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Why does my cat sleep with me?

Why does my cat sleep with me?

 

You bought her the fancy bed: the one shaped like a pineapple. And also, the big plush puffball bed that “experts” said was calming. And the cat cave, handmade out of wool in Nepal, too, just in case she liked that one better. And where does your cat sleep? In your bed, with you.

 

You are not weird. Your cat is not weird. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 62% of pet owners in the United States allow a pet to sleep in bed with them.[1] You and more than half the cat and dog owners in the country have pet hair on their pillow, and most of them love it.

 

Why does your cat choose to sleep in bed with you?

 

black and white photo of a cat in bed

Everyone thinks they know the answer to this question. “Because your cat loves you!” “Because cats are territorial!” “Because it makes a cat feel safe!”

 

Well, any of those theories might be true. They certainly sound reasonable. But we don’t know what cats are thinking. I like to answer questions about cat behaviors with facts. What do we know for sure about our cats that may apply to the question of why they sleep in our beds with us?

 

Cats need more warmth than our homes provide.

Our house cats are freezing. We keep our houses at around 72 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just perfect. For us. Our cats beg to differ.
 
Cats have a different thermoneutral zone than people. The thermoneutral zone is the temperature at which a living thing does not have to use extra energy to stay warm or keep cool. Our cats’ thermoneutral zone is between 86 and 97 degrees. In other words, our cats would like it if we cranked the thermostat up at least 14 degrees. They’d be delighted if we turned it up 25 degrees.
 
Our beds ooze warmth when we are snuggled beneath the covers. Our bodies generate heat and our comforters and blankets trap all that delicious warmth in.
 
It is possible that our cats like to share our bed because it is the only place in the house that is exactly the right temperature for them.
 
gray cat sleeping in a bed

Some cats are social sleepers

Cats are born into the habit of sleeping with others. Early in their lives they snuggled up with their mom, and formed a cozy pile with their brothers and sisters. Cats that are part of the same social group will often choose to sleep cuddled together or close to each other.[2] Feral cats who live in colonies often snuggle together while sleeping, presumably for warmth during the winter, and for protection from predators. It is possible that a cat who sleeps with his humans is just a social sleeper and you are his colony.
 
Note that not all cats are social sleepers and that many feral cats, especially males, do not live in colony arrangements. Every cat is an individual.
cat on a pillow 

Cats derive security from us

Cats may have a reputation for being aloof or standoffish, but that reputation, as it turns out, is not based in fact. A study published in Current Biology found that cats actually form attachments to their owners that are similar to the kind of connection that dogs form with us, and even that babies form with their parents.
 
Kristyn Vitale, a postdoctoral fellow at Oregon State University, conducted this study, which used something called the “strange-situation test” that was originally designed to evaluate the parent-infant bond. Vitale used 108 cats and kittens for her experiments.
 
Each cat was placed in a room with his owner for two minutes. The owner left the room for the next two minutes and then returned for another two minutes. Each cat’s response was assessed.
cat sleeping in a bed 
If the cat greeted her owner and then went back to exploring the room, her attachment to her owner was considered to be “secure.” If the cat performed any behaviors that showed anxiety or fear, such as tail-twitching, lip-licking, or avoiding the owner when he returned, the attachment to the owner was considered to be “insecure.”
 
Results showed that 64% of cats in the study were securely attached to their owners, a similar rate to that found in dogs and babies.[3]
 
So cats are not aloof. In fact, as Vitale told NBC News, “The majority of cats are looking to their owners to be a source of safety and security.”[4]
 
Are they seeking that kind of secure feeling when they cuddle up on our laps, or snuggle into our sides in bed?
 
Perhaps.

 

Is it a good idea to allow a cat to sleep with you?

cat sleeping on a bed with a book

 

Is it safe to sleep with your cat?

Google this topic and you’re going to find out about a lot of disgusting and dangerous diseases people got from their pets. Yes, you can get bubonic plague from your cat or dog, and parasites, and even methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. Yuck! But not everybody who has contracted these diseases from their pets has gotten sick from sharing a bed with them. It is more likely that these unfortunate animal lovers got sick from kissing their pets or allowing them to lick them, than from co-sleeping.
 
Moreover, when the CDC studied what they call “zoonotic infections” (an infectious disease that has “jumped” from an animal to a human) they concluded that the risk is “uncommon” with healthy pets[5], especially indoor pets.
 
Outdoor cats are exposed to many more diseases than indoor cats, including worms, giardiasis, ringworm, toxoplasmosis, plague, and hantavirus, to name a few. But indoor cats who get regular veterinary care are probably safe to share a bed with.
 
But as you’re thinking about this question, just remember where those paws have been, if that is a consideration for you. As anyone who has gotten kitty litter stuck to the bottom of their bare feet can attest, what goes in the litter box doesn’t necessarily stay in the litter box. And what doesn’t stay in the litter box, may end up between the sheets. When you invite a cat into your bed, you may also be inviting in small particles of fecal matter.
black cat on a bed with two children 

Does sleeping with a cat disturb your sleep?

Humans are diurnal animals. That means that we’re awake and active during the day, but enjoy a long sleep at night.
 
Cats are crepuscular animals, which means they are most active at dusk and dawn. So, your cat is ready to party just as her human counterparts are winding down for the evening, or trying to get those last few hours of shut-eye before work.
 
(If your cat is particularly active when you want to be sleeping, read this post, “Why does my cat yowl at night?”)
 
One study on human-animal co-sleeping showed that people who share their bed with their pets tend to take longer to fall asleep, experience more sleep disturbances at night, and are more likely to wake up tired in the morning.[6] If that is you, you already know who you are.
striped cat curled up in bed with someone's arm 
Part of the problem is that humans and cats don’t share the same sleep patterns. We tend to be awake for a large block of the day, and then asleep for a second shorter block. Cats, on the other hand, sleep for an average of 15 hours per day (up to 20 hours)[7] but in a different rhythm.
 
Cats replenish their energy with catnaps throughout the day that last for 15 to 30 minutes at a time. They alternate between light dozing for most of the nap, and deep sleep in five-minute bursts. This mostly-alert sleep routine serves cats well, who must always be ready to defend themselves from predators, or ready to attack prey. But it’s not great for co-sleeping with humans.
 

Are there other reasons not to allow your cat in the bed?

two cats in bed with a person
One cat in the bed is one thing. Two cats, or three, or a cat and a dog is a whole other ball of wax.
 
If there is more than one pet sleeping on your bed, there may be competition and competition could mean chaos. Certain pets may have preferred sleeping locations, or want to defend a certain spot next to you. Other pets may not appreciate being stepped on, nudged, stepped over, or touched by another pet. Are you going to be getting any sleep with growling and hissing, or worse going on in the background?
 
Even if you have only one cat, you could have problems. If you have a very dominant cat, giving him access to your bed could have unintended consequences. If he begins to feel like your bed is actually his bed, he might become agitated if anyone else comes on to the bed.[8] Do you want to have an argument with your cat about who owns the bed?

 

What are the benefits of sleeping with your cat?

 

cat sleeping in bed with a sleeping person

If you already allow pets in the bed, I don’t have to convince you of the benefits. In fact, you’re probably already looking forward to bedtime so that you can snuggle with your furry loved ones.

 

Sleeping with another living thing, whether human or animal, brings warmth and comfort and a sense of security. It protects against loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Pets are good company, in the bed or anywhere else.

 

A study conducted in 2020 in Brazil involving more than 16,000 cats and their owners concluded that sleeping in the same bed was one of many activities that pets and their owners do together that contributes to a strong human-cat bond.[9] And that is no small thing.

 

cat sleeping on a corner of the bed

Other studies have shown that petting an animal raises blood levels of oxytocin (the “feel-good” hormone) and lowers the stress hormone cortisol.[10] Snuggling with your pet at night can actually lower your blood pressure.

 

You may have allowed your cat into the bed for her comfort, but if you allow her to stay there it could be for your own health.

 

Who should NEVER sleep with a cat?

 

baby in a crib

You should never allow a cat to sleep with a child under four or five years old, and especially not with a baby.

 

A loving cat who is only trying to snuggle with your small child for warmth could inadvertently smother the baby by sleeping on her chest or face. If the cat is startled, the baby could be bitten by the surprised cat, or scratched as the cat scampers off.

 

Keep the baby’s bedroom door shut. Don’t allow the cat to sleep in the crib or toddler bed even if the child is not in it. You don’t want any bad habits to develop, nor do you want a one-time slip-up to result in tragedy.

 

Can you make your cat sleep in bed with you?

 

You can’t (and shouldn’t) try to force a cat to sleep with you. Cats are entirely their own “people,” with their own minds, and their own preferences. Some cats feel a need to sleep on a high perch, like a jaguar draped across a tree branch in the Amazonian rainforest. Others, who may take after their cave-dwelling wild-cat ancestors, seek out modern-day caves, like that far corner beneath your bed.

 

cat sleeping in a bed

If you haven’t noticed, you can’t MAKE your cat do anything, and even if you could, would you really want to? Any relationship worth having is built upon mutual respect. If your cat is comfortable on the bed with you, and you are comfortable with him in your bed, then all is well with the world and you can stop reading this section.

 

If your cat would rather sleep at the top of the bookshelf in the study, then that is who he is.  Grabbing him from his favorite sleeping spot and plopping him on your bed is not only disrespectful to him, it’s unlikely to result in him spending three seconds on the bed, let alone the whole night.

 

bed with covers rumpled

Are there things you can do to let her know that your bedroom is a nice place to be, just in case she hadn’t yet considered your bed a sleeping spot? Certainly! Start by keeping your bedroom door open during the day, so she feels free to explore the bedroom and the bed on her own timetable.

 

Make the bed look extra-inviting at naptime. Keep a comfy blanket on the bed for cuddling into, or lift the corner of the comforter into a little tent to allow him to discover the warmth and coziness of the bed on his own.

 

But for the sake of your relationship with your cat, don’t force it.

 

What should you do if you don’t want your cat to sleep with you?

 

*Note, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

 

The best way to discourage a cat from sleeping with you is to never start by allowing it. It’s easier to never let the cat in the bed than to try to evict him later.

 

If it’s too late for that, try to suss out what your cat is getting from the co-sleeping arrangement. If your cat is snuggling with you at night for warmth, try getting her a heated bed. I like this K&H Heated Bed which comes in two sizes and warms gently to your pet’s body temperature when she uses it.

 

If you have a food-motivated cat, you can try to break the bed-sleeping cycle by using a timed cat feeder, like this model by PETLIBRO. Set it to go off every hour or two all night and maybe your cat will start spending more time around the feeder than in your bed. If you get lucky, it might break the cycle.

 

bedroom door

If none of these easy methods work, you may have to ban the cat from the bedroom completely. Does that mean you’re going to get any peace? Probably not at first. Some cats will meow all night out of frustration.

 

Whatever you do, don’t reward the meowing because it will only entrench the behavior more deeply. Don’t give in “just this once” and let the cat into your room. Doing so is giving the cat what animal behaviorists call an intermittent reward. An intermittent reward is actually worse than giving your cat a special treat for performing an unwanted behavior.

 

Even negative consequences, like loudly shouting, “quiet!” are still rewards. In fact, anything that is not absolutely nothing will reinforce the meowing outside the bedroom door.

 

If you find your frustration building, do yourself a favor and seek the advice of a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. Find one in your area by consulting the Animal Behavior Society’s Directory. The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists is another good resource.

 

How do cats choose whom to sleep with? Why does my cat sleep with me, and not my spouse?

 

orange cat in bed with two people

Do we know the minds of our cats? We do not. We can only guess at their motivations.

 

We can, however, make some educated guesses about their behavior.

 

If cats derive a sense of security from those they bond with, as researcher Vitale found in her study about cat attachment to humans (above), it is possible that a cat may choose to sleep with the person they are most bonded with. Feral cats in colonies will only social-sleep with members of their own cat “family.” In other words, it’s unlikely that a cat will sleep with just anyone.

 

If you’re the source of security – if, for example, you’re the one who typically feeds your cat – it’s possible your cat may choose to sleep with you, and not your spouse.

 

cat on bed with woman on computer

There could be more practical reasons why a cat chooses one family member over another. Maybe the person who feeds the cat is also, unfortunately, the most fidgety sleeper in the house. Your cat may find that annoying.

 

Maybe someone in the family leaves the bedroom door open for the cat to come and go, while other members shut the door for the night, trapping a restless cat in or out.

 

Maybe one member of the family reliably rises to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, and talks to or plays with the cat for a few minutes along the way – something that the cat really enjoys.

 

Be your own cat’s best observer and try to investigate, in a methodical way, the reason for your cat’s behavior.

 

Why do cats sleep on your head? Or on your chest?

 

cat on a person's chest/stomach

Your heat-loving cat may be seeking out the warmest places on your body to snuggle up to.

 

A 2007 Chinese study on skin temperature and thermal comfort showed that the warmest parts of the human body were the head, chest, and abdomen.[11]

 

It’s just possible our cats were a few steps ahead of the scientists.

 

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

Why does my cat sleep with me? Pinterest-friendly pin 

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FOOTNOTES

 

 

[1] Chomel, Bruno B., and Ben Sun. “Zoonoses in the Bedroom - Volume 17, Number 2-February 2011 - Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal - CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 Jan. 2011, wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/17/2/10-1070_article.

 

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

 

[3] Vitale, Kristyne R., et al. “Attachment Bonds between Domestic Cats and Humans.” Current Biology Volume 29 Issue 18, 23 Sept. 2019, www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(19)31086-3.

 

[4] Jackson, Sarah. “Cats Really Do Need Their Humans, Even If They Don't Show It.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 23 Sept. 2019, www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/cats-really-do-need-their-humans-even-if-they-don-n1057431.

 

[5] Chomel, et. al.

 

[6] Hoffman, Christy L, et al. “Human-Animal Co-Sleeping: An Actigraphy-Based Assessment of Dogs' Impacts on Women's Nighttime Movements.” Animals : an Open Access Journal from MDPI, MDPI, 11 Feb. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7070703/.

 

[7] 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.

 

[8] “Should You Let Your Cat Sleep in Bed with You?” Healthline.com, www.healthline.com/health-news/should-you-let-your-cat-sleep-in-bed-with-you?

 

[9] Machado, Daiana de Souza, et al. “Beloved Whiskers: Management Type, Care Practices and Connections to Welfare in Domestic Cats.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 5 Dec. 2020, www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/10/12/2308/htm.

 

[10] “The Friend Who Keeps You Young.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-friend-who-keeps-you-young.

 

[11] Ye Yao, Zhiwei Lian. “Experimental Study on Skin Temperature and Thermal Comfort of the Human Body in a Recumbent Posture under Uniform Thermal Environments - Ye Yao, Zhiwei Lian, Weiwei Liu, Qi Shen, 2007.” SAGE Journals, 14 Aug. 2007, journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1420326x07084291.

 

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2 comments

  • Richard – I’m so glad you found it helpful! You just made my day!

    Dawn LaFontaine
  • Fantastic Article. enjoyed reading it, keep up the good work.

    Richard Finney

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