Our feline friends are true masters at falling asleep any time, any place, under any circumstances. Even a cursory web search will reveal thousands of photos of cats sleeping in cute or crazy positions. But why do cats sleep so much, and what happens in their minds when they’re sleeping? Do they have sleep cycles like people do? Read on to find out.
Cats can sleep as much as 16 hours a day, and older cats spend even more time at rest — as much as 20 hours a day. That sleeping habit is a result of the cat’s evolution, nutritional habits, and physiology. In the wild, cats have to hunt in order to eat, and the stalking, chasing, and killing of prey burns a lot of energy. Sleeping helps cats conserve energy between meals.
Of the time cats spend sleeping, about three quarters of it is what we might call snoozing. In that state, cats can get all the rest they need, but they’re still alert enough to awaken at a moment’s notice. You can tell when a cat is in light sleep because their ears will twitch and rotate toward noises and their eyes will be open a tiny bit. Even when they’re sitting upright, cats can slip into that dozing mode.
The remaining quarter of cats’ sleeping hours is spent in deep sleep, but older cats might spend as much as 30 percent or 40 percent of the time at that level. Cats in deep sleep are usually curled up with their eyes tightly closed. Sometimes they might even have their tail over their face, like a fluffy sleep mask. Deep sleep is critical for the body’s ability to regenerate itself and stay healthy. It’s also the time when your cat dreams. If you’ve seen your cat’s whiskers or paws twitching while she’s asleep, there’s a good chance she’s dreaming.
Snoring happens when the airway is obstructed by extra skin from the soft palate. This is most likely to happen when your cat is relaxed, so it wouldn’t be outrageous to notice your cat sawing some tiny little logs from time to time. Snoring is more likely to occur in short-nosed breeds such as the Persian, Himalayan, or Exotic Shorthair.
If your cat starts sleeping a lot more or a lot less than usual, contact your veterinarian. Excessive sleep could be a sign of illness or pain, while frequent wakefulness can indicate a problem such as hyperthyroidism.
Do your cats have any odd — or cute — sleeping behaviors? Please share them in the comments, and feel free to include photos.