Catster Magazine

Why Do Cats Sleep So Much?

Here's how feline sleep differs from ours.

Susan Logan McCracken  |  Feb 19th 2020


They make the best calendars. And they are good examples to follow for sleep-deprived humans. I’m talking about cats and how they are excellent nappers. In fact, the word for a short nap was named after cats — catnap, which Merriam-Webster says entered the English language in 1823. Here are a few details about how feline sleep differs from ours.

Cats don’t do all their sleeping at one time. Naturally, cats are wired to hunt, eat, eliminate, groom and sleep. They go through this cycle several times each day, which means that they sleep on and off throughout the day.

Cats’ sleep-wake cycles are the opposite of ours. In the wild, cats are crepuscular, which means they sleep during the day and do most of their work (hunting for food) at dawn and dusk. That’s also true of big cats like lions. But our pet cats adjust their sleep schedules to mirror ours.

Cats fall asleep and wake up faster. Their sense of hearing and smell work while they sleep, so they are ready to jump up at a moment’s notice to pounce on prey or to run from danger.

Cats fall asleep quickly and “slip into slow-wave sleep at first, and then move to REM sleep,” according to the National Sleep Foundation. REM sleep is the dreaming stage, so that means cats dream. When you see “their tails, paws and whiskers twitch,” that’s when they’re having kitty dreams.

Humans also experience the REM dream stage in addition to four other sleep stages ranging from light to deep sleep. Humans do not come out of the deepest sleep stages as quickly or as easily. For some of us, it takes sunshine and several cups of coffee to make us feel fully awake.

Cats sleep about twice as much as we do. Ideally, adult humans should get around eight hours of sleep in every 24-hour period. Double that for cats. Yes, cats sleep around 16 hours each day, some even more and some slightly less. This is probably whycats have become so famous for
napping.

Why cats sleep so much

So why all the sleep? They need it. Hunting (or playing) requires bursts of enormous energy. Humans who hunt don’t expend as much energy, because they hunt with the aid of weapons. A cat’s body is his only weapon.

Think about the most physically demanding sports humans engage in — boxing, martial arts and gymnastics. That is what a cat has to do to take down prey for each meal every day. That burns a lot of calories and requires sleep to store enough energy.

The sprinting and pouncing cats do to catch prey and to play are anaerobic exercises, which require bursts of energy that cannot be sustained over a long period of time. Aerobic exercise, on the other hand, requires pacing to be able to sustain it over a long time period.

We humans tend to pace ourselves for work and other activities throughout our days, which may include aerobic and anaerobic exercises, and then we sleep at night. A feline energy burst will cause cats to zoom around the house, up and down stairs at a pace that is not sustainable for more than a few minutes. Cats usually chill out after that by eating, using the litter box, grooming and sleeping.

Top photograph: ©w-ings | Getty Images

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