It doesn’t matter how comfy the couch is, or how many cat beds you disperse throughout the house; your cat’s favorite sleeping spot is directly in your lap. If it’s not your lap, it’s curled up on your feet, in the crook of your arm, or even perched on your shoulder or head.
Not every cat is into cuddling, but sleeping on humans is a common feline behavior. These cuddling cats disprove the old stereotype that cats are snobby and aloof. It shows that cats are as friendly as they are social, and cats that sleep with humans aren’t hard to find.
Understanding why your cat prefers your body over any other sleep surface will give you a glimpse into their thoughts, instincts, and feelings about your relationship.
Before you can take an educated guess about why your cat sleeps on you, it’s important to understand a few facts about feline sleep.
Facts About Your Cat’s Sleep
While humans bunker down for (hopefully) eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night, your cat has different sleep habits. Instead of getting all their rest at once, cats take multiple naps throughout the day and night.
These snooze periods can add up to about 16 hours a day, but only a few of those hours are spent in deep sleep. This is because cats prefer to keep their sleep light. By not allowing themselves to drift into a deep sleep, cats remain somewhat alert. A loud noise or light touch will wake them, and that’s exactly how they like it.
This preference for light sleep stems from your cat’s natural instincts passed down from distant wild ancestors. It also has to do with your cat’s unique position on the food chain as both predator and prey.
As a predator, your cat doesn’t want to miss a chance to take down their next meal. It doesn’t matter that their meal comes from a bag and is delivered directly to their bowl. Their instinct is to use their sharp teeth, claws, and athletic abilities to hunt prey. Most domestic cats are perfectly capable of successfully hunting small animals, and their inner wild cat tells them they don’t want to be asleep when opportunities arise.
On the flip side, your cat is also prey. Even with those fearsome claws, domestic house cats are small and vulnerable. No one is ever more vulnerable than when they’re asleep, and your cat knows this. By taking light cat naps, they remain at least partly alert to potential threats. It’s a survival technique that your cat doesn’t need while snoozing in your living room, but it can’t be ignored.
With this understanding of how your cat sleeps, you can take a more knowledgeable look into how they choose where they sleep.
Why Your Cat Sleeps on You
One of the most important reasons your cat has for sleeping on you relates back to their position as prey. Sleep makes your cat vulnerable. Having a trustworthy lookout, however, is a way to stay safe even in sleep.
Your cat may choose to sleep on you because she is relying on you to stay alert. Your status as a human will intimidate potential threats from getting too close. And if intimidation doesn’t work, your cat knows you’ll at least sound the alarm and give them time to either flee or fight.
The time your cat sleeps either next to you or on top of you could be the only time she falls into a deep sleep. Consider this both a compliment and a responsibility to help ensure your cat gets the good sleep she needs.
2. Warmth and Comfort
Besides predators, cats of the past also had to fight against weather and temperature. Even with all that fluff, exposure to extreme cold could be as deadly as a larger carnivore. To stay alive, cats needed to find ways to stay warm.
Your house cat hopefully doesn’t have to deal with freezing temperatures, but the need to stay warm is ingrained as a natural survival instinct. A heating pad, radiator, or sunny spot on the floor are all good options. They aren’t as good, however, as your body heat. There’s nothing like a warm lap to stave off a potential chill.
There’s also the added bonus that humans are inherently comfy. Our soft clothing, cushy body parts, and body heat that’s just the right temperature make us excellent sleep surfaces when it comes to staying warm and comfortable.
Built-in knowledge about how to stay alive takes up a large part of your cat’s brain, but that’s not all they think about. Contrary to what some believe, cats are generally friendly and affectionate. There’s a range, of course, when it comes to how cats express those feelings of friendship, but many show love through physical contact.
Sleeping with a beloved human during a daytime nap or for a long period at night can be a cat’s way of expressing all those lovey-dovey feelings. They want you to know that you’re important to them, and sleeping on you also makes them feel good.
If your cat loves you, there’s a good chance they also view you as part of their territory. Cats are territorial creatures, and everything including people, objects, and locations is fair game when it comes to staking a claim.
Thankfully, cats don’t always mark their territory with urine. With a powerful sense of smell, cats put a lot of stock in scent markers. They rub against furniture and your legs to spread their scent, and sleeping on you does the same thing.
By spending a few peaceful hours snoozing on your chest, your cat successfully marks you with its scent. This lets other pets or animals know that you’re “taken.” There’s also the more obvious advantage of keeping you from interacting with others. It’s hard to play with the dog when a cat is sleeping peacefully on your chest. It’s part possession and another part compliment.
If your cat chooses to sleep on you, consider it normal feline behavior. You can also pat yourself on the back for fostering such a trusting relationship with your feline friend. There are several advantages to sleeping with a cat, but we also can’t ignore the downside.
Sometimes you need to be free to roll over when you want and go to the bathroom before your bladder bursts. Your cat’s crepuscular sleep cycle might also keep you up if you allow them access to your bedroom at night.
The bottom line is, every cat/human relationship is different. Whether or not you allow your cat to consistently sleep on you for naps and at night is a personal choice. But whatever you choose, remember to consider your cat’s natural sleep habits in relation to your own sleep needs. It’s also a good idea to think about the long-term relationship you hope to have with your pet.