Why Do Cats Sleep So Much? The Importance of a Cat Nap
Do you nap with your cat or does she nap with you? I am one of those people who has always loved a nap; to me there is nothing better than curling up in bed with a book (and falling asleep) on a cold winter’s day or taking a nice siesta during a hot summer day (from my time in New Mexico). When my cats came into my life (I was late coming to wonder of cats—already in my 30s), I discovered that a “cat nap” was literally a major portion of a cat’s life. I was ecstatic. Here was a living being that liked to nap as much as me!
Cats actually spend as much as two-thirds of their lives sleeping according to most research. I know that my younger cats, including my youngest boy, Roanoke, do not seem to sleep as long as my older girls, who seem to sleep most of the time (of course, who knows what they are up to while we are at work? I picture them having wild parties and drinking tuna margaritas). According to Amy Shojai, animal behavior consultant and author of numerous cat behavior books, “Why do cats sleep so much? Several issues are involved. Predators that have few natural enemies can afford to sleep for longer periods of time. Also, the need for sleep increases in direct proportion to the amount of energy required. Being a predator, the cat has extraordinary energy needs for hunting, but usually uses enormous bursts of energy to stalk, pounce, and wrestle that toy mouse into submission”. So, our cats nap in order to prepare to hunt. As most of you know, this means that our indoor cats need other outlets to meet their need to hunt. Laser toys, feather wands, leash training (take kitty for a walk), outdoor spaces (safe spaces such as enclosures, supervised outdoor visits) all help a cat get the exercise she needs. We need to rotate her toys, leave out cat puzzle boxes for her to play with (check out Floppycats’ Puzzle Cat Toys), leave a “scavenger” hunt for a kitty. All of these activities give our cats a chance to safely and correctly expend their energy, so when you come home kitty is ready to spend time with you and take that all-important nap.
Newborn kittens, of course, sleep almost 24/7, while our teenage cats and adult cats are at their most active. This is when we most need to engage them (there are numerous books and articles on cat “enrichment”). Then, again, our senior cats may sleep again as much as 16-20 hours a day. Since my girls are older, though we live in a fairly warm climate (East Texas), I provide hooded and heated beds for them year round, to keep them comfortable as they nap. They are the first ones to come when I call “nap.” Yes, my cats actually know and respond to the word “nap.” Like treats, it is one of their favorite words, because they know it means I will be crawling in bed with a good book and playing some relaxing music (we like classical piano music). Then, there will be the loving and cuddling, and finally we will all nap together. For my “cat” family, taking a nap is actually one of our interactive activities, and I think they look forward to it as much as I do.
I want my cats to be with me whether we are napping or actually sleeping. In fact, “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”. I am a firm believer that nap/sleep time is a great time to bond with your cats.
I try to make our “bed” more comfortable by providing comfortable places for my cats. As I mentioned, two of my elderly girls have their own beds on my bed. Nimue’s bed is hooded and has a small pet heating pad tucked under a cushion. I use the K&H Pet Bed Warmer. Be careful, because you don’t want your cat to get too hot. Lyonesse has a thermal cat pad. I bought hers at Drs. Foster and Smith. I also use soft bedding (comforters and bedspreads). I make sure I do not use silk or satin bedding that the cats’ claws will catch on. I put microfiber throws at the foot of the bed, so they can sleep on them. My Gryffin will actually knead and suck on his throw as he falls asleep. I believe it feels like he is back with his mother.
Even though our cats sleep like us and may sleep with us, their sleep is actually much lighter than ours. Have you ever noticed that your cats appear to be sound asleep yet even the slightest noise will awaken them? That
is because even though cats experience both REM and non-REM sleep, they are still actively listening for danger. According to many researchers, cats dream like humans during REM sleep. I think we have all seen our cats twitch, kick their hind feet as though running, and even “cry” during sleep. I always assume my cats are having nightmares during these episodes, and I gently talk to them, just to let them know they are safe. Since most of my cats are rescues, I always wonder what those dreams might be. Are they being chased by dogs? Desperately searching for their next meal? Dodging a car tire? I agonized over this for years until I came to the understanding that whatever they experienced before they came to me, they are safe with me, and yes, they know it, or else they wouldn’t feel comfortable sleeping so closely to me. In fact, a cat that sleeps with you shows you absolute trust.
Though cats sleep for extended periods, I do want to caution you that elderly cats that sleep too long may have health issues that need to be checked. Your vet can help you determine if your geriatric cat just requires more sleep or is suffering from a number of age-related problems.
So, when you are facing a stressful day or even week, think about how much you will enjoy that catnap with your cats and know that they will enjoy it just as much if not more.