How Long Do Cats Sleep?

Instructor: Stephanie Gorski

Steph has a PhD in Entomology and teaches college biology and ecology.

If you have a kitty, chances are he or she is snoozing right now. In this lesson, we will discuss the reasons that all animals sleep, but particularly cats - how long they sleep and why they sleep as long as they do.

Always Sleeping

If you've ever lived with a cat, you have probably noticed that he or she gets an impressive amount of sleep. While you're busy doing things, your cat is lounging on the front porch, getting her 40 winks. Is your cat just lazy? And how much, exactly, is your kitty sleeping? To answer that question, let's look at a few of the reasons why sleep is important and how it helps your cat (and you).

Why Do Cats (and Humans) Sleep?

What is sleep for? It appears that one of the major benefits of sleep is that it helps you learn things. Scientists have also traced the patterns of animals' brains during sleep and shown that they resemble patterns seen when they are learning new tasks during the day, so what is true for you is probably also true for your cat. Mammals like your cat have fairly complex brains, and that appears to be why they need more sleep. Most cold-blooded animals, like reptiles, rest but don't sleep.

Only mammals, like cats, have rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep. In REM sleep, your eyes dart around but your muscles relax. Dreaming may also occur in REM sleep. Scientists at MIT have shown that the patterns in animals' brains during REM sleep are very similar to the patterns in humans' brains during REM sleep. So it appears that, yes, your cat does dream.

Another important reason to sleep, for both you and your cat, is that sleep is necessary for healthy immune system functioning. When rats are deprived of sleep over a long period of time, they produce fewer white blood cells, and the white blood cells they have operate less efficiently. Rats deprived of sleep will begin to harbor more bacteria in their bodies. Sleep-deprived rats won't run a fever to get rid of the bacteria. After being continually deprived of sleep for two to five weeks, a rat will die. The usual cause of death is immune failure.

Why Do Cats Sleep So Much?

Often, when scientists are interested in studying human sleep, they will use cats as a model. Cats are a good animal to use to study sleep because they sleep so much. In fact, housecats sleep slightly more than half of the day - 12.1 hours, on average. Cats will enter a light sleep for about fifteen minutes to half an hour, then enter deep sleep for about five minutes at a time. They will then repeat the cycle between light and deep sleep until they wake up.

Felines are big sleepers; tigers sleep for about 15.8 hours per day, lions sleep for about 13.5 hours per day, and cheetahs sleep for about 12.1 hours per day. In contrast, cows sleep for about 3.9 hours, horses sleep for about 2.9 hours, and giraffes only sleep 1.9 hours per day!

Lions and tigers sleep even more than housecats.
Lions and tigers sleep even more than housecats.

As a general rule, predators need more sleep than herbivores. This is particularly true when we think about predators like cats. Cats use a lot of energy chasing, bounding, leaping, creeping, and pouncing. They need to restore themselves with a lot of sleep.

Cats are predators, and they expend a lot of energy when they are awake.
Cats are predators, and expend a lot of energy when they are awake.

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