First-time cat owners are often puzzled and even alarmed by the fact that kitty seems to do a lot of sleeping. But it’s perfectly normal – cats are absolute masters when it comes to getting plenty of rest.Pet experts estimate that most healthy adult cats spend more time asleep than they do awake, dozing up to 16 hours a day or more. Some say cats sleep all day because they’re nocturnal and prefer to be awake at night, but this isn’t technically true.
Cats are diurnal, but in the wild most of their hunting activity takes place at dawn and dusk. Domestic cats spread their sleep-wake cycles though the entire 24-hour period, but if you tend to be asleep at night, so will they.
Like us, cats have varying sleep cycles, but they spend less of their total sleep time in deep sleep than we do.
Light sleep cycles: they don’t call them “cat naps” for nothing
Cats have some very distinct sleep patterns that are particularly feline. A great deal of cat sleep time – up to 75%, in fact – is very light sleep, from which a cat can awaken very quickly. This sleep pattern probably evolved as a mechanism for getting plenty of rest while still being alert to both predators and potential prey.
A cat in a light sleep cycle may look more like it’s in a trance than in a sleep state. Their ears will twitch and rotate toward noises, and their eyes may even be lightly open. Cats can (and often do) slip into a light sleep cycle when sitting upright.
Deep sleep cycles
Cats also have a deep sleep cycle, which makes up the remaining 25% of their considerable sleep time. A cat in a deep sleep cycle will generally be reclining or curled up, have eyes closed, and may even use the tail as a “lightshield”, holding it over their eyes much as we would draw the blinds or turn off the lamps in a room when we want deep sleep.
Cats dream during their deep sleep cycles, and you may observe twitching paws and whiskers. Some cats also make small noises during deep sleep. Some cats sleep very deeply and simply don’t hear noises that would ordinarily make them keenly alert (like the sound of their owner calling them to come eat).
In sleep, as in all things, cats are highly individual. Some cats sleep less than 16 hours a day and some sleep more; some spend as much as thirty or forty percent of their sleep time in a deep sleep cycle (this is particularly true of older cats). What’s important is to get a good idea of what’s normal for each cat, and to notice if her regular sleep pattern seems to have changed markedly. This can be a sign of illness or anxiety.