Why do cats sleep so much? The hidden science of feline shuteye, explained
The science behind the colossal time your cat spends kipping.
Sure, your cat might be adorable. And you might even not actively hate them occasionally. But let’s address the obvious: they’re massively and unforgivingly lazy. Not only do they never contribute to the rent, but your cat probably spends most of the day sleeping.
In fact, most domestic felines can sleep between 10 and 13 hours a day (for 50 to 110 minutes at a time) – and it’s not unusual for a cat to sleep up to 17 hours.
Wherever your cat lies on this scale, you’re probably left asking one big question: why do cats sleep so much? With the help of Dr David Sands – expert in animal psychology with over 25 years of clinical experience – we pawed through the science of your cat’s lengthy slumbers.
Why do cats sleep so much?
To understand this, it’s important to acknowledge when most cats are most active: dawn and dusk. It’s a trait that makes them crepuscular (rather than nocturnal) animals, alongside creatures such as ferrets, hamsters and stray dogs.
“This is because, over millions of years, cats have evolved to be low-light predators, with their eyesight specifically adapted for activity at twilight,” says Sands.
Take, for instance, how all cats possess a tapetum, a mirror at the back of each retina. As well as making your moggie's eyes look like glowing orbs in the dark, this adaptation provides cats with a second chance of interpreting light that hits their eyes – effectively allowing them to see more in dark environments.
So, because cats are crepuscular, they conserve their energy for these twilight hunting periods. Before being domesticated, cats would have to expend huge amounts of energy at these times, finding, chasing and killing their prey. And while house cats no longer hunt before each dinnertime, their natural hunter instincts still encourage them to conserve energy for dawn and dusk.
Read more about cats:
- Why do cats knead?
- Why do cats purr?
- Why you’re stroking your cat completely wrong (and how to do it right)
Interestingly, there is some evidence suggesting humans may impact when their cats sleep. Most notably, one study from Italy’s University of Messina gained insights into this issue after attaching trackers to 10 domestic felines – half of the cats were allowed free rein around a large house and garden, the other half only allowed to roam in a smaller house and kept inside at night.
It was found that the cats in the small home somewhat mirrored their owners’ sleeping patterns and were more likely to be awake at times their owners frequently interacted with them.
In other words, if forced to, your cat might actually enjoy spending time with you.
About our expert, Dr David Sands
With a doctorate in ethology (animal psychology) at Liverpool University, Sands has over 25 years of experience at his animal behavioural clinic. He is a Fellow of the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association (CFBA) and the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB).
Sands is also the author of Cats 500 Questions Answered (Hamlyn, £4).
Read more about the science of cats
Thomas is Digital editor at BBC Science Focus. Writing about everything from cosmology to anthropology, he specialises in the latest psychology, health and neuroscience discoveries. Thomas has a Masters degree (distinction) in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield and has written for Men’s Health, Vice and Radio Times. He has been shortlisted as the New Digital Talent of the Year at the national magazine Professional Publishers Association (PPA) awards. Also working in academia, Thomas has lectured on the topic of journalism to undergraduate and postgraduate students at The University of Sheffield.
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