If you’ve ever uttered the words, “In my next life, I’m coming back as a cat,” then you’re well attuned to the fact that felines enjoy lots and lots of sleep. In fact, cats sleep an average of 15 hours a day, with some snoozing for up to 20 hours per 24-hour period. The only animals that get more slumber are bats and possums.
Cats are crepuscular animals, which means that they’re most active between dusk and dawn. They’re natural predators, so they’re hard-wired to chase and hunt at night, much like lions; in the wild, cats also have enemies, so it behooves them to spend extended periods during the day in quiet, still sleep. While the felines you love are domesticated, they still share that wiring and may spend the overnight hours prowling, pouncing, and playing. All of that hunting requires immense amounts of energy. And sleep allows cats to build up their reserves so they can run and stalk as they need to.
While cats sleep about twice as much as humans and prefer to get their rest through short and long naps instead of one big chunk of slumber at night, they experience similar sleep stages. Cats typically fall asleep quickly, presumably after a burst of intense energy. They slip into slow-wave sleep at first, and then move to REM sleep. This is when cats may dream just like humans do—often, you’ll notice their tails, paws, and whiskers twitch when they’re in the REM stage.
It may seem that cats are out cold when they snooze, but, actually, their senses are still sharp—especially those of smell and hearing. That’s so they can spring into action at a moment’s notice when they smell or hear a mouse nearby, for instance. While most cats either curl up or stretch out while they sleep, some prefer to snooze sitting up; in that case, their muscles stiffen to keep them upright. And, like their owners, cats tend to sleep more when the weather is cold, gray, or drizzly (perhaps that’s why your kitty curls up with you for rainy-day movies).
Though cats naturally sleep throughout the day and are active during the night, their bond with you might just be stronger than their circadian rhythm: Most cats will adjust their schedules, so they’re awake to play when you’re home and can cuddle up next to you while you catch your own zzz’s.