Cats are all but renowned for their tendency to sleep in strange places, whether it’s following a spot of sun on the floor or curling up on top of the fridge when you aren’t looking.
Does your cat sprawl across your chest the moment you lay down? Do you wake up to cat fur in your face or your cat’s butt on the pillow next to you?
Have you ever felt a strange sensation by your feet at night, only to realize it was your cat’s back fur against your toes?
If you’ve ever been caught up with questions like these or gotten into a heated debate with family members about why the cat will only sleep with you, this article may be for you.
While the reasons may be situational, there are a few general cat behaviors that may explain why your cat sees you as their cushy body pillow – and why they’re so picky about who they grace their presence with.
Your cat needs the heat
Cats and humans are both mammals, which means they produce their own body heat.
They aren’t like lizards, who need to bask on warm rocks in the sun to get their body temperature up, so why do cats seek out warm spots like beams of sunlight or your head?
Unlike humans, who have an average internal body temperature of 98.7°F, cats need to maintain their body temperature at 102°F.
That’s a lot of work for a little body, so if your cat can get a break from having to metabolize that much energy into body heat, they will, says 15-year cat rescuer Pamela Merritt.
While every cat needs a bit of extra warmth while sleeping, how much and when depends on a few different factors.
Cat Ranch Rescue explains that cats that are closer to their desert origins, specifically short-haired cats with large ears, are designed to throw off heat in hot climates.
These cats are far less tolerant of cold and far more likely to snuggle up with their human-sized heating blankets than their long-haired cousins like the Maine Coon at night.
Your cat’s age can be a factor in their ability to regulate temperature. Kittens, for example, cannot generate enough body heat on their own and must rely on their mother and their littermates to keep their core temperature up, Drs. Foster and Smith explain.
If your cat is young, they’re much more likely to snuggle up. It’s little surprise that adult cats continue this behavior!
Seasons play a role, too. A Maine Coon might go sprawling on tile or hardwood floors to help leech some heat away during the summer and only seek their humans out during late fall and winter; a Sphinx may track sunspots during the day and cozy up at night even in the middle of summer.
Hunting and playing take their toll
Cats have bursts of energy at night because they’re nocturnal, but they’re also predators that rely on brief and intense expenditures of energy rather than long sessions of continuous hunting.
Because of their natural hunting patterns, cats may hunt as many as 20 small prey animals throughout the day, says Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine – a cat’s metabolism is on 24/7.
Since cats only really eat protein, their livers are very busy synthesizing glucose out of it.
That means that when your cat can relax their metabolism a bit by finding external sources of warmth, they will.
This is why you’ll find your cat in all sorts of odd places to cozy up for a nap, like the top of the fridge, on top of a power adapter, or moving with a beam of sunlight as it travels across the floor.
The seasons may play a role in this, as well. In the winter, there’s a lot less going on outside for your cat to observe from their window sill perch; their humans, as well, tend to be less active.
When spring hits, however, chipmunks and squirrels and increased human activity will give your cat many other things to interact with and observe.
All of that excitement means increased energy usage for your cat. The more energy they use, the more likely they are to take a break and cozy up on a warm spot like your stomach when evening rolls around and sleep through the night.
It may have to do with their survival instincts
Age doesn’t just impact a cat’s ability to regulate their own body temperature; it may also be a factor in where they choose to sleep on you.
A kitten, for example, may choose to lay on your chest while you sleep. This is a comfort mechanism reminiscent of their mother’s heartbeat, says animal welfare specialist Josie Turner.
After a few experiences with nearly being crushed by a creature that weighs at least 10 to 13 times more than them, however, your cat may learn what spots are safer to sleep on and gravitate towards your head or feet, depending on your sleeping habits.
Cats are also organized, little creatures. They, much like dogs, prefer routine and dislike unpleasant surprises.
It’s likely that your routine plays a part in their choice to sleep with or on you, especially if you get up with an alarm at the same time each day.
Since your cat trusts you enough to sleep next to you and enjoys your scent, it’s likely your cat thinks of you as part of their pack.
It’s little surprise that your cat wants to be part of your morning routine, then, and that means sleeping until their human does – or hurrying off to the next part of your routine when your alarm goes off to lead you through it.
While most cats will acknowledge and be social with all the members of your household, in the end, they’re likely to pick a single human as their “favorite”, and this is the human they’ll trust enough to sleep with.
Turner does warn against getting too confident in the fact that you’re the cat’s chosen human, however.
If you’ve been chosen as your cat’s favorite human to sleep with, it’s just that to them – you are the one sleeping at their side.
It’s your cat’s territory, and you’re part of their pack; they are the ones allowing you to sleep with them.
It may reveal a lot about you or the other people in your house
If your cat is seeking you out over other people in your household, it may mean a number of things, from revealing to mundane.
Your cat will naturally seek out the safest place to sleep. In nature, this often means finding a spot high in a tree or tucked away in a den, possibly with other cats in its family or group.
The fact that your cat is choosing to sleep with you, says cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger, shows a great deal of trust.
This trust is even greater if your cat sleeps with its butt towards your face, Krieger explains.
Any animal turning its back on another creature who is not part of its “family” is a danger; a cat doing so acknowledges the fact that not only will you not harm them, but that you will keep them safe and alert them to danger.
A cat may also prefer your scent over the others in your house. It may help them feel safe and secure; it may also be that you smell a bit more like them.
Since cats are very territorial by nature and use scent to mark their territories, smelling like them means you’re a safe, cozy spot to snooze on.
So if your cat is avoiding sleeping with other members of your household, it may be from a lack of trust, a dislike of their scent – or it may be something far more mundane.
No one likes sleeping next to a restless sleeper. Some movement is inherent while sleeping, of course, but if your cat has to wake up regularly to avoid being rolled onto, or from being nudged off the bed by restless legs, they’ll probably go to sleep with someone much calmer.
This may also be why some cats prefer to sleep on or near their owners’ heads instead of on their chests or backs.
A person’s head will move far less during the night than their feet or torso, meaning your cat has to be much less accommodating.
Finally, Dr. Mary Fuller says it may simply be because your cat loves you and wants to spend time with you.
Cats may not be as overtly demonstrative about their affection as dogs are, but they are certainly more than capable of loving their human companions and showing affection towards them.
It may not be the same kind of love that one human feels towards another human friend or family member, of course, but it is love nonetheless.
Are there reasons to be worried if my cat sleeps on me?
Your cat sleeping with or on you may turn out to cause problems.
For example, a cat’s nighttime energy bursts may lead to them climbing onto and off of you frequently during the night.
If you’re a light sleeper, your cat crawling all over you at all hours of the evening may keep you from getting the sleep you need.
Thankfully, the fix to this is relatively easy; if your cat spends too much energy at night, play vigorously with them right after you get home to help them release some of that pent-up energy, and again about an hour before you plan on going to bed.
Once you’ve played with them in the evening, feed them immediately after.
Your cat will eat, groom, and then curl up for a nap, and leave you falling asleep soundly.
Just bear in mind that it may take a while for the routine to really stick – be consistent!
Jason Galaxy, the renowned ‘cat whisperer’ and a cat behavior specialist, explains more about how to adjust your cat’s feeding and playing routines specifically to let you sleep in this video.
There are specific situations in which it’s not wise to let your cat sleep with or on you.
If your partner, for example, is allergic or has asthma, you may have to retrain your cat to not come into the bedroom.
It’s not wise to let your cat sleep with or on a child under the age of 4 or 5, as well, warns Animal Behavior College.
If you’re worried about your cat transmitting diseases to you, rest assured that such situations are incredibly rare.
Regularly bathing your cat, keeping them up to date on their vaccinations, and taking them in for regular wellness exams will help make sure you don’t get sick from your kitty. Be sure to keep their litter box clean, as well.
If your cat is nudging you out of most of your bed or pushing you to sleep in uncomfortable positions, don’t be afraid to move them.
Cats are incredibly flexible, and usually comfortable sleeping in any number of positions.
Find something that works for both of you; your cat will be happy simply by sleeping on or next to you.
There’s any number of reasons why your cat sleeps on you at night. From the heartwarming to the mundane to the genuinely interesting, your cat’s sleeping choices are still likely a sign of trust and companionship.
So long as their sleeping patterns aren’t causing damage to your own, there’s little reason to worry about this natural behavior.
Enjoy the comfort that comes with your warm, purring companion for what it’s worth.
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