When you first got your hamster you probably asked yourself why it doesn’t come out during the day. Is it sick ? Is it afraid ? Is there anything you can do ?
I know I was a bit worried when I first got my Teddy – he is my first ever hamster. I did not know until him what hamsters do during the day, or at night. But after talking to some hamster owner friends of mine, and watching my own hamster, I got my answers.
So are hamsters nocturnal or not ?
Pet hamsters are nocturnal. Hamsters sleep during the day and wake up at night, so they can avoid predators.
This means that most of the time you will only see your hamster before you go to bed.
The reason pet hamsters are nocturnal is because there’s more activity near their habitat all day, to they adjust their schedule accordingly.
Keep in mind that hamsters are solitary creatures and prefer to be left alone. They feel most comfortable when it’s quiet outside, and for most pet hamsters that means the night, when everyone at home is asleep.
Of course, some pet hamsters may prefer the daytime and that’s fine.
In short, hamsters end up being or seeming to be nocturnal because most folks only see hamsters who are pets, not wild ones. So, since pet hamsters tend to only come out at night, they end up being nocturnal.
Wild hamsters have a more flexible schedule, and are actually crepuscular creatures. That means they come out at sunrise and sunset, when the light is easier on their sensitive eyes, and the temperature much more bearable.
How being crepuscular helps wild hamsters survive
Hamsters are prey, and they evolved to come out mostly at dawn and dusk because their main predators will hunt them during the day or the night. Those predators aren’t very active at dawn or dusk.
Another reason is that, while most hamsters come from desert areas, they can’t stand high heat. Nor do they tolerate very low temperatures.
Hamsters are most comfortable in a 20-22 degrees Celsius/68-72 Fahrenheit temperature range. And that is usually found during sunset and at sunrise.
So being crepuscular is mostly an evolutionary advantage.
Some hamsters are nocturnal, or even diurnal
This can happen, because hamsters have their own personalities. It’s not something that you’ll see straight away at the pet shop. But your hammy could be a night hamster, and only come out late at night.
For example my Teddy comes out around 8-9 PM, and I see him up even in the middle of the night if I walk past his cage.
He seems to get some rest once I wake up, which is around 5 AM. Then comes out again around 7 AM for about half an hour, and then retires for the rest of the day.
There are hamsters out there who are only awake during daytime. This is very rare but it can happen. It depends entirely on your hamster’s personality, but there are a few factors involved, like:
- If it’s too cold he won’t come out, and might even hibernate.
- If it’s too hot, again he will not come out.
- If he feels the coast is clear and feels that he is safe, he might come out to see what you’re doing during the day.
Your hamster’s routine helps him keep a sort of internal clock. Since in your home there is no natural difference in temperature or light for your hamster to use as a guideline, his waking hours might shift over time.
Hamsters wake up for a few minutes in daytime as well
Or, maybe he woke up because you moved his cage. Hamsters are very sensitive and will wake up easily, even if they do no leave their home. Something as simple as picking up and moving his cage can wake him up.
This is the case with my Teddy. After work I usually need a nap, but Teddy sometimes chooses that moment to have a snack, which will wake me up.
So I always move his cage to the other room, and I always see him come out a bit, all sleepy, to see what happened.
Hamsters make weird sounds during the day too
Even if you can’t see him, your hamster is sometimes awake in his little home, doing he knows what. And sometimes, weird noises come from that home.
You’ll have a hard time seeing inside his home to figure out the reason. His home is usually packed with bedding and you can’t see through it.
But he might sometimes ‘bark’ – I have no better way to explain this. It’s like a cross between a tiny bark and a hiccup, and it can last for 2 minutes sometimes. It can be completely random, and not seem to have an obvious reason.
Other times your hammy might be chewing on a piece of cardboard, or eating something from his stash (hamsters keep a food stash in their homes). So you might hear chattering and tiny biting sounds from his home.
Your hamster’s routine – what he usually does
If you’ve observed your hamster when he is awake, you’ll know that what he does is both incredibly funny and boring at the same time.
He can run and run and run in his wheel and look like he’s about to be swooped by an eagle. The he’ll suddenly stop and dart around his cage like he’s avoiding some other predator.
The best parts are when he suddenly stops. Not when he freezes to hear something or check what that sound means. I mean when he just stops moving at all and even when you come to talk to him he’ll just stare at you. This can last for a few minutes.
The weirdest moment like this was one where Teddy was sitting upright, holding a cage wire with one paw. More like resting his paw on it. And he was just looking at me.
He did not change his position when I came close and moved around his cage, he just turned his head towards me and kept staring. After a couple of minutes he went to drink some water and that was it.
Aside from things like these, hamsters don’t seem to do much. When they’re awake you can play with them, feed them treats with your hand, put them in an exercise ball, and even train them to stay on your hand.
If you want to give your hamster a way to get a lot of exercise, here’s what to look for in a hamster exercise wheel. Or, you can look for a hamster exercise ball and watch him be funny in that. Don’t leave him more than 30 minutes in the ball though !
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How to gently wake up your hamster
If, for whatever reason, you need your hamster awake right now, you can try this.
Get a treat or kind of food he likes a lot, a small piece. And gently tap on the side of his cage and talk to him, coaxing him out. You’ll hear the rustle of bedding in his home as he wakes up and turns towards you.
At first you’ll just see his nose, sniffing to ‘see’ what’s going on. That’s when it’s best to have the treat close enough to his home that he can detect it easily.
Then you’ll see him slowly come out, with sleepy small eyes, and his ears tucked back. He’ll reach towards the treat and you can pick him up.
If you want to know what kind of treats are okay for your hamster, here’s a list of foods and treats he can have and which he should avoid.
Hamsters are like humans when they wake up. Groggy, and a bit confused. So for a few minutes your hamster will be extra-tame when you handle him.
But I do not recommend abusing this method, since waking up your hamster too many times when he sleeps will get him frustrated. He will not be able to rest enough, and you’ll end up with a jittery, angry hamster biting the cage and possibly you.
Caring for a nocturnal or crepuscular hamster
Your hamster being awake in the latter part of the day, or at night, has some considerations.
First, the playtime is shorter and you’ll need to work every day to train your hamster to be relaxed around you. Syrian hamsters remember interactions for up to a week, while the smaller breeds like the Chinese or Siberian need daily interaction.
Second, it’s best to leave food for your hamster before he ‘starts his day’ so he has fresh food to nibble on. I usually leave Teddy 2 teaspoons of grains and pellets, enough for an adult Syrian hamster.
Since you will probably be sleeping the night away, your hamster eating will not be something you’ll witness often. But he will eat, don’t worry.
Third, it’s best to leave the thermostat on a temperature that’s suitable for your hamster for the night. That’s around 20-22 degrees Celsius/68-72 Fahrenheit. Make sure the room you keep your hamster in is not drafty or exposed to harsh light.
Actually, it might be best if you check out my article on the right temperature for your hamster, and how to make him as comfortable as possible.
Does your hamster need the light on at night ?
Your hamster is nocturnal, or crepuscular, and you’re sleeping when he’s up. Would he need a night light ? Or the actual light in the room on ?
So leaving a light on is not necessary. In some cases, in might be a bad idea since their eyes are very sensitive and very bright, harsh light can hurt them. For example direct sunlight is not very good for your hamster’s eyes.
My Teddy has a night light, but it’s not for him. It’s for me so I don’t bump into something at night when I go get a glass of water. He’s had the night light, and he’s had complete darkness as well. He was fine every morning, so a night light will not make much difference.
A word from Teddy
If you’re reading this then you’re probably wondering about your hamster. If he’s anything like me, he probably sleeps during the day and then runs all night.
We hamsters have a different schedule than humans, so it might be a bit weird at first. But you’ll get used to it really fast.
The face neighbors and friends make when you tell them we’re awake at night and sleep during the day is priceless though. “Don’t they get tired ??” they ask. Then they realize what they just asked and move along.
If you want to know more about us hamsters, you can check out the articles below. You’ll find great info on the best kind of food for us, how much water we need, and how much exercise we need as well.