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Why Does My Cat Sleep on Me? Experts Debunk Common Cat Myths and Explain Their Co-Sleeping Preferences 

Felines are much more intuitive than many people give them credit for, as evident by their sleep habits


Cats love to sleep. In fact, studies have found that more than half of cats sleep between 12 and 18 hours a day, and nearly 40 percent of cats sleep more than 18 hours per day. In many homes, despite having perfectly cozy and comfortable beds for their leisure, our feline friends often prefer to curl up into a ball or stretch out and press right up against us as they drift off to sleep. This is why many cat parents are all too familiar with the question, “Why does my cat sleep on me?” and we asked the experts to explain the fascinating feline instincts. 

Why does my cat sleep on me? 

What is it about cuddling with humans that is so appealing to cats? Albert Colominas, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) and founder of feline adventure and training solution platform OutdoorBengal, says that while cats are often perceived as solitary animals, they can also be quite social, especially with human companions with whom they share a strong bond. 

1. Your cat might be ‘keeping watch’ over you

Some cats might sleep on their humans to almost monitor and look out for them, Colominas says. Maintaining contact while sleeping allows them to be aware of their humans’ movements and when they wake up. 

Cats are most active at dawn and dusk, which are the times when hunting and avoiding predators is most prevalent, he explains, so they position themselves strategically so they can observe our behavioral patterns. 

“Sleeping with us allows them to detect signs of wakefulness, such as alterations in your breathing pattern, limb movements, or shifts in scent,” Colominas says. “This heightened awareness enables them to remain vigilant, ensuring they get to the kitchen before us if we wake during the night or early morning.” 

2. You might be in the cat’s ‘perceived territory’ 

Cats can be quite protective and territorial of their beloved humans and of their home. 

“A cat may also sleep touching you because you are in their perceived territory, and they don’t want to leave that territory,” explains Stephen Quandt, feline behaviorist and founder of Stephen Quandt Feline Behavior Associates.“It’s their bed, their chair, and their sofa. One of my cats, Jenny, will literally go from sleeping on my lap to pushing behind me on the sofa so that I will get up and yield the spot to Her Highness.”

Cat sleeps on a woman's lap
Isabel Alcalá/Getty

3. Co-sleeping makes your cat feel safe 

According to Joey Lusvardi Certified Cat Behavior Consultant at Class Act Cats, cats often feel safe around their owners, especially while doing something vulnerable like sleeping. In the wild, for example, a group of cats would have an easier time defending itself from an attacker than a lone cat. 

“Just like humans, cats seek security,” says Colominas. “Sleeping close to their human allows them to feel safe and protected, particularly when there’s trust. Moreover, cats have a keen sense of smell, and they may find comfort in the familiar scent of their human.”

4. Cats seek body warmth when they sleep 

One of the most common reasons cats like to be touching their humans when they sleep is for warmth, experts say. Dr. Mikel (Maria) Delgado PhD, Cat Behavior Expert with Rover, explains that cats have a higher comfort zone than humans, so their ideal temperature is usually around 85 degrees, and snuggling with humans acts as a source of heat. 

5. Your cat loves and is bonding with you 

Despite being more self-sufficient in many ways than dogs, cats are also perfectly capable of and willing to make strong connections with the people who care for them. Experts say a cat sleeping with their owner is both a way to express affection and a method for strengthening and maintaining the human-animal bond. 

“Many cats like cuddling with us because we are part of their family,” says Dr. Delgado. “It’s a bit of a myth that cats are solitary, and in fact most cats have the ability to form social bonds with other cats, humans, and even other pets, such as dogs. It’s not unusual to see cats who are bonded sleep touching one another. Cats sleeping with us are showing us we are part of their inner circle.” 

How do cats decide where to sleep? 

Sometimes, cats can be quite funny when deciding on a sleeping location and position. It might seem more normal for a cat to curl up between your legs, but some cats will often opt to lie across their human’s neck, chest or even head. 

Sylvie Sterling, CEO and founder of Feline Soul Academy, says cats are actually empaths and natural healers who inherently sense where their humans might feel stressed or have physical or emotional weakness. They will often sleep  on those parts of the body as a way to help comfort and relax people. 

Ginger cat sleeps on woman's stomach

“For instance, if you are a person who is very thought-heavy and always worrying about things, then your (empath) cat might lie next to your head or neck,” she says. “If you have a physical weakness or injury on your legs, then chances are that your (healer) cat will sleep next to that spot. If you have a heavy heart, then your cat might lie on your chest or close to your heart.” 

There are a variety of different reasons cats might hone in on a particular part of the body to sleep, says Dr. Robert Gonzalez, regional medical director for Small Door Veterinary. The head and neck are vulnerable areas, so a cat sleeping in those areas might signal trust, while sleeping on the chest might provide comfort and security as the cat can feel the rise and fall of their human’s breathing, he says. 

“It could just mean comfort level with a particular area of your body as in ‘I feel better emotionally with a little distance by sleeping on your legs,’” says Quandt. “Or it could mean actual comfort, like your lap may be softer than your legs, and your head may provide more heat without having a clothing barrier.”

Colominas adds that where your cat chooses to sleep on your body depends on the level of warmth and tranquility they are looking for. The head and chest typically offer the warmest and most calming areas of the body, and they also emit the most scent, he explains. These areas are usually more stable and still when we sleep.

“The environment a cat lives in is very important to them so your cat may position themselves for a rest in different places due to something besides you,” offers Lusvardi. “For example, if you sleep with your feet closest to your bedroom door, your cat may choose to sleep there so they can easily leave the room if needed. They may also sleep near your head so you are between them and the door because they know that you’d defend them from any danger. Sometimes you’re only one factor in the decision making process.”

Should I let my cat sleep on me? 

Experts affirm there is nothing generally or objectively harmful about humans and cats co-sleeping. However, there are also potential risks to be aware of in addition to the benefits. 

“Whether you should let your cat sleep on you depends on personal preferences and lifestyle, as well as any potential health considerations,” says Dr. Gonzalez. “Allowing your cat to sleep on you can strengthen the bond between you and your pet, provide comfort and companionship, and reduce stress levels for both of you. However, it depends on personal preference if you’re concerned about your cat disrupting your sleep or aggravating allergies if you’re allergic to cat dander.” 

How to get your cat to sleep on their own 

Cat curled up sleeping in its bed
Driendl Group/Getty

If for some reason, it becomes a risk or inconvenience to let your cat sleep on or near you, you can gently correct the behavior and encourage them to stay in their own space. Quandt suggests providing a cozy cat bed nearby, putting a used article of clothing on it that has your scent, and providing treats there. 

If possible, experts say the best option might be a nice heated cat bed as it emits the warmth a cat would get from sleeping with their humans. To make this even more appealing, place the bed in an area where the cat will feel as safe and secure as possible. 

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