Is My Betta Fish Dead Or Sleeping?

Sleep is a common factor among most living organisms. Elephants, humans, lizards-almost any species you mention require a sound sleeping cycle to rejuvenate themselves. So, fishes can’t live without sleeping too, and the bettas swimming inside your aquarium are no exception. But, how can you tell whether your betta is dead or sleeping?

To check if your betta is dead or sleeping, the first thing you need to do is see whether it’s breathing or not. While asleep, betta fish draw a smaller amount of oxygen than they usually do, but you should still notice a small amount of air bubble around it.

That’s not the only way to identify a dead betta in your aquarium. In the remainder of this article, I’ll explain the common sleeping behaviors of betta and what you can do to ensure your betta gets an adequate level of sleep. On top of that, I will cover what you should do when you suspect that your betta has kicked the bucket.

How Do Betta Fish Sleep?

Just like us, betta fish commonly sleeps at night. Since they closely imitate human sleeping patterns, betta fish makes for an excellent bedroom companion. Once you switch off the lights and hit the bed, the betta fishes in your tank will also get the ideal environment to catch some Zs.

It’s very important to kill the lights at night to ensure a good night of sleep for your betta fish. They like sleeping in darker environments, and the presence of light helps them distinguish between day and night. So, don’t forget to turn off the aquarium lights at night before you go to bed. Don’t leave your aquarium in an illuminated place all night.

Most of the betta fish we keep in our aquariums come from South Asian farms. They have never experienced the threat of a predator, but their natural instinct keeps them alert all the time. Similar to the ones that live in the wild, aquarium-bred betta fishes are light sleepers because they are afraid they might get attacked.

Seeing betta fishes sleep for the first time can catch you off guard since they sleep with their eyes open. It seems creepy, but they have no choice since they have no eyelids. We will explain later in this article how to differentiate between a sleeping betta fish and a dead one. Before that, we would like you to familiarize yourself with their sleeping habits.

Even though we are not nocturnal creatures, we often love to have some shut-eye during the day if we have the chance. Similarly, your bettas can enjoy some siesta when they feel like it. Therefore, there is no need to panic if you find them motionless in the middle of the day. They could just be having a lazy day!

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Where Do Betta Fish Sleep?

While there are some spots in your aquarium that are more likely to present a suitable sleeping zone to your betta than the rest of the tank, bettas don’t necessarily stick to a designated sleeping area. They can sleep anywhere in the tank, but the common tendency is to look for some cover while sleeping.

So, foliage and decorative pieces like tunnels are the most common places for betta fish to sleep. Some even bury their heads into the gravel, like an aquatic ostrich, while napping. If you see your betta in these locations, you can presume with 99% assurance that they are asleep. So, leave them be.

The confusion arises when you see them floating. Some bettas can float while sleeping, which makes it difficult to figure out whether they are dead or alive. No need to be alarmed right away. If they remain motionless after a few hours, you should contemplate conducting a further inspection.

How Can You Identify A Dead Betta Fish?

You can easily mistake sleeping betta for dead ones because they can be found floating at the top of the tank or lying on the floor. It’s not easy to tell apart a dead betta from a sleeping one upon first sight. If you don’t see the betta moving for a long time, it might have passed away.

Look out for some signs to reach a definite conclusion.


We have already talked about the breathing aspect. Every living being needs to breathe in some capacity non-stop to support their metabolism. A sleeping betta will be breathing more discreetly than an awake one, so you might not recognize its breathing actions at first. If you look closely at the gills and mouth, you should be able to see some movement.


Discoloration might sound like another red flag, but bettas tend to lose some color while they are asleep. This helps them become stealthier in a natural environment and protects them from predators. While dead bettas do appear pale, sleeping bettas look the same. They regain their color after waking up.

Unnatural position

An unnatural position is a more telling indicator of a dead betta. A betta has various sleeping postures. They sleep vertically, sideways, and sometimes, you might even see them curled up like a sleeping dog. However, seeing them upside down is a cause for concern, as it’s very uncommon for betta fishes to sleep like that.

After a sufficient waiting period, try knocking the tank’s walls with your fingers. This should be enough to wake up any sleeping fish. If it still doesn’t respond, bring it out with a net. The fish should wake up as soon as it comes in contact with the net. Lack of response will more or less confirm that the fish is dead.

how do you know if a betta fish is going to die infographic. Shows most common signs before betta fish die including lethargy, less swimming, fading colors, loss of appetite, etc.

Want to get a printable version of this infographic? Click here! [If you want to use this infographic on your website, please link back to this post as the source!]

Is The Aquarium Condition Responsible For The Death Of Your Bettas?

Sometimes the aquarium condition could be responsible for the death of your bettas rather than natural causes. If the aquarium environment is not right, even the healthiest fishes will not survive for long. Here are some probable causes that will make your bettas lethargic and push them towards premature death.

See also  How To Clean Fish Tank After Betta Dies?

The Aquarium Set Up Was All Wrong

Making the aquarium livable for aquatic species is not as simple as it seems. You have to wait for weeks to make the aquarium habitable for betta and other fish. The presence of bacteria is an absolute necessity in an aquarium ecosystem. In ideal water conditions, bacteria processes waste and maintain perfect living conditions for fish.

If you rush into introducing betta and other fish without cultivating bacteria, it will spell doom for all of your aquarium residents. The process of adding bacteria to the aquarium is known as cycling. Without proper cycling, most fish in your aquarium will die. It’s best to cycle before bringing in the fish, but in-fish cycling is also possible.

You Didn’t Create The Perfect Conditions For Betta

Even if your aquarium has a healthy amount of bacteria, there is no guarantee that your bettas will thrive there. You have to remember that each fish has its own set of requirements. Without the proper water temperature, betta will fall sick and die eventually. To prevent this from happening, keep the water temperature between 78⁰F to 82⁰F.

Your Aquarium Is Overcrowded

Sharing the aquarium with too many fishes can be the death warrant for your bettas. There is too much food and fecal residues in an overcrowded aquarium for the bacteria to break down. As a result, the water gets contaminated and becomes poisonous for all the aquarium inhabitants, including bettas.

Besides the waste factor, adding too many fish to an aquarium will deplete the oxygen supply for each fish. The amount of oxygen is limited within a specific aquarium space. On average, the dissolved oxygen amount is 5-7 ppm in a freshwater tank. More fish takes up more of this oxygen reserve and leads to suffocation.

Incompatible Tankmates

We all love to have a diversified collection in our aquarium, but if we are not careful about our fish selection, we will unwillingly create an underwater fight club. While bettas don’t mind the company of some species, they can’t peacefully coexist with all fishes. Since the aquarium space is limited, there will be no room for them to hide from bullies.

Don’t keep multiple male bettas in a single aquarium. They are highly territorial and will keep on fighting till the competition perishes. They also don’t go along well with goldfish, angelfish, tiger barbs, and gouramis. Shrimps, snails, clown plecos, tetras, guppies, and harlequin rasboras make great neighbors for bettas.

You Are Feeding Them Too Much

A betta only consumes three micro pellets. When you put too much food in the tank, it stays as leftovers and gradually declines water quality. The more food waste there is in the tank, the more difficult it gets for the natural filtration system in the tank. As a result, the water turns toxic, and your bettas meet an untimely demise.

You Don’t Maintain The Aquarium Regularly

It would be best if you planned to clean your aquarium once or twice a week. Your cleaning regimen should include wiping down the glass, cleaning the substrate, and checking to see if everything is working as it should. On top of that, you also need to empty out your tank every once in a while and put in new water.

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Poor aquarium conditions will expose your fish to severe health risks. The bacteria minimizes the waste effect, but there is always some leftover waste in the water. Once the impurities build up beyond a tolerable percentage, it will make it nearly impossible for your bettas to live. So, regular aquarium maintenance is a must.

How To Make Your Bettas Sleep Better?

The sleeping time of bettas often coincides with us. So, we don’t see them sleeping as much as dogs and cats, but like most living beings, they need ample sleep to replenish themselves after an entire day of swimming around. How can you help your bettas get the perfect amount of sleep they need?

The best thing you can do to help your bettas get healthy sleep is to make arrangements for shades in the aquarium. It’s not hard to imagine that bettas don’t like to keep the lights on when they sleep as they cannot close their eyes. So, you can introduce aquarium ornaments that will provide a decent level of shade to sleeping bettas.

Also, remember to turn off the lights at night. If you often forget to do it, you can automatically install a timer to switch off the lights. Minimizing light exposure will not only help your bettas sleep better, but it will also cut back on algae growth and help maintain the ideal algae density inside the tank.

Why Does My Bettas Sleep Too Much?

Sleep is vital for bettas, yet excessive sleep might indicate underlying health issues.

As Mary McCauley from Mary’s Magic Bettas explains, symptoms like erratic swimming, breathing changes, lethargy, appetite loss, weight loss, fin deterioration, color loss, and bloat are crucial indicators of illness.

If your betta is sleeping too much and exhibits these signs, it’s time to consult an aquatic veterinarian for early intervention. Understanding these symptoms is key to ensuring the well-being of your aquatic companion.

That said, the root cause for the oversleeping tendency of your bettas is not always so ominous. It could also mean that the aquarium doesn’t get enough light. Since bettas love drifting off in the dark, they will sleep for prolonged periods when you put the aquarium in a dark place. Move the aquarium to a place that gets more daylight, and you might notice a change.

Another benign explanation can be that your bettas are just bored! If the tank is smaller than ideal, the bettas won’t have much swimming space. So, sleeping would be their go-to activity for spending time. Try to pick a big aquarium for your betta and consider throwing in a sizeable amount of decors to make it appear more interesting.

Final Say

Sleeping bettas can give us quite a scare as they appear dead. There are some discernible factors, however, that can help us identify a dead betta and a sleeping betta. So, don’t panic and ruin your betta’s sleep.

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Muntaseer Rahman

About Author

Hello, I’m Muntaseer Rahman, the owner of I’m passionate about aquarium pets like shrimps, snails, crabs, and crayfish. I’ve created this website to share my expertise and help you provide better care for these amazing pets.


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