Cats sleep in all kinds of crazy positions. As humans, most of them look strange and contorted. In fact, it’s a wonder how they find them comfortable at all! However, cats are highly flexible creatures and they can happily bend their bodies and find comfort in these strange poses.
One position you may notice is your cat sleeping face down. This looks like one of the least comfortable sleeping positions going. Which got me thinking, why do cats sleep with their face down? Everything these curious creatures do tends to have a pretty normal explanation, so I set out to find the answer.
As it turns out, you’ll usually find a cat sleeping on its face either as their little noses are cold. Alternatively, this pose effectively blocks out any distracting light that might disturb their slumber, while allowing for their alert ears to stay attuned to all that’s happening around them.
However, this behavior is not to be mistaken for head pressing in cats. This is a sign of many serious conditions that need urgent medical attention. In this article, I will run through all these explanations in more detail and help you easily spot when your furry friend needs a visit to the vet.
Why Do Cats Sleep With Their Face Down?
In the majority of cases, there is no reason to be worried if your cat is sleeping face down. Most of the time, this comfortable position helps them to get a good night’s kip. It’s also great for catnapping in the day as their upright ears can easily catch all the noises going on around them. Alternatively, they may be simply too exhausted to find a comfier pose!
See for yourselves – in the following sections I cover all the normal reasons for this seemingly strange and uncomfortable sleeping position.
1. Their Nose is Cold
The most widely accepted reason as to why you might find your cat sleeping in this position is that their little nose is cold.
Cats are slightly warmer blooded than people and naturally like to curl up in warmer areas of your home. My cat’s favorite place to sleep has to be next to the radiator. Or, on a hot summer’s day, I’ll find her basking in the sun outside. Does your cat get in your face while you sleep? This is again because of warmth – your body heat helps them get cozy and snug.
As one of their extremities, a cat’s nose and the tips of their ears often feel the cold. And by lying face down, your cat is shielding their nose from the outside world. A cat sleeping on its face can safely bury its nose in a cushion or blanket to help keep it warm.
If you notice your cat frequently sleeping with its head down, make sure the place when your cats or kittens sleep at night is warm enough. This could signal that they are too cold to sleep well! As a general rule of thumb, the optimum temperature for cats should be between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Other tips that will help your cat get a good night’s sleep are:
- Play with your cat before bedtime to help tire them out
- Feed them immediately before bed
- Ensure their bed has high sides so they feel safe and relaxed while sleeping
- Make their bed comfy and cozy with plenty of blankets or cushions
- Try placing the bed in an elevated spot such as a bookcase or window ledge
- Place their bed in a warm area of your home
- Use calming sprays and/or diffusers to help them relax
- Stick to the same routine each day
2. To Block Out Light
If your cat is sleeping face down on a boiling hot summer’s day, you can be pretty certain this position isn’t an attempt at them warming up their nose. Their nose will likely already be warm! However, cats may sleep with their face down to try and block out the light from the sun.
This is also an explanation as to why cats cover their faces when they sleep. Whether using their paws or a cushion, covering their eyes helps to block the light so they can get a night of better sleep. This is comparable to how we may wear an eyemask for uninterrupted sleep, or shut the curtains before bed so the morning sun doesn’t wake us up early.
This may be surprising for many owners; cats love napping and seem to be able to sleep at all hours of the day regardless of how dark or light it is. However, cats do sleep better in the dark. In fact, most of the time that cats sleep in the day they aren’t truly asleep; instead, they’re catnapping!
When our feline friends catnap, they’re resting but alert. They’re still very switched on and aware of everything that is going on in their surroundings. For example, you may notice their ears perk and respond to noises. Therefore, if cats want a proper deep sleep, coving their eyes and sleeping face down is a great idea.
3. They Can Hear Better
As just mentioned, even when it looks like our feline friends are sleeping, they are often just catnapping and are still listening to what is going on around them. And when sleeping with their face down, their ears are up and alert – the best position for capturing as many nearby noises as possible.
This catnapping behavior is natural and inherited from a time before cats were domesticated. Cats may be predators, but they are also the prey of much larger animals in the wild. Many of these larger and dangerous animals are most active in the day, making it a dangerous time for cats to sleep.
However, catnapping allows cats to rest their bodies and recharge a little without putting themselves at much risk. They can continually monitor their surroundings, so if anything dangerous was to come nearby they’d hear it coming. This gives them enough notice to either get up and run away or get their sharp claws out to fight their corner.
Even though no dangers are lurking in your home, this instinctive behavior has been passed on to our pet cats through years of evolution. Therefore, many cats have a preference for sleeping face down as it doesn’t close off their ears. In comparison, other positions may block off one or part of their ears. This affects their ability to keep track of what is going on around them.
4. They Find it Comfortable
I know – this looks so uncomfortable, surely this can’t be true! But each of our furry friends has its own definition of comfort and a cat sleeping on its face might simply be your cat’s preference.
Indeed, no matter which position your cat sleeps in, they probably find it comfortable. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to fall sound asleep in it. Whether it be sleeping face down, sleeping in the cat loaf position, or lying stretched out on its side, every cat will have its favorite go-to sleeping pose.
Sleeping in a comfortable position will help your cat to fall into a deep sleep. This is vital as it is during this deep sleep phase that their bodies repair and grow. It is then that their energy levels get restored and their bodies can physically renew themselves. Without this sleep phase, cats will be constantly tired and get sick more easily.
Once in deep sleep, cats cycle between this sleep phase and another phase called REM sleep. You’ll know your cat is in REM sleep as you’ll see your cat twitch in her sleep. This is the phase in which cats dream and that is vital for memory and learning.
Therefore, finding a comfortable pose and getting a healthy amount of proper sleep is crucial. If sleeping face down is your cat’s favorite pose, leave them to it. However, bear in mind that you should still see some variety. If your cat is always sleeping in the same position it could indicate they are unwell. If in doubt or you notice this alongside other symptoms, take your cat to the vet.
5. They Are Exhausted
If you see your cat sleeping face down, it could be a sign that they are exhausted. They’re so tired they can’t be bothered to curl up into a comfortable position. Instead, they simply faceplant and flop down immediately, lying flat on their face as they sleep.
Most cats have relatively high energy levels, especially young cats and kittens. Therefore, this reason is more likely if you and your cat have just enjoyed a long play session together. All that strenuous activity might have worm them out! They’re so tired they simply fall fast asleep on their face.
However, if you consistently see your cat sleeping more than usual, it could be a sign they’re not feeling well. Lethargy is a common symptom of many illnesses. As the body is trying to recover and the immune system is fighting off an infection or disease, most of its energy will go into just that. As such, it is common for cats to lack the energy to do much else and so they feel exhausted.
Some of the more common medical conditions that might explain why your cat is sleeping more than usual include:
- Parasitic infections
- Bacterial or viral infections
- Musculoskeletal injuries
- Cardiovascualr diseases
- Diabetes mellitus
- Kidney or liver disease
- Respiratory issues such as asthma
- Neurological disorders
- Gastrointestinal illnesses
- Some types of cancer
While each of these conditions shares lethargy as a symptom, the other clinical signs vary dramatically. For example, a cat breathing heavily while resting is more likely to have a respiratory condition. On the other hand, a disoriented cat may suffer from neurological problems, while one itching excessively or running around like a manic might have fleas.
If you do notice other symptoms or strange behaviors alongside sleeping face down frequently and being more tired than usual then take your cat to the vet. They’ll be able to perform an examination and can determine what, if anything, is wrong.
Cat Sleeping on Face vs. Head Pressing in Cats
All of the above reasons why you might see your cat sleeping face down are generally nothing to worry about. In most cases, this pose helps them get into a good deep sleep. It keeps them warm and snug, blocks out any distracting light, and is a comfortable position. Sleeping face down is also a great position for cats that are catnapping in the day as their ears are upright and alert.
However, a cat sleeping on its face should not be confused with head pressing. This is one of the major cat sleeping positions when sick you need to be aware of. Here we look at head pressing in more detail, why this behavior should never be ignored, and how to differentiate it from a cat harmlessly sleeping face down.
What is Head Pressing in Cats?
Head pressing in cats can be described as where your cat frequently and purposefully presses its head against a hard surface, often a wall or a door. Cats will often sleep in this position, but they will also do it when they are awake and alert.
This behavior is indicative of several serious health conditions, including:
- Stroke or vascular brain injury
- Water on the brain
- Brain tumors
- Exposure to poisonous substances
- Liver failure
As these are all extremely serious and potentially life-threatening medical conditions, you must take your cat to the vet as soon as possible if you notice this behavior.
Head Pressing vs. Sleeping Face Down
Thankfully, it is pretty easy to differentiate between head pressing in cats and a cat sleeping face down. Here are some ways you can tell the difference:
- Relaxed or Tense? If a cat is head pressing, their whole body will be stiff and tense as they are in severe pain. On the other hand, a cat sleeping face down will look relaxed, comfortable, and peaceful.
- Hard or Soft Object? Any cat that is head pressing will do so against a hard surface, such as a wooden floor, a doorway, or a wall. On the other hand, a cat sleeping with its head down will typically do so on a soft and comfortable surface. Examples include in their cat bed, a couch or armchair, or a blanket.
- Asleep or Awake? Cats sleeping face down are quite evidently asleep; it will be highly unlikely for a cat to lie on its face if it is awake. Comparatively, while it is possible cats will sleep while head pressing, you’ll notice this behavior more frequently while your cat is awake.
- Other Visible Symptoms? If your cat is head pressing, you’ll likely notice other neurological symptoms such a repeatedly pacing or having issues with vision. Head pressing itself may also result in facial injuries as cats will put a lot of force into it. On the other hand, if your cat is sleeping face down you shouldn’t expect to see any other symptoms.
What To Do When a Cat is Head Pressing?
If you are pretty sure your cat is head pressing rather than simply sleeping face down, you need to speak to a veterinary professional immediately. Head pressing should never be ignored as it is indicative of so many severe medical conditions!
At the appointment, your vet will examine your feline to try and figure out what is causing this behavior. To help their diagnosis, you should take note of any other symptoms you see and report these to your veterinarian.
Following the appointment, your vet will discuss the recommended treatment options. Of course, this will depend on the precise diagnosis of the underlying condition. As all the causes are generally life-threatening, survival is not guaranteed. However, getting professional advice as soon as possible gives your kitty the best chance of making a complete recovery.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Your cat probably just finds this sleeping position comfortable, even though it doesn’t look it to us! It helps to block out the light and keep them warm.
However, if you notice head pressing in cats, you need to call your vet as soon as possible. Rather than looking relaxed and sleepy, cats that are head pressing will have their heads pressed firmly against hard objects. They will look uncomfortable and stiff, often showing other neurological symptoms.
Hopefully, this article has taught you enough so that spotting the difference between the two is easy. If in doubt, always call your vet – it’s always better to be safe than sorry!