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Why do cats sleep so much?

Why do cats sleep so much?

 

cat sleeping with tongue hanging out

Cats sleep. And they sleep. And they sleep. They sleep curled into tight balls, or stretched out on the floor. They sleep on their backs; they sleep sitting up. They sleep with twisted torsos and they sleep with dangling limbs.

 

Do you envy all that sleep? Or do you worry that it’s too much, that your cat is sleeping his only life away?

 

 

How many hours a day do cats sleep?

 

baby elephant sleeping

It’s not your imagination: cats sleep a lot. In fact, they’re amongst the sleepiest animals in the world, right up there with three-toed sloths (who need 16.4 hours a day), brown bats, (19.9 hours), opossums (19.4 hours), and giant armadillos (18.8). As a reference, African elephants sleep two hours a day.[1] Elephants probably get a lot more done than cats.

 

But how much are cats supposed to sleep? I’m not sure we really know. Do a Google search and you’ll get conflicting answers, none of which are based in science. One website says that cats sleep an average of 15 hours a day, but up to 20 is “normal.”[2] Another will tell you that cats sleep 13-16 hours day.[3] And yet another says that 16 hours is exactly the right amount of sleep for cats.[4]

 

One scientific paper reviewed almost 200 separate studies about animals and sleep. This review of the scientific literature about cats and sleep concluded that cats sleep 10-13 hours a day.[5]

 

That’s still a lot of sleep, but I’m going to guess that your indoor cats probably sleep more than that. Let’s talk first about why cats sleep “a lot” and then about why your cats may be sleeping more than “a lot.”

 

Why cats sleep a lot

 

african wildcat

Our housecats, who live in our air-conditioned homes and eat food from a can, are actually not all that far removed from their ancestors, the African wildcat.

 

Wild cats need a lot of sleep. Why? All felines are obligate carnivores, meaning eating meat is a biological necessity. They must hunt for food to survive. Carnivores expend a lot of energy feeding themselves, especially compared to herbivores (who eat only plants) and omnivores (who eat both plants and animals).

 

Sneaking up and pouncing on prey is just plain exhausting. Cats in the wild work hard, and after they expend that kind of physical energy, they need a lot of time to recharge.

 

That’s not the only reason wildcats rest, especially during the day. African wildcats live in hot climates, and they’ve adapted to that by conserving energy during the heat of the day. Resting, rather than hunting, during the hottest hours, helps them regulate body temperature.[6]

 

sleeping cat

Your cat may be lounging in front of a big fan in your living room, but he still has the physiology of his predator ancestors. He’s hardwired to behave like he needs to recuperate from a big hunt, or like he’s living on a scorching savannah. He might not need as much sleep as his wild relatives, but his body thinks he does.

 

When is “sleeping a lot” too much sleeping?

 

Ah, this is the big question, and we loving cat guardians need to try to answer it.

 

One source that I consulted suggested that adult farm cats only spend nine hours a day sleeping. They were engaged in hunting behaviors during the rest of the day.[7]

 

Somewhere between the nine hours of sleep that busy farm cats are getting and the 20 hours suggested by other sources as “normal” is probably the right number of hours for our housecats to be sleeping.

 

sleeping cat

Why would a cat sleep more than she really needs to sleep? If your cat is otherwise mentally and physically healthy (see the section below if your cat is suddenly sleeping more – or less – than usual) it’s possible that your cat simply doesn’t have anything else to do.

 

Cats who sleep too much may be bored

(*Note: as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases) 

There are many ways to keep cats from being bored and sleeping their lives away. Here are a few ideas:

 

Interactive play. I wrote this blog post on how to play with your cat during the pandemic quarantine. In it, I discuss nine fun ways to play with your cat that are entertaining any time.
 
Puzzle toys. A food-dispensing puzzle toy is any item that contains food that is designed to release the food when a cat manipulates it. An empty water bottle with a hole cut in the side and filled with cat treats is a food-dispensing puzzle toy. Puzzle toys provide physical activity and mental stimulation for indoor cats.
 
If you don’t care to make your own, you can buy puzzle toys, like this Trixie Activity Board, this Catit Treat Ball, or this LickiMat Casper.
 
Cat window seat. Let your cat watch Cat TV. A window seat, like this one by ZALALOVA is incredibly stimulating for cats.
 
Catio. This is the Rolls Royce of boredom solutions. It’s not for every home, and it’s not for every budget. A catio is an outdoor enclosure for cats and they range from window-box units (if you’re handy, you can purchase some DIY plans on CatioSpaces.com) to free-standing enclosures, like this monstrous one by PawHut.

 

Cats alter sleep patterns to spend time with people

 

person holding cat

If you think that you don’t have any influence on how much or when your cat sleeps, one study showed that cats will actually adjust their sleep patterns to spend more time interacting with their humans.[8]

 

Most cat sleep studies are done on laboratory cats, which doesn’t tell us much about our pet cats. But an Italian scientist studied cats at home to see how they behaved. It was a small study, with only 10 cats. Five of the cats lived in smaller homes in close quarters with their owners. The other five lived on bigger properties and were locked outside at night.

 

Over time, cats in the first group began to mimic the lives of their owners, eating and sleeping at the same times, and being active when their owners were home. The other group of cats developed a nocturnal lifestyle and adopted more feral ways.

 

This study shows how important our presence is to our cats. Cats adapt their activity level to us and our lifestyles.[9]

 

Conclusion: spend time with your cat. (I didn’t need to tell you that, did I?)

 

When should I be concerned about my cat’s sleeping habits?

 

sleeping cat with paws on eyes

The most important thing for cat guardians to notice, when it comes to sleep or anything else, is change.

 

Prick up your ears if your cat is sleeping more or less than is usual for him, and make an emergency appointment with your veterinarian if you notice a change.

 

Your cat is sleeping more than is normal for him

 
Chronic illness. Increased lethargy can be a sign of chronic illness in cats. Illnesses such as kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, liver disease, and neurological conditions, among other things, can cause a cat to sleep more.
 
Infection. Cats who are suffering from an acute infection can also be more lethargic. Viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections can all cause a cat to sleep more than usual.
 
Pain. Aging can cause a cat’s energy level to decrease, but painful arthritis, which is treatable with medication, can cause a cat to be less interested in moving around.
 
Obesity. Obesity can make it difficult for a cat to jump or move, and an overweight cat may choose to sleep instead.

 

Depression/anxiety. Depression or anxiety can cause a cat to sleep more, too. Look for additional signs such as grooming changes, increased vocalization, litter box changes, and increased clinginess.
 

Your cat is suddenly sleeping less than is normal for her 

If your cat seems to have more energy than usual, that’s not necessarily a good sign either. Sudden wakefulness might indicate hyperthyroidism, hypertension, FIV, or feline cognitive dysfunction (CDS). Contact your vet.
 

Cats may “fake” sleep when stressed

 

Not all sleeping cats are actually sleeping.

 

cat feigning sleep

Cats feign sleep when they are stressed. A cat who is feigning sleep will have a tense body, with her tail wrapped closely around her. Her paws may be tucked underneath and her ears may be upright and slightly forward, as if listening to every sound. Her eyes may be open or closed, but she is aware of her surroundings.

 

This behavior reflects a high level of fear and anxiety and is often seen in cats in shelter settings.

 

If you suspect your cat may be feigning sleep, make sure he has what are considered to be the Five Pillars of a Healthy Feline Environment:

 

1) A safe place – someplace private that a cat can escape to when he needs to feel protected. Hiding places, like cardboard boxes, and perches, meet these requirements.
 
2) Multiple, separated resources, including food, water, litter box, scratching areas, play areas, and resting or sleeping areas. There shouldn’t just be one of anything, and they shouldn’t all be grouped in one place in your house.
 
3) Opportunities for play and predatory behavior.
 
4) Predicable and frequent opportunities to interact with you.
 
5) An environment that respects your cat’s sense of smell, including avoiding use of products or chemicals that may interfere with your cat’s sense of smell.

 

For more information about the Five Pillars, read this publication:

 

AAFP and ISFM Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines

 

Do cats dream?

 

cat sleeping in a twisted position

Cats and humans have a good bit in common when it comes to sleep. Cat and human schedules are dictated by circadian rhythms: the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. We both respond to light and dark[10], tending to be sleepier at night and more wakeful in the morning.

 

Like us, cats experience sleep cycles that include both REM and non-REM sleep.

 

REM sleep is very deep sleep. Human brain waves are very active during REM sleep – similar to what is seen in wakefulness. Breathing is fast and irregular, the heart rate goes up, and blood pressure increases. Humans dream during REM sleep.

 

Cats have REM sleep, too. An EEG (electroencephalogram) shows erratic brain-wave activity, similar to an awake cat. Cats, too, will have rapid, irregular breathing, fluctuating heart rates, and jerky eye movements. Whiskers will twitch, tails will flick, and paws will move. A cat may even snore.

 

Are cats dreaming during REM sleep the way we do? It’s likely, but we don’t know definitively. It makes you wonder what cats might dream about.

 

What is a cat nap?

 

cat sleeping with eyes open

During non-REM sleep, humans experience lighter sleep, with slower brain-wave activity, a more relaxed body, and slower heart rate and breathing. Cats’ non-REM sleep is also light, with slow brain waves.

 

Interestingly, cats in non-REM sleep are ready to leap into action at any moment! Their muscles and senses remain active. They are ready to bolt after prey, or to escape danger, if necessary.[11]

 

A typical cat sleep cycle looks like this:

 

  • 10-30 minutes of non-REM sleep during which the cat may be easily awoken.
  • 10 minutes of deep REM sleep.
  • A repeating of the REM/non-REM cycle until the cat wakes up.[12]

 

Why do cats sleep?

 

cat with fangs sleeping

We don’t know exactly why humans or cats sleep but we do know that sleep is essential to life itself. We literally will die without sleep. It is as essential as food and water.

 

Sleep affects almost every type system in the human body: brain, heart, lungs, metabolism, the immune system, and mood. A lack of sleep can cause cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression high blood pressure, and obesity in people. We can’t learn or create new memories without sleep.[13] This is probably true of cats as well.

 

We do know that sleeping makes animals vulnerable but that they do it anyway. The benefits of sleep obviously outweigh the risks.

 

Kittens and senior cats have different sleep requirements

 

newborn kitten sleeping

Newborn kittens sleep close to 24 hours a day. A kitten’s nervous system isn’t fully developed at birth, so during the first three weeks of life a kitten sleeps at least 90% of the time. Mama cat licks her babies awake to nurse.[14]

 

Young kittens continue to sleep most of the day with a few brief bursts of energy between meals.[15] Adolescent cats have more erratic sleep patterns, interspersed with periods of intense playfulness.

 

Eventually, as the kitten grows, his need to sleep slowly diminishes, until the kitten’s sleep pattern resembles that of an adult cat.

 

By the time a cat becomes a senior, her need for sleep may again increase.

 

A final fun cat sleep fact

 

cat in the window looking at the rain

Cats sleep more during rainy or cold days, even indoor-only cats.[16]

 

I totally get it, cats.

 

Still interested in reading more about cats and sleeping? Read this post, “Why does my cat sleep with me?

 

Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!

why do cats sleep so much? Pinterest-friendly pin 

 

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Fry, Alexa. “The Connection between Animal and Human Sleep.” Sleep Foundation, 17 Feb. 2021, www.sleepfoundation.org/animals-and-sleep/connection-between-human-and-animal-sleep.

 

[2] Editorial, PetMD. “Why Do Cats Sleep so Much?” PetMD, PetMD, 7 July 2016, www.petmd.com/cat/behavior/evr_ct_why_do_cats_sleep_so_much.

 

[3] “How Many Hours a Day Do Cats Sleep? Why Do They Sleep so Much?” Sleep Advisor, 18 June 2020, www.sleepadvisor.org/why-do-cats-sleep-so-much/.

 

[4] Johnson, Samantha. “How Many Hours a Day Do Cats Sleep?” K&H Pet Products, K&H Pet Products, 11 Sept. 2020, khpet.com/blogs/cats/how-many-hours-a-day-do-cats-sleep.

 

[5] Campbell, Scott & Tobler, Irene. (1984). Animal sleep: A review of sleep duration across phylogeny. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews. 8. 269-300. 10.1016/0149-7634(84)90054-X. www.researchgate.net/figure/SLEEP-DURATIONS-FOR-168-SPECIES-Continued_tbl1_16692721

 

[6]How Do the Wild Cats Deal with the SUMMER HEAT?The Wildcat Sanctuary, 18 July 2013, www.wildcatsanctuary.org/how-do-the-wild-cats-deal-with-record-breaking-heat/.

 

[7] Waring, Laura. “Why Do Cats Sleep so Much?” Vet Help Direct, 4 Jan. 2021, vethelpdirect.com/vetblog/2021/01/10/why-do-cats-sleep-so-much/.

 

[8] “Why Do Cats Sleep so Much?” Oakland Veterinary Referral Services, 5 May 2021, www.ovrs.com/blog/cats-sleep/.

 

[9] Piccione, Giuseppe, et al. “Daily Rhythm of Total Activity Pattern in Domestic Cats (Felis Silvestris Catus) Maintained in Two Different Housing Conditions.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior, Elsevier, 5 Jan. 2013, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1558787812001220?via%3Dihub.

 

[10] “Circadian Rhythms.” National Institute of General Medical Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx.

 

[11] “Why Do Cats Sleep so Much?” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/story/why-do-cats-sleep-so-much.

 

[12] Todd, Zazie. “How Much Do Cats Sleep, and Where Do They Prefer to Sleep?” How Much Do Cats Sleep, and Where Do They Prefer to Sleep?, Blogger, 17 July 2020, www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2020/06/how-much-do-cats-sleep-and-where-do.html.

 

[13] “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep.

 

[14] Marek, Ramona. “Catnap CONNOISSEURS: How Cats Sleep.” Fear Free Happy Homes, 30 Apr. 2021, www.fearfreehappyhomes.com/catnap-connoisseurs-how-cats-sleep/.

 

[15] “Animal Emergency Center.” My Cat Sleeps Constantly, When Should I Worry? | Memphis Emergency Vet, www.aecmemphis.com/site/vet-blog-memphis/2020/02/13/my-cat-sleeps-constantly-when-should-i-worry.

 

[16] Editorial, PetMD. “Why Do Cats Sleep so Much?” PetMD, PetMD, 7 July 2016, www.petmd.com/cat/behavior/evr_ct_why_do_cats_sleep_so_much.

 

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