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Why Is My Gerbil Sleeping Out In The Open? (Here’s Why)

Gerbils are social animals and thrive well with a partner or in a group. They do everything together from playing, grooming, eating, and sleeping.

When a gerbil is sleeping out in the open, this seems out of place especially if they have their cage mates. So, why is this so?

Why Is My Gerbil Sleeping Out In The Open?

A gerbil sleeping out in the open is unusual which occurs because of rejection by their cage mates, also known as declanning, and also due to temperature changes of their surroundings which forces them to change their sleeping position.

Reasons Why Gerbils Sleep Out In The Open


Gerbils live in social structures called clans. Declanning simply means when a clan or a group splits apart and some member(s) are no longer regarded as part of the group. 

Declanning can happen because of:

  • Introduction of a new gerbil into an already established group. The members view the newcomer as an intruder and reject them by fighting them and chasing them off.
  • When younger gerbils challenge the dominant members of a group when they are sick or old to claim dominance of the group.

During declanning, different gerbil behaviors are observed. The signs of declanning include:

Gerbil sleeping separately

During declanning, it is common to have a gerbil sleeping separately from the group as well as sleeping alone in the open away from the group’s sleeping area.

This is because a gerbil that is rejected from the group is fiercely forced not to sleep with the rest. 

The group does not involve the gerbil in their social activities such as playing, grooming, eating, drinking, or sleeping together. They are chased away and fought when they try.

Gerbils not burrowing

In the wild, gerbils are active burrowers and have a tunneling instinct where they dig in the soil to create an area underground for nesting, food storage, sleeping, and protection. 

Also in captivity, they still have this tunneling instinct and make their tunnels within their cage using their bedding. 

When declanning is occurring, rejected gerbils will not burrow because they are not allowed to participate in the group’s activities including burrowing or sleeping in the tunnels. 

The gerbil will not be able to sleep with the rest of the group and they are forced to find somewhere else to sleep. 

This will be either sleeping out in the open within the cage, in a corner, or even on the exercise wheel.

Gerbil sitting in a corner

A gerbil sitting in a corner also indicates that declanning may be happening where the group has rejected a member and they are not allowing them to participate in group activities or be part of them.

The gerbil is denied access to food, water, or taking part in any group activities and they remain alienated in a corner. 

Gerbil fighting 

Gerbil fighting is common when gerbils try to remove a newcomer or an existing member from their group. 

Fighting can be vicious and can lead to death. 

You can easily confuse playing with fighting, however, if you notice bleeding occurring from one gerbil, this means serious fighting is going on and you need to separate the gerbils before it becomes fatal.

Temperature changes

The sleeping position of a gerbil will also vary and will be influenced by the temperature of their surroundings. 

A gerbil will sleep in the open when temperatures are too warm for them to sleep in their bedding tunnels.

When the temperature is high above 86 °F a gerbil will sleep on their backs with their legs up in the air and if the temperature is around 77 °F they will lie on their side. 

When temperatures get cooler, with temperatures below 77 °F they will sleep cuddled up together or have their head tucked in between their hind legs.

Gerbil Sleeping Habits

Gerbils are crepuscular in nature meaning they are more active during the transition times between light and dark.

This transition time falls between the early morning at 6 to 8 a.m. and in the evening between 6 to 8 p.m. 

How long do gerbils sleep?

On average gerbils sleep for a total of 12 hours per day which is spread into 1 to 4 hours of sleep followed by awake time throughout the day and night.

How do gerbils sleep?

Gerbils are social in nature and thrive when living in groups or pairs. They sleep in a pile, one on top of the other when in a group, and when in pairs they cuddle.

If the group is large you may also notice pairs sleeping together. This is normal because they’re still together within the same sleeping area but not in one huge pile.

Where do gerbils sleep?

In the wild gerbils dig underground tunnels where they sleep and protect themselves from predators.

In captivity as pet gerbils, they sleep on the bedding layer provided which they also burrow and make tunnels within which they also sleep in. 

They also like to sleep in the makeshift hide houses that their owners provide for them in the cage. They sometimes push the bedding material into the housing and make it comfortable.

What To Do About It

When you notice your gerbil sleeping out in the open due to declanning and vicious fights between cagemates, you should separate the gerbils.

A rejected gerbil can fall into depression, stress, or become severely injured because of the fights with the group members. It can also lead to death by being killed.

This is really not a good environment for them to thrive and if you notice the fights becoming severe, do the following:

  • Remove the rejected gerbil from the group to another cage furnished with everything they need.
  • Do not keep them in the same room as the other group because they will still see each other which will still cause stress. Move them to another different room.
  • Pair the separated gerbil with its sibling or with a new gerbil of the same gender. Gerbils of the same gender are more likely to get along with each other.

Follow the proper procedure of introducing the new gerbil to the rejected one so that they will also not fight.


Gerbils by nature love to dig, hide, and sleep in their tunnels. In captivity as pets, they make their tunnels with the bedding and also use the provided hide houses or bedding for nesting and sleeping.

They like to sleep in piles, one on top of the other when they are in a group. If two gerbils share a cage, they will sleep in a cuddled position to keep each other warm.

Sometimes you might find your gerbil sleeping out in the open, that is, not with their cage mates, within the bedding tunnels or their hide houses. 

This indicates there is something forcing them to sleep like this because this is not their normal sleeping behavior. Observe your gerbils and identify the underlying cause in order to implement the appropriate action.


Activity rhythms in the Mongolian gerbil under natural light conditions

Gerbil Facts

Keeping a gerbil as a pet