By Katie Kotteman
Updated March 26, 2021
If you live with a cat, you’ve probably noticed that your cat sleeps for a good part of the day. You may have wondered if your cat sleeps too much, or why your cat seems to be wide awake when you’re ready for bed. You also may have noticed your cat pawing at the air in its sleep or waking you up every morning at the same time.
Just as with humans, the sleep cycle for cats is complex. If you’re a cat owner, it’s helpful to know how much your cat should sleep, how your pet’s sleep is similar to your own, and why your cat sleeps the way it does.
How Long Do Cats Sleep?
It might seem like your cat is only awake for a few hours a day. On average, cats sleep between 12 and 16 hours each day. As cats get older, they tend to sleep more (1) to conserve energy. Some older cats can sleep for 18 hours or more per day. If you’re worried that your cat might be sleeping too much, keep in mind that they require more sleep than humans do. However, if you notice significant changes in your cat’s behavior, you may want to consult your veterinarian.
How Is Cat Sleep Like Human Sleep?
Cats and humans experience similar features of sleep. Rapid eye movement, or REM (2), occurs in humans as one of the stages of sleep. During this stage, the eyes move back and forth, breathing and heart rate become faster, and dreams occur. Cats also experience REM sleep (3), with their eyes moving in both vertical and horizontal directions.
Cats and humans also have cycles of non-REM sleep. In humans, the three cycles of non-REM sleep move from light to deep sleep. When cats are in the light sleep phase, they are relaxed but on alert. You may notice your cat taking naps throughout the day, but they’re still ready to pounce at the slightest movement or noise.
Humans and cats are also affected by circadian rhythms (4), which are 24-hour cycles that dictate when to be awake and when to be asleep. Humans are usually awake during the day and asleep at night. Cats are crepuscular, meaning that their circadian rhythms (5) tell them to be awake at dusk and dawn, and to sleep at night and during the day.
Because human and cat sleep cycles are different, you might be asleep when your cat is most active and vice versa. If you have a cat that wakes you at sunrise every morning, this could be an effect of your cat’s circadian rhythm.
Why Do Cats Sleep Next to You?
Even if you’re on an opposite sleep schedule from your cat, you might notice that your cat likes to sleep near you or in your bed. This can be a sign of trust or a sign that your cat loves the extra warmth provided by your body heat or blankets. There are plenty of benefits to sleeping with your pet, including lower stress levels and feeling a general sense of comfort and security. Studies have shown that pet owners who sleep with their cats (6) have a closer human-cat relationship than pet owners who don’t.
Sleeping with a cat might also have some drawbacks. For example, pet owners who sleep with pets may be at a higher risk of contracting zoonotic diseases (7) that are passed from animals to humans, like ringworm or cat scratch disease. If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, it might be best to sleep without your cat, as your cat’s noises and movements could be keeping you awake.
Do Cats Dream?
We know that cats experience REM sleep, which is the sleep stage where humans commonly dream. If you’ve ever watched your cat sleep, you’ve probably noticed it twitching, snoring, hissing, or moving its legs while it sleeps. Many researchers believe that these movements are evidence that cats dream (8).
We may never know all of the nuances of the cat sleep cycle, but we do know that cats require a lot of sleep. Cats also experience many of the same features of sleep that we do. We can use this information to feel even more bonded with our beloved pets and help care for them.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32640581/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep Accessed on March 23, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18499729/ Accessed on March 23, 2021.
- https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx Accessed on March 23, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6685930/ Accessed on March 23, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33291476/ Accessed on March 23, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32471058/ Accessed on March 23, 2021.
- https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0166223679901103 Accessed on March 23, 2021.