Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She holds a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.
If you have a cat, you may have noticed that they appear to spend a lot of the day sleeping. Your cat may also be more lively in the early morning or evening hours, perhaps even waking you from your sleep.
Even though your cat’s sleep behaviors might seem unusual compared to yours, they could be completely normal for a cat. Learn more about natural cat sleeping patterns to better understand your cat, recognize when your cat is feeling less than their best, and know when it is time to call your veterinarian.
More than half of cats sleep between 12 and 18 hours a day, and nearly 40% of cats sleep more than 18 hours per day. As they grow older, a majority of cats sleep for more hours each day than they did in their younger years.
Cats have a polyphasic sleep pattern, which means they sleep multiple times each day rather than in one, long period, like humans generally sleep. These cat naps average 78 minutes in length. However, cats commonly sleep for periods of time ranging from 50 to 113 minutes.
In humans, the sleep cycle is diurnal, meaning we are naturally prone to stay awake during the day and fall asleep at night. Cats, however, are crepuscular. They experience two peaks of activity, one in the early morning before sunrise and one in the evening around sunset.
Researchers hypothesize that a cat’s crepuscular sleep cycle is driven by their predatory natures. Common prey animals for cats have different sleep cycles. A cat’s crepuscular nature allows it to be awake at daybreak to prey on diurnal birds, and at twilight to prey on nocturnal rodents.
Research shows that cats often experience a period of alertness and activity before becoming drowsy and then falling into NREM sleep. During this NREM stage, your cat may be lightly asleep and ready to awake at a moment’s notice. After NREM sleep, the cat may become alert again and cycle through alertness, drowsiness, and NREM sleep a few times.
Eventually in the cycle, cats transition from NREM to REM sleep. During REM sleep, the eyes move behind closed eyelids. In cats, the eyes can move both horizontally and vertically. You have probably seen your cat experience REM sleep. When cats are in REM sleep, they can twitch or go limp with a loss of muscle tone.
Also, during REM sleep, cats may dream. In humans, dreams most frequently occur during REM sleep. The eye movements made during REM may be linked to dreaming. Researchers have observed cats appearing to act out their dreams while in REM sleep.
Researchers hypothesize that other mammals, including cats, receive similar benefits. NREM sleep may help the body recharge and conserve energy, while REM sleep can help regulate emotions and other recovery processes. In fact, some mammals, such as rats, lose weight, are unable to regulate body temperature, have weaker immune systems, and eventually die if they cannot sleep.
There are a number of natural reasons your cat’s sleep habits may change. For example, if your cat has had a lot of activity for an extended period of time, they may require more sleep than usual. A change of environment, such as a move or addition of a new family member, may impact your cat’s sleep habits. As your cat ages, they also require more sleep.
However, unusual sleep or excessive wakefulness patterns may indicate an underlying health condition. If they are experiencing illness, you may observe other changes in your pet, such as a change in bathroom habits, signs of disorientation, or unusual weight gain or loss.
You know your cat’s behavior best. If you observe an unusual change, especially alongside other symptoms, talk to your veterinarian. They can help determine the cause of your cat’s changes and identify if they are normal or require further investigation.