Why Do Cats Sleep So Much?

helloBARK! staff
By helloBARK! staff
Updated on October 17, 2020
Expert Content

Does your cat sleep a lot?

If you’re a cat owner, you’re probably used to seeing your kitty curled up in a ball asleep on a chair, on the bed or in a box.

Cats love to sleep when they’re not wandering around your home in search of potential mischief.

With nearly 60 million domesticated cats in the USA, it’s little wonder so many have Googled: “why do cats sleep so much?”

In a bid to finally get an answer to this question, we asked four experts to give us their take on this particular cat behavior.

Bobby Joe Siberian Forest cat (Photo: bobbyjoe_the_cat / Instagram)

Bobby Joe Siberian Forest cat (Photo: bobbyjoe_the_cat / Instagram)

One Treatment For Boredom Is To Just Sleep

Dr. Shadi Ireifej DVM DACVS, chief medical officer at vettriage.com

There are five reasons, as I see them, why cats sleep so dang much; thermoregulation, energy conservation, boredom, growth and disease. Let’s dive into each of these reasons.

• Thermoregulation – When you watch a cat sleep, they sleep in different positions. Most often, the kitty cat is curled up during sleep. Other than personal preference, which may be difficult or impossible to prove in a clinical setting or in a scientific way, the main reason why a cat would sleep in this matter is to maintain heat. We know cats prefer an environmental temperature a bit warmer than us humans. As such, one benefit to sleeping is to stay warm. Whether they are sleeping for this reason or just that thermoregulation is an added bonus to sleeping, is difficult to say.

• Energy conservation – Energy conservation may be the main reason why cats sleep so much. This is likely embedded in their genetic makeup, being both prey and predator animals. In both category of animal, conserving energy is needed when survival is based on a sudden, short and powerful burst of energy. If a feline is suddenly attacked during sleep, they need to be able to awaken and react (fight or flight response) immediately to prevent injury or death.

Likewise, while hunting, cats spend time hiding and then suddenly pouncing their prey, effectively ambushing them for the kill. Sleep helps in storing the energy required to do this.

Additionally, these cats frequently will kill animals that are way larger than they are; energy stored during sleep helps with this goal.

• Boredom – Domesticated cats don’t typically have to hunt for their food. If they hunt, it may be more for sport, rather than nutrition. But if your cat lives in a household where hunting for sport is not an option, and there are no other avenues for mental or physical enrichment, then boredom sets in. And as we know from our own lives, one treatment for boredom is to just sleep. Whether or not this is a healthy method to attacking boredom is difficult to say, especially as it relates to the psychology of cats. However, we do know that enrichment with both species is of immense benefit!

• Growth – Whereas an adult cat sleeps 12 to 16 hours a day, a kitten may sleep up to 20 hours a day! For kittens, growth hormone (GH) is produced and released during sleep. GH concentrations are also most profound during the deepest cycle of sleep, the rapid eye movement sleep (REMS) phase. Then after the kitten’s 5th week of life, the amount of time spent sleeping declines. As stated in a 2001 study, “The abundance of REMS in early life and its ensuing decline to lower levels in adulthood strongly suggest that REMS sleep constitutes an integral part of the activity-dependent processes that enable normal physiological and structural brain development.” So for appropriate growth, the kitten needs sleepy time. A 2012 study mentioned that selective suppression of REMS in the postnatal critical period of development kitten enhances the central effects of monocular occlusion, which leads to physiological and cytoarchitectural alterations in central visual areas. Significant changes in cell size and number in the locus coeruleus (the principal site for brain synthesis of norepinephrine/noradrenaline) occur with REMS deprivation in kittens as a result. Similar results were found in a 2001 study.

• Disease – Excessive sleep is not typically normal. Some cats, just like people, need to sleep or prefer more sleep than most.

However, in most scenarios, excessive sleep could be a sign of disease.

Whether the pathology refers to pain, internal disease, neurologic disease, and so forth is very difficult to say without a veterinary evaluation. At a minimum, a physical examination and discussion with your veterinarian is needed to sift through what may be wrong with your cat. Additional diagnostics (blood-work, imaging studies and so on) may be recommended further based on what your vet thinks is most appropriate. Excessive sleep is too generic or broad of a symptom to signify any one disease in particular, so a veterinary consult is recommended.

Conclusion

Long sleep times in cats is most often normal. Sometimes it indicates pathology. Cats typically do not sleep straight through, but take what we call “cat naps”. Even the type of naps vary depending on what time of day or night they are sleeping and how deep that sleep is. Regardless, the reasons outlined here explain why cats sleep so much and when you, as a pet owner, should be concerned. As with any animal, sleep is a vital part of a healthy life!

Cats don't only lick themselves when grooming, licking is also a sign of affection (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Cats don’t only lick themselves when grooming, licking is also a sign of affection (Photo: Adobe Stock)

It’s Normal For Cats To Sleep 15 Hours A Day

Dr. Mikel (Maria) Delgado, Cat Behavior Expert with Rover

Cats tend to sleep in short amounts throughout the day, so while cats do sleep a lot, it might just appear like they are always sleeping! Unlike us, they don’t settle down for one long bout of sleep a day.

We believe that cats sleep a lot to conserve energy, as by nature they are ambush predators (even if they don’t get a lot of opportunity to practice this behavior indoors!).

There are other potential benefits of sleep for cats, much like for humans and other animals, such as allowing them to consolidate memories and helping maintain a strong immune system.

Cats are “crepuscular”, meaning active at dawn and dusk, just like their natural prey.

So it’s not unusual for cats to spend much of the daytime (and hopefully much of the nighttime when their humans are sleeping) asleep.

That said, there are probably many brief periods where your cat is actually active during the day. Their daytime activity can also be influenced by YOUR activity, as your cat may seek out attention if you are home during the day.

Most cats naturally regulate their own sleep needs, unless the environment is too noisy or disruptive (e.g., a cat who is in a shelter or animal hospital may not get as much sleep as they would like).

It is normal for cats to sleep an average of around 15 hours a day, keeping in mind that each cat will have different needs — some will sleep more and some will sleep less.

Some cats may be just “resting their eyes,” but not truly sleeping as well!

Cat in a box (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Cat in a box (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Cats Are Affected By The Weather

Wesley Oaks, Former Veterinarian Assistant and Founder of Oddly Cute Pets

Cats will sleep somewhere between 15-20 hours a day. This is a lot of sleep! Some reasons for the ample amount of sleep include energy conservation, weather, and wild cat instincts.

Even though we have domesticated cats they retain traits from when they were wild. This includes conserving energy throughout the day in order to be at their peak performance when hunting. Just like us, cats are also affected by the weather.

A colder rainy day will have your feline friend sleeping more, yawning, and taking more naps. Or if you live in warmer climates your cat may sleep more to cool down and regulate body temperature.

A grey and white cat with green eyes (Photo: Dan Imam)

A grey and white cat with green eyes (Photo: Dan Imam)

Sleep Is An Important Part Of Homeostasis

Nicholas DeRoma, Veterinary Technologist and Consultant at catpet.club

Cats are primarily active during the early morning hours of the day. Therefore, cats may seem like they sleep much more than they actually do because oftentimes they are awake while we are sleeping.

Cats are all individuals and their personality and signalment (age, gender, breed) all help to determine their personality. Some cats are quite active, especially during their adolescent years, and some are quite docile.

Majority of cats are predatory (predatory behavior is a learned behavior in cats.) Therefore, cats tend to exhaust themselves faster due to energy depletion from having a predominantly active sympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that is responsible for the fight or flight response).

Sleep is an important part of homeostasis and is needed to restore and repair tissues and cells within the body. It is normal for a cat to sleep upwards of 18 hours per day. In the same way, it is not unusual for a cat to spend most of its time sleeping.

However – what should be considered unusual would be changes in the cats sleep patterns, such as sleeping more or less, as that can be indicative of an underlying medial or behavioral ailment.