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Sleep Behavior of Cats

By: Virginia Wells

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There's no doubt about it: cats sure know how to sleep. Although the amount of time spent napping varies from cat to cat, and depends on the cat's age and personality, felines spend an average of 13 to 16 hours each day curled up in slumber. Only the opossum and the bat sleep more – napping away almost 20 hours a day.

Nobody is sure why cats sleep so much. Cats evolved from a long line of hunters and predators – and their sleep patterns reflect that. For one thing, they are crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk), since most of their prey is active at these times. This gives them plenty of time to sleep during the middle of the day.

The cat's diet may play an important role in its sleep patterns. Large grazing herbivores must graze for hours to supply their bodies with enough food. But the protein-rich diet of the cat does not require such an investment of time, and allows him plenty of time for napping.

Of course, today's modern indoor cat sometimes sleeps out of boredom. You can help your kitty by providing plenty of stimulation during the day – this can be in the form of toys, a companion, or by spending quality playtime with you. If he has plenty to do during the day, he may prefer to stay awake then, and sleep more during the night when you do.

What Happens During Sleep

Sleep consists of two basic phases: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, when dreams occur, and Non-REM (NREM) or deep sleep. If a cat is deprived of either sort of sleep, it becomes confused and irritable.

During NREM sleep, your cat's body repairs and regenerates itself. Kittens build their muscles and bones. The immune system strengthens and revitalizes. Kittens need more NREM sleep than adults and with advancing years the amount of NREM sleep diminishes.

During REM sleep, your cat's eyes move behind the eyelids, limbs twitch, and whiskers move around. Up to 60 percent of your cat's sleep is REM sleep, three times more than we have when we are asleep.

Cats Really Catnap

Newborn kittens sleep most of the time, but this keeps them safe in the nest and also keeps them quiet so that they don't attract predators. As they mature, young cats sleep patterns begin to conform to those of adults, with them tending to sleep in naps rather than having one long rest. Again this has to do with their predatory nature.

Cats in the wild must be on the alert in order to survive. When your domestic cat sleeps, his finely tuned senses are still active and ready to spring into action. Watch your cat while he's napping. His ears rotate as he stays in touch with his environment, and if he hears a noise or senses that someone is approaching, he will open his eyes to assess the situation before falling back to sleep. If you try to wake a sleeping cat, he can transform from deeply sleeping cat to one that's fully alert in a matter of seconds – and then back again.

*Cats Sleep...Anywhere

...any table...any chair...top of piano...window ledge...in the middle...on the edge...

Your cat looks for a place that feels comfortable and safe and has the right temperature. When the weather is warm, he seeks high shaded sleeping nooks, where he can stretch out. During the cool winter months he'll find a place bathed in the warm sunshine or sidle up to heat source, and there he'll curl up with face between paws to reduce body heat loss.

You can make a comfortable bed for your kitty or choose from the variety of plush feline beds at your pet store. However, if you are so inclined, you can let your cat sleep in his favorite place – your bed. In a recent poll, 60 percent of cat owners admitted that they share their beds with a cat. Advocates of this method say it strengthens the human-feline bond – not to mention the warmth and comfort your cat provides you.

*Eleanor Farjeon (1881 – 1965)

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