Despite the bad press they get as being solitary and unloving, cats can be very sweet and affectionate creatures who are capable of deep emotional connections. They show their fondness for their favourite humans in a variety of ways: waiting by the door for you to come home, rubbing around your legs or climbing into your lap. Then, of course, there’s the ever-popular option of joining you in bed when it’s time to sleep. Some cats are better bedfellows than others. For every bundle of docility who curls up at the foot of the bed, there’s a cuddle-bug who insists on sleeping on your chest.
Why does my cat sleep on my chest? It might be to feel closer to you, to enjoy the warmth given off by your body or to experience the gentle sensation of your breathing as you sleep. Your cat may also be feeling anxious and seeking security.
You’ve arrived on this page because you have questions about your cat’s sleeping habits.
- Why does my cat lay on me all the time?
- Why does my cat sleep on my pillow?
- Why do cats get in your face while you sleep?
Perhaps you’re concerned about what this behaviour means, or maybe you’re looking for a way to persuade your furry companion to give you a little more space at night. Whether you’re just looking for an explanation or you need help to get your sleep patters back to normal, read on to find the answers you need.
Why does my cat sleep on my chest?
To understand why a cat might want to sleep with, and indeed on, a human, it’s necessary to understand a few things about feline psychology. Cats are fairly independent creatures but they’re still social, with feral cats forming loose colonies of individuals. In a domestic setting, the members of a cat’s household become her colony-mates. This includes fellow cats but also other pets and human beings. If a cat has become especially attached to you, you’re a very important colony-mate. Your daily activities become a matter of considerable interest to your feline companion: washing, cooking, working and so on may all need to be supervised by your cat.
It’s the same with sleep. Feral cats in colonies often co-sleep; this conserves warmth and offers safety in numbers. If something untoward happens, such as the incursion of a rival cat or a predator, a group of two or three cats is better able to deal with it than one.
Snuggling with other household members is also a happy reminder of kittenhood for many cats. They might not specifically recall their early days, snuggling with their mother and litter-mates, but these formative experiences can make co-sleeping very comforting and relaxing for drowsy cats.
There are a lot of different reasons why your cat might want to sleep on your chest or stomach. One is simply that your cat enjoys the sense of closeness she experiences when she’s curled up on your body. This may be true even if your cat is cool and standoffish during the day. Some cats are coy and prefer to demonstrate their affection only when you’re unaware of it, avoiding physical contact until they can tell you’re asleep. More cuddlesome cats may regard sleeping on your chest like an extension of sleeping on your lap.
Some cats are anxious and need the reassurance of their owner’s presence before they can relax into sleep. A cat with separation anxiety can become especially clingy at night, when you’re no longer moving around the house and thus reassuring her of your presence. Curling up on your chest means that your cat knows exactly where you are — you can’t get up and disappear in the middle of the night without her catching you and seeing where you go. Cats remain fairly alert during sleep; their finely tuned senses of smell and hearing are still processing information. If your cat is lying on your chest, she can pick up your familiar smell and hear your breathing, giving her a constant source of reassurance that allows her to stay relaxed enough to sleep.
Cats are also fond of finding warm places to curl up when they want to sleep. A human being makes a nice cosy spot to sleep on. It’s possible that you’re serving as the kitty equivalent of a heating pad.
While it can sometimes be a little exasperating to have your cat jump into bed with you and insist on using you as a hug pillow, take comfort in the implied compliment. To sleep in your presence is an expression of great trust and affection.
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Why does my cat lay on me all the time?
If your cat habitually lies on you during the day as well as during the night, she’s probably just one of those cats who thrives on human contact. While it can be a little awkward to dislodge a furry body every time you need to stand up, your cat is telling you how much she loves you by climbing into your lap or sneaking into bed with you.
If wanting to lie on you all the time is unusual behaviour for your cat, it could be a sign that she’s not feeling well or has an injury. Cats often show changes in behaviour when they have a problem. While it’s more usual for them to avoid people and other animals, perhaps finding a quiet spot to hide away in until they recover, cats can sometimes become more clingy and affectionate when they’re sick or in pain. Check that your cat is not showing signs of illness. These can include lethargy, fever, redness or inflammation around the nose or eyes, unusual mucus production or changes in litterbox habits (particularly bathroom accidents in a litter-trained cat). Give her a quick check for any indications of injury; while scratches and cuts can be easy to spot, cats with strains, sprains and even broken bones may not show signs of injury until you look closely. Occasionally, a pregnant female can become extra affectionate; check for that as well if your cat isn’t spayed.
If you have a clingy cat and don’t want her to be anxious when you’re out, try setting up a warm, safe bed for her with a blanket or an item of clothing that carries your smell. This can soothe an anxious feline by providing a sense of security and protection, even when you’re not around.
Why does my cat sleep on my pillow?
If your cat sleeps on your pillow when you’re not in bed, she may simply be enjoying a comfortable sleeping spot. There are other reasons too, mostly relating to your cat’s highly refined sense of smell.
To a cat, your pillow probably smells quite strongly of you. This will be the case even if you change your bedding regularly; a cat’s olfactory system is remarkably acute and can easily pick up your individual scent even if you’ve only used the pillow once or twice. This scent is very comforting for your pet, who associates your smell with the security and love you provide. It’s extremely common for cats to occupy your pillow, or another part of your bed, while you’re out at work or away for some other reason. They have a soft, cosy sleeping spot imbued with the familiar and reassuring scent of their favourite humans.
It’s a two-way street, as well. By lying on your pillow — especially if she rubs her face against it — your cat is marking this item as relating to her specific colony. If you were another cat this action would make your pillow seem more familiar and pleasant to you; unfortunately humans can’t pick up kitty pheromones so we don’t get the same benefit that she does.
Your cat may also decide to lie on your pillow while you’re in bed. This can be somewhat awkward since you need to put your head there — something that many cats seem not to understand. One of my friends resigned himself to the situation, setting out an extra pillow off to one side of his own so that his cat could sleep there instead. Another option is to provide a cat bed in your room, perhaps placing an old shirt or something else with your scent on it inside.
Why do cats get in your face while you sleep?
No matter how much you adore your cat, waking up in the middle of the night to find yourself nose-to-nose with her can be a little disorienting. Cats have a very different sense of personal space to a human. While she may be aloof and picky about who gets near her, once a cat has decided that you are an acceptable sleeping partner she has very few boundaries. If you look at two cats cuddled up in bed together, you’ll see something very similar going on. They seem almost to meld together into a single pile of fur, often burying their faces into each other’s furry flanks. Your cat doesn’t understand that humans don’t relish the experience in the same way.
If your cat’s intrusive conduct is making sleep difficult, there are things you can do to improve the situation. You can, as suggested above, provide a separate cat bed lined with an item carrying your scent and encourage your cat to use this. Sometimes shoving her away from your face is enough for her to get the message. If your cat really doesn’t want to get out of your face and is making bedtimes difficult, you may need to start shutting her out of the bedroom altogether. Some cats get upset by this — they want to be with their humans and will set up a ruckus outside the door until they’re allowed back in. If your cat does this, try wearing her out before bed-time with 15 minutes of vigorous play followed by a nutritious snack. Cats are often bundles of nervous energy and need help in burning it off. 15 or 20 minutes of chasing a teaser toy is usually sufficient to knock your cat out and ensure that she is okay about being left on the other side of your bedroom door.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.