Cats have the reputation of being aloof, and although it’s not an accurate assessment, some of that belief comes from the fact that cats are known for sleeping much of the day. Some people even think cats are lazy because sleeping takes up about two thirds of their lives. Lazy is about as far from the truth as you can get. To people who don’t like cats or aren’t familiar with them, it may seem that cats don’t do anything but just rely on humans for an endless supply of food. If you take a moment to really look at why cats sleep the way they do, you’ll end up with an entirely different perspective and a new respect for how efficiently a cat’s body works.
Energy for the Hunt
Unlike animals who forage for grains and grasses, cats are predators. Food for a carnivore isn’t growing in vast fields, so in order to eat, the hunter has to work. Once prey is discovered, the cat goes into stealth mode and carefully inches up to get into the perfect position to pounce. Being an ambush predator, the cat’s attempt at catching prey requires short but intense bursts of energy. Cats aren’t scavengers, so the prey they eat must be fresh. Requiring fresh prey means a constant need to hunt.
Hunting requires energy. Moreover, because of size, a cat is prey as well as predator, and the stress factor increases the animal’s energy needs. The cat needs to make sure he’s well prepared for however many hunting attempts he may make. Sleep is needed to conserve energy and recharge for the next hunt. Cats sleep anywhere from twelve to sixteen hours per day.
Sleeping with One Eye Open
OK, the cat doesn’t really sleep with one eye open, but he does tend to stay in a light sleep much of the time. Because he’s a “wait and see* predator, he depends on being able to spring into action if potential prey appears. Much of the sleep you notice your cat doing is a light sleep, so he can instantly engage. This level of sleep helps his body to immediately react, whether that reaction is needed to hunt or to protect himself from a larger predator. Cats do engage in deep sleep but in short cycles of about ten to fifteen minutes at a time.
When a cat is in that light catnapping phase, you may notice his ears move a bit now and then; one might even rotate in the direction of an interesting sound. His eyes won’t be tightly shut and may open a bit every so often.
Sleeping positions can also be determined by the temperature. When cats are cold, they tend to sleep curled up; when the temperature is warm, they may sleep more stretched out.
The Nighttime Cat Crazies
For many cat parents, the cat’s sleep cycle doesn’t make sense. The cat sleeps all day and then goes into the “cat crazies” at night, bouncing off the walls, knocking things over, and pawing at your face at four A.M. while you’re trying to sleep. Your cat is hard-wired as a crepuscular predator, and that means he’s naturally more active at dusk and dawn. Outdoors, the type of prey he would hunt would be more active during those twilight hours. His internal clock is set to rest during the day and gear up for action in the early evening.
Even though your indoor cat doesn’t have to worry about hunting for his next meal, he still has that same natural sleeping pattern. But cats are very accommodating. Many cats learn to adapt to our schedules and become more active during the day.
What to Do When Your Cat Is a Hard-Core Nighttime Party Animal?
If your cat keeps you up at night, provide more opportunities for exploration and hunting (of toys) during the day to keep him active. In addition to doing a couple of interactive play sessions during the day, be sure to conduct one state-of-the-art session right before bed and then offer your cat some food as a grand reward. Don’t increase the amount you give him during the day; just portion it out so you can provide some after the hunt. With some food in his belly after that energetic hunt, your cat will be more likely to sleep.
Do Cats Dream?
Cats experience REM sleep (rapid eye movement), as humans do, and that’s the phase in which dreaming occurs. You may notice your cat’s whiskers or paws twitch during this phase. What do cats dream about? The cats aren’t telling, but my guess is that mice and birds play a prominent role in their dreams.
Changes in Sleep Patterns
If you notice a change in your cat’s sleep pattern, be sure to talk to your veterinarian. If your cat is sleeping excessively or isn’t sleeping as much as normal, there could be an underlying medical problem. Hyperthyroidism, for example, causes a release of too much thyroid hormone, which speeds up the metabolism so the cat may not sleep as much as normal. Older cats with declining senses or ones with age-related cognitive issues may sleep more soundly and for longer periods. Cats with hearing loss may startle easily while sleeping, so be mindful of how you wake them.