Our feline friends never stop to amaze us. Just like many other people, you have certainly spent hours watching cat videos at least once in your lifetime. Cats are interesting because they often act funny and strange, and don’t seem to care what others think, which is why we are probably so fascinated by them.
Even though cats seem to do pretty okay on their own, many owners are worried about taking proper care of them; whether they are eating right, staying active, or sleeping properly, everybody wants the best for their pet. Their sleep patterns are different than ours, as they appear to be running around at times when we usually prepare to go to bed or are in deep sleep. Cats often decide to snooze in the most bizarre places during the day, including your laptop when you are supposed to work, or a book you were planning to read.
An in-depth look into biology and history of cats offers us a better understanding of the behavior that may appear unusual to us. Read on to learn more about how cats sleep, why their sleeping pattern look the way they look, and what can you do to make sure your furry friend is getting as much sleep as they need.
What Are Circadian Rhythms?
Without the sun, there would be no life on Earth. It gives the necessary solar energy that plants use in photosynthesis to make sugars which are at the base of the food chain in nature. It also warms up the whole planet and ensures the needed conditions to sustain life.
Besides this, the sun is probably the most significant factor for all living things. Almost every organism is influenced by it, with small exceptions of some cave-dwelling fish and some deep sea creatures. All living beings have learned to adapt to day and night cycle, thanks to internal clocks. For birds, mammals, and reptiles, this it is located in the hypothalamus, which is a part of the brain responsible for many vital functions, including reproduction, heart, and respiratory rate. This internal clock is synchronized with the outside world, and it dictates all things that are done daily. These are called circadian rhythms, and the most obvious one is sleep and wake cycle. Even though this inner clock has a strong genetic background, it is also heavily impacted by external cues like exposure to light, temperature, and feeding time.
If you have ever wondered how do animals know when to go to sleep, the circadian rhythm is your answer. When there starts to be less light in the evening, the brain perceives it as a signal to begin producing certain chemicals like melatonin, which is essential to regulating sleep and wake cycle. That is true for most animals, but not all, since many species are active at night and sleeping in the daytime instead. Different species have evolved several strategies to adapt to day and night cycle, and now we recognize three main types based on when the activity happens: diurnal, nocturnal, and crepuscular.
Are Cats Nocturnal?
Everybody who has ever owned a cat knows how they love to start running around chasing invisible things during the night. That is why most people assume that cats are nocturnal animals, but that is not true, as they are classified as crepuscular.
Crepuscular animals are active during twilight when the lower atmosphere is illuminated, but the sun is not visible in the sky. That happens in dusk and dawn, and many animals use this time since there is less light so the predators can’t easily spot them, but they can still manage to look for food. Even though there aren’t as many crepuscular predators, cats are one of them. That describes while you often find them especially active in the evening and at dawn, and why it might seem that they are nocturnal animals.
Nocturnal animals stay hidden and inactive during the day, and then they come out at night. They are usually small animals that try to avoid predators by using the time of the day when they are less visible. However, predators have developed many strategies to improve the ability to hunt during the night. Many have an exceptional sense of smell and hearing, and there are even some rare ones that have an infrared vision.
In contrast, diurnal animals are active during the day and sleep at night. We are also one of the species with this lifestyle, as it has many advantages. Most animals that are active during the day rely on their excellent vision whether to locate food, the danger of predators, or hunt their prey.
There are also animals that are only active in the evening (vespertine) or the morning (matutinal), and these are both subtypes of crepuscular lifestyle. It appears that this brings less competition and more access to resources, as they become active before diurnal and nocturnal animals, which are highest in numbers.
How Much Do Cats Sleep?
Cats are pretty flexible sleepers, and they usually sleep between 12 to 16 hours each day. That number goes even higher for kittens as they can snooze up to 20 hours, and senior cats that can spend as much as 18 hours resting. That is the reason why cats have earned a title as one of the sleepiest animals on Earth.
Our resting patterns consist of one big chunk of sleep each night that should ideally last between 7 and 9 hours and an occasional nap during the day. This routine is known as monophasic sleep pattern, where rest mostly happens at once, with several sleep cycles in a row without any breaks between them. For cats, it is a lot different, as they are classified as polyphasic sleepers. That means that they don’t necessarily have an extended period where they are entirely cut out from the world but can instead sleep in several smaller periods to adjust to changing outside conditions.
Keep in mind that sleeping time depends on many other factors like activity and character of your cat. Even though their routines can change with age, you shouldn’t be worried about it as it is entirely normal. If your cat seems to be active and happy, that means that it is getting enough sleep, and you shouldn’t worry about it. The reason for concern is when they suddenly change their sleeping patterns, by resting unusually short or long. That is when it’s the time to consult the vet, as it may imply that some underlying condition is causing sleep problems.
Why Do Cats Sleep So Much?
It’s hard to picture your fluff ball as a predator, but that is exactly what your cat is. Before being domesticated, they used to hunt, and they were very feared. Just picture lions, tigers, or feral cats, and you can begin to understand that these little creatures love hunting. Even though they no longer need to do so, there is still an instinct in them that tells them to be active in the dusk and down, when they would typically scout for food.
Being a predator has a lot of benefits. Not having to worry about whether something will hunt you down, you can sleep whenever you want. Since pray will do everything not to be eaten, that means that hunters need to outrun, overpower, or surprise their prey. All of that requires an extraordinary amount of energy that is burned in a short interval during the hunt. That is the core reason why cats are sleeping so much, as they need to conserve energy for the action time. And when their needs are met, it is only reasonable to go to sleep as that is a period when slightly less energy is needed for the body’s maintenance.
Cats are known for hunting smaller prey like mice, and naps are a perfect way to fill the time between searching for food. But this resting state is much different when what we think about when we say sleep. For us, it’s deep slumber during which we are almost cut off from our surroundings, and it’s harder for us to wake up, but cats stay very aware of the environment, and they are ready to strike within seconds if the opportunity arrives.
Do Cats Experience Same Sleep Stages as Humans?
People experience rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. The first stage of non-REM sleep is the shortest, and it’s a transition between wakefulness and sleep. Phase 2 lasts the longest, and it’s described as light sleep. After that comes restorative deep wave sleep, and finally REM sleep characterized by quick eyeball movement under closed eyelids. This cycle in humans last anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes, and we experience several of them each night, usually four to six.
For cats, it is a bit different, although they experience both REM and non-REM stages. Their cycles are much shorter lasting about 30 minutes before entering the REM phase, which lasts around 6 minutes. Non-REM sleep mostly consists of the light stage, where cats are pretty aware of their surroundings and ready to strike at any time. They mostly rely on smell and hearing, but you may have also noticed that they don’t fully close their eyelids, so they can still detect a nearby movement. They can even snooze in an upright or sitting position by tensing their muscles.
Do Cats Dream?
Dreams are one of the most mysterious things about sleep. While we have grasped the idea of how they are happening, we still aren’t sure about a purpose they might have. Scientists have long hypothesized about it, and at the moment we know that they play at least a small part in memory processing and consolidation, as well as learning. Most dreams in humans happen during the REM stage, which we can often recognize by fast movements of eyeballs.
And it appears that it is the same with cats, as they experience REM sleep as well. You can recognize it by whiskers or paw twitching, and when you see that, there is a good chance that your cat is dreaming. However, what they are dreaming about we may never know. It is most likely about chasing things and hunting mice, but there is no way we can tell for sure.
Is My Cat Sleeping Too Much?
Some people become worried when they first come in contact with feline sleeping habits as they don’t quite understand that they sleep twice as much as we do. 12 to 16 hours is a lot, so it’s best to observe their behavior for some time, and if everything seems to be okay, there is nothing to worry about.
Keep in mind that our feline friends are very flexible when it comes to rest, and just like dogs, they can adapt to their human companion’s sleeping habits. That means that they are going to snooze while you are away so that they can be active when you are around. They can also sleep out of boredom, so if they don’t find anything interesting to do, they might decide to nod off instead. Sleeping more is also linked to being overweight, and because of that, it is essential to feed your cat a leaner good quality food, which will make it more energized. And don’t forget to play and keep them active, as it’s harder to gain weight when you are always running around.
What should raise your concerns is a sudden change in your cat’s sleeping patterns or behavior. If it seems to be sleeping a lot longer or shorter than usual, or it is lethargic and not interested in their otherwise favorite activities, there may be something wrong with them. You should immediately visit a vet and see it this change of behavior is not caused by a condition such as anemia, hyperthyroidism, or arthritis.
Snoring is usually a symptom of some underlying disorders in humans, but it appears in cats as well. It happens when the skin at the end of the soft palate obstructs the airway. But don’t worry, as it is generally not a sign of anything serious, and it just means that your cat is relaxed and sleeping deeply. It mostly occurs in breeds with shorter noses such as Persian, Himalayan, and other exotic flat faced cats.
How to Help Your Cat Sleep Better
Even though cats are flexible sleepers, it doesn’t mean that there is nothing you can do to help them. Here are some things you can try to help them get better rest, but also to prevent them from waking you up during the night chasing things around or asking for food:
- Feed them a healthy leaner diet. Always check labels to see what ingredients are used, as cheaper foods tend to be less nutrient packed. However, that is not true for every single brand, so the best way to make sure is to read the label. Better food should lead to more restful sleep. You should also try feeding them at night, right when you are about to go to sleep. Cats seem to be sleeping well after they have eaten, so this little trick can prevent them from running around the house during your bedtime. If your cat tends to bother you for food during the night, you can get a timed bowl that should keep their eating schedule without having to disturb you.
- Do not give in to your cat bothering you at night. They might feel like it is appropriate timing to play, but it is not. It is best to ignore your cat as if you give in and start playing, that could be seen as positive reinforcement, so they are more likely to repeat that behavior next time.
- Decide whether you want your cat to sleep with you or not and stick with it. There is a lot of debate going on whether it is good to sleep with your pet, and while some owners never allow hopping in bed, others wouldn’t fall asleep without cuddling with their furry friend. The most important thing is to be consistent as cats are creatures of habit, so if you allow them to sleep in your bed a few times, and then you don’t want them to jump in anymore, they might get confused. If you decide that co-sleeping is for you, make sure to get a mattress that is big enough so that everybody has enough room. It’s also smart to choose a model with excellent motion isolation, as it is likely that your cat will get up and come back again, and you don’t want to wake every time they move.
- Another essential thing is to keep your cat engaged and have a lot of playtime together. There are plenty of toys that can keep them active, and you should also consider some that are specially designed to keep them engaged during the night when their owner is asleep. Playing together is not only great for staying simulated, but it’s also perfect for showing affection and bonding with your pet.
Dusan is a biologist, a science enthusiast and a huge nature lover. He loves to keep up to date with all the new research and write accurate science-based articles. When he’s not writing or reading, you can find him in the kitchen, trying out new delicious recipes; out in the wild, enjoying the nature or sleeping in his bed.