on the following grounds: 

  • A state of prolonged activity 
  • 24-hour rhythmicity 
  • Typical resting posture 
  • High arousal thresholds 

Although I didn’t come across research exclusively focused on a cichlid’s sleep pattern, there are several studies carried out that scrutinize a fish’s sleeping patterns. 

And we definitely can apply the findings for cichlids. 

For instance, Scientist Colin Shapiro shared that his Mozambique tilapias (Oreochromis mossambicus) rest on the bottom of the tank at night with no detectable eye movement and lowered respiratory rate. 

Also, they didn’t respond excitedly as they would during the daytime to stimuli like food and electrical current. 

Do African Cichlids Sleep? 

Yes, African cichlids sleep, just like all the fish we know. They usually lay vertically at the bottom, but some hobbyists report that their cichlids prefer sleeping in mid-water. 

African cichlids are diurnal t oo. And therefore, they need 8-12 hours of rest at night. 

Do Cichlids Take Naps?

As a matter of fact, yes, cichlids do take naps, especially if they didn’t get enough rest the previous night. Even during daytime, you can sometimes catch them hovering in one place above the substrate in almost a trance-like state.

So, that’s actually your fish taking a power nap! 

How Do Cichlids Sleep?

There’s no one definitive answer for this. Some cichlids nestle into the substrate, while others retire in caves. Likewise, some find a suitable corner at the tank’s base, while others love to lounge among plants. 

On forums, several hobbyists shared that their fish even sleep in mid-water and upside down! 

Can Cichlids See At Night? 

Cichlids have a pretty sharp vision for fish. However, like most animals, they cannot see in total darkness. 

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How Many Hours Of Sleep Do Cichlids Need?

Cichlids “sleep” for around 8-12 hours a day. Like us, they follow a diurnal routine. When the night falls, and the lights go out, they retreat into their hideouts to call it a night. 

Like us, a sleep-deprived fish will feel groggy and disoriented. But, unfortunately, it will also cause them stress and negatively impact their health. 

How Do You Know If Your Fish Is Sleeping?

The following are some signs of a sleeping fish

  • Undetectable eye movement 
  • Lowered respiration 
  • Lowered cardiac rhythm 
  • Laying at the bottom motionless 
  • Inactivity for a prolonged period 
  • A resting posture 

A sleeping fish may sometimes drift slowly, but they will almost look zoned out. And their fins will still move due to the water current. 

And as I mentioned earlier, some cichlids are known to sleep mid-water, not at the base. 

If you think your fish is sleeping, it’s better not to disturb them. Just like ours, their sleeping schedule is directly tied to their wellbeing. 

Also, cichlids are light sleepers. It’s very easy to wake them up. That’s because, even though their body is resting, their brain is still partially alert to danger. 

In the wild, cichlids have to hide and run at any given time as predators are waiting for the golden chance at all times. And that’s why they are evolved to have very light sleep. 

Here’s a short video of a cichlid sleeping at the bottom:

What Happens To Cichlids When You Turn Off The Lights At Night?

Like us, cichlids have a circadian rhythm, a 24-hour cycle that’s part of the body’s internal clock. So, when the night creeps in and lights are out, the cichlid’s body prepares for rest. 

Here are a few things that will happen:

  • The brain will produce melatonin hormone 
  • Cardiac activity is lowered 
  • Respiratory rate is lowered 
  • Metabolism slows down 
  • Fins flap passively to maintain an upright position

How Long Should You Leave The Lights On For Cichlids?

You shouldn’t leave the lights on for more than 8 hours a day. That’s because, just like us, cichlids need darkness to fall ‘asleep.’ 

Keeping the lights on for just 8 hours is sufficient to stimulate plant growth if there’s any plant in the tank. 

Also, you should always make a point to change the lights at least once a year or as needed. If the light output declines, it can have negative consequences on the life inside the tank. 

How Do Cichlids Know It’s Time To Sleep? 

If you have a fish tank, you know that when the lights go off, so does the activity level in the tank. That’s because cichlids have internal clocks like us, which tell them when to sleep, eat or remain active. 

So, if you ever by mistake leave the lights on at night, the fish will still retire and sleep (although it may be hard for the fish to sleep!)

What Kind Of Lights Do Cichlids Prefer?

Well, cichlids obviously didn’t tell us their preferences. But according to animal expert David Alderton, it’s better to use fluorescent bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs. That’s because these lights emit light rather than heat, which doesn’t meddle with the water temperature. 

Keeping the fluorescent lights on for 8 hours a day will also help with plant and algae growth in the tank, which are subsistence food sources for cichlids. 

What Brightness Level Is Suitable For Cichlids?

The light’s brightness settings depend on your cichlid’s natural habitat. For example, if your cichlid is from Lake Victoria, they’re used to dim lights because they live in murky waters. 

How Many Lights Do I Need For My Cichlids?

For tanks 20 gallons or smaller, one fluorescent lamp will do. For tanks ranging from 20-55 gallons, two lights, minimum, should be added. Then, add an additional lamp each for every 20-25 gallons of water. 

A light with a 5,000 ¡K to 6,000 ¡K color temperature is recommended.

What Color Spectrum Is Best For Cichlids?

Choosing the right color spectrum allows you to showcase and intensify the best hues in the tank. For a cichlid tank, the deep blue color spectrum is the top choice because it beautifully complements the red, green, and blue colors of your cichlids. 

Merging a slight crispness of bright white with rich royal blue helps bring out the best color in cichlids. 

You can achieve this lighting setting by turning the blues to 100, white to 25-50%, and red and green to 0%. 

Parting Words: Do Cichlids Sleep? 

Yes, cichlids sleep. Cichlids don’t sleep line humans or most mammals – meaning they don’t close their eyes or lay on their back. Instead, cichlids sleep by lying motionless on the tank’s base in a vertical position for anywhere between 8-12 hours a day. 

Cichlids are diurnal creatures. When the sun sets, their internal clock tells them it’s time to call it a day and retreat to their favorite spot in the tank to get some good night’s sleep. 

Since cichlids don’t have eyelids, they don’t close their eyes when sleeping. Still, their eye movement is undetectable when they’re asleep. The cardiac and respiratory rate also lowers when they’re on a slumber. 

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.