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As cat lovers, we all know the immense pleasure and pride(!) in experiencing the special moment in which your cat chooses to be physically close to you.
Sleeping on top of your chest is undoubtedly one of the most intimate, lovely feelings of connection and bonding between you and your cat.
Below you’ll find the reasons why your cat likes to snuggle up on your chest, the benefits and possible setbacks of this habit, and some further information on the peculiar sleeping habits of cats.
What Does It Mean for My Cat to Sleep on My Chest?
This question requires a multi-faceted answer because there is not just one reason why cats often like to nest on our chests.
Although you cannot know for sure the main reason why your cat sleeps on your chest on a specific occasion, you can still know the myriad of factors that may be at play behind this most welcome behavior.
Your cat’s inclination to curl up on your chest is most likely the consequence of a combination of all the factors below.
Warmth and Comfort
Our chests, necks, and heads are the warmest parts of our bodies. As you may already know, cats often sit in warm places such as on top of the radiator, your laptop, a patch of sunlight on the carpet, etc.
Your chest is one of these places that provides a good amount of warmth. Not to mention that it is also a different, bodily kind of warmth. So don’t worry, you’re not just a substitute for a radiator!
Your chest is also perhaps the most comfortable part of your body to rest on top of. It has a relatively large surface area and decent padding to make a lovely warm resting spot for your cat.
Sign of Affection and Being at Ease With You
No matter how much your cat might crave warmth or comfort, she won’t go near someone whom she doesn’t feel safe with or trust. So if your cat prefers to sleep close to you or on you, then you can take it as a definite sign of affection.
Sleeping is a very vulnerable state where all defenses are suspended at least partially. That’s why we choose to sleep where we feel safe and at peace, and we sleep better as a result.
Cats are the same. If they can be vulnerable around you, it means that they trust you completely.
Your Cat is Familiar With Your Scent
Cats become calmer and at ease when they smell the scent of familiar things. This may be another cat’s scent and it can be yours too. This is also why it is essential to first familiarize cats with the scents of one another before introducing them physically.
Cats often deposit their own smell on things they want to mark as their own by rubbing their heads and noses on that place or thing. The pheromones in their particular smell not only establish ownership over that object but also familiarity for future encounters.
So it is likely that your cat likes your smell because she has familiarized you in this way beforehand. As a result, she not only feels possessive of you but also calmer and safer by your side.
To Feel Your Heartbeat and Breathing
You are not just a warm, static object for your cat to rest on. You are a living, breathing, organic body that has its particular subtle rhythm defined by its inner workings.
This is one of the things that cats are drawn towards when they seek out physical closeness with you. The rocking motion of your chest when you are breathing and your steady, calm heartbeat can become soothing factors that lull your cat to sleep.
To Protect You – But Not in the Way That You Think
This is a theory that I’d like to address here. Many people have searched online if cats want to protect their humans while they sleep and if this may be an explanation for why they often rest by their side at night.
Well, if this question strictly means “protection” as in defending against any kind of physical threat, then there is no evidence to substantiate such a claim. Although we can never really be sure what cats are thinking, it is quite implausible for this to be the case.
Think about it: Your cat is not exactly on guard duty while she’s sleeping soundly on your chest. If she felt a need to protect you and sensed a possible threat ahead, she would probably be more alert and tense. If that was the case, she wouldn’t be sleeping but would rather try to wake you up to get your attention.
With that being said, if we were to consider the meaning of “protection” in a more versatile sense, then yes, your cat may be protecting you while she sleeps by your side.
One way that she may be protecting you by sleeping close to you can be a possessive kind of protection. I’ve mentioned that cats like to mark people, places, and things with their scent. They also like to physically stand their ground and sleeping on top of you is a way of doing that. It may be a subtle signal to others sharing your environment that you belong to your cat.
There may also be another kind of protection involved. Cats are highly empathic creatures that can sense your stress, anxiety, and depression. Snuggling up with you can partly be an altruistic behavior through which they guard you against these feelings. Although we can’t be sure how conscious they are of doing this, they are still inclined to this behavior.
Is It Good for My Cat to Sleep on Top of Me?
Not only it is not bad for you, but it’s awesome that your cat likes to be close to you! Also, sleeping next to a cat has great advantages, both physically and mentally.
You Will Bond With Your Cat
The more time you spend with your cat, the stronger your connection will grow.
Sleeping next to each other and cuddling are intimate activities that are based on trust and affection. Sleeping next to each other at night will especially prove necessary if you are often away from home and don’t get to spend much time with your cat during the day. This is a great way to make up for lost bonding time.
It is Calming
Your cat’s purring is proven to lower your blood pressure and regulate your breathing.
Apart from its physiological effects, feeling and hearing a cat’s purr has the effect of calming us down and having us feel content. It’s not just all about the purring of course. Having your cat sleeping by your side also calms you down by providing you with emotional support – she keeps you company and shows you affection.
It Relieves Stress
Cuddling and petting your cat will also alter your hormone activities for the better.
Humans have increased levels of the hormone oxytocin when they experience positive physical closeness such as cuddling. Oxytocin mostly causes feelings of loving and being loved, bonding, and happiness. Cuddling with your cat also decreases the levels of the hormone cortisol, which is responsible for feelings of anxiety.
It Can Make You Fall Asleep Easier
If your cat is calm when you get to bed at night, she may help you doze off easier than you would if you were alone. Her gentle purring, bodily heat, and soft contact can soothe you. Your cat’s purring can even act like a white-noise machine!
FUN FACT: Cats can also serve as emotional support animals. Therapy cats often comfort patients in nursing homes, hospitals, and even schools. They help reduce stress, anxiety, and feelings of depression and loneliness by offering people companionship and bonding with them. Therapy cats are chosen from those that have calm temperaments and that handle human interaction well.
Things to Consider About Letting Your Cat Sleep in Your Bed
Even with all its advantages, there may still be some valid reasons why you may want to consider not allowing your cat to make a habit of sleeping next to you every night.
If Your Cat Often Disrupts Your Sleep
Cats are crepuscular animals, which means that they are active most around the sunrise and sunset hours. This might mean that your cat might wake you up in the first light of day.
It is also common for cats to be awake earlier than dawn and many cat parents are woken up during deep sleep at least once. This may be deliberate – to get your attention, or if you are a light sleeper, her motions may wake you up even if she doesn’t intend to.
To minimize overly energetic night time activities, it may be a good idea to feed your cat at night before sleep. It is also smart to play with her during the day and especially at night so that she’s had her exercise and may be more inclined to rest along with you.
Of course, this all depends on your cat’s temperament and your sleeping habits. The question you should be asking yourself is whether or not you can get decent sleep when your cat is in bed with you at night. If not, then it’s probably not a good idea to have her there.
If Her Sleeping Position is Uncomfortable for You
Your cat may enjoy sleeping on a certain part of your body and refuse to move from that spot. This may be nice at first, but it may become more uncomfortable with every passing minute. This may be the case especially if your cat is on the overweight spectrum.
This sounds like a funny problem but it may be very disruptive for your sleep (and your cat’s) if you have to keep nudging your cat for her to move. It will also be physically restraining on you to bear a deadweight on any part of your body for an extended time.
If You Have Asthma or Allergies
Doctors recommend that bedrooms should ideally be off-limits for pets if you have allergies or asthma.
However, if you don’t have the heart to refuse your cat, you can take some measures to ease the situation. Keeping the room well-ventilated, changing your sheets often, and keeping your carpet and curtains clean may help in reducing your symptoms. It can also be useful if your cat likes to sleep by your feet instead of on your chest or close to your face.
If Your Cat is Not Very Clean
This is often the case with cats that go outdoors regularly. Outdoor cats can be carriers of external parasites such as fleas or ticks. This is why you should stick to a strict parasite control regimen if your cat likes to go outdoors, especially in the summer months.
For indoor cats, the major concern is about bringing litter into bed. There is nothing wrong with litter, but you can never know if there is the slightest amount of poop or urine that is brought along with it. These can be carriers of certain bacteria like Toxoplasma gondii, or internal parasites like ringworms.
To avoid these issues, you should take your cat to the vet regularly and keep to a regular internal and external parasite immunization schedule.
This all depends on the severity of your condition, but as I’ve said above, it’s best if your cat doesn’t spend much time on your bed.
The Science of Cat Sleep
You might have noticed that it seems like cats sleep most of the day, taking breaks of awake time in between. Or that they mostly sleep during the day only to become perfectly awake and playtime-ready during the middle of the night. The quirks of cat sleep are endless and I’d like to take you through what they are and the reasons behind these habits.
On average, cats sleep about 15 hours a day. This means that they are asleep for more hours than they are awake in a day. Kittens and junior cats can even sleep for up to 20 hours!
Cats Are Crepuscular Animals
So, how are these 15-20 hours of sleep distributed among the day?
Cats are often labeled as nocturnal animals, which means that they are usually active at night and get their sleep during the day. Strictly nocturnal animals in nature include species like bats, owls, and raccoons. These animals use the darkness of night time to hunt their prey.
Even though they may seem to fit the nocturnal category, cats are better defined as crepuscular animals. Crepuscular animals have their most active hours during dusk and dawn – times of day that aren’t completely dark but in which there is little light.
Being nocturnal, diurnal (active at daylight hours like us), or crepuscular depends a lot on the structure of an animal’s eyes. Twilight hours are most suitable for cats because they offer enough light for good vision but they are dark enough to keep them safe from their predators.
Cat vision works perfectly in dim light because their retinas have an abundance of rods (useful for dim light and peripheral vision), their pupils can dilate to the size of their whole iris, and they have a tissue called tapetum in their eye which maximizes the available light.
Cats Also Have Stages of Sleep
Like humans, cats also have REM and non-REM categories in their stages of sleep.
REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep stage is when your cat recalls the events of the day and restores her memory. During this stage, their brain activity resembles being awake. As is the case with humans, this is the stage where cats dream too. You can observe your cat twitching and move rapidly during her REM sleep. This is usual and nothing to be worried about!
The non-REM stage is where physical repair and restoration take place. More growth hormones are released during this stage, especially with kittens.
These two stages are shorter than they are in humans because cats have shorter sleep sessions that we do.
Cats Take Power Naps
Cats don’t have one long sleep session as humans do. Instead, they take frequent power naps with energetic awake time in between.
Cats need about 15 hours of daily sleep to conserve their energy. These hours are divided and spread throughout the day and can vary for each cat. But as I’ve mentioned before, they are usually more active during dusk and dawn, while their naps are more concentrated during the daylight hours.
FUN FACT: The weather can also affect your cat’s sleeping pattern. Most cats usually sleep more hours on an overcast or rainy day.
Cats Stay Partially Alert When They Snooze
Cats are pretty alert even if they may seem like they are sound asleep. Their hearing and smelling senses stay relatively sharp so that they can respond to possible danger or the chance of getting food.
75% of the time cats are lightly napping instead of having a deep sleep. This provides them with sufficient rest while ensuring that they are not vulnerable to any outside threat while doing so.
This is also why cats often snooze in an upright position like the cat loaf. When sleeping in such upright positions, their body is ready to respond at a moment’s notice. You may observe that sometimes their eyes are almost half-open, or that their ears are responding to sources of sound from the environment.
When cats lie down or take a more comfortable position to sleep, this usually signifies that they are entering REM sleep from their initial slow-wave sleep.
During such sleep, cats experience atonia, which means that their muscles are somewhat paralyzed so that they don’t move much during sleep apart from small twitches during their REM sleep. Atonia prevents sleepwalking and potentially dangerous situations that may arise from it.
Cats Can Dream
Since cats experience REM sleep, they can dream during this stage just like us. During REM sleep, cats recall recent experiences and store useful information in their memories.
Although we cannot know for sure, we believe that cat dreams often mirror their daily experiences. These may be things like playing around the house, eating food, chasing something, etc. Cat dreams are most likely in muted colors (compared to our vision) which is how they see the world when awake.
Cats probably don’t have intense psychological nightmares (such as scenarios like experiencing public shame or all their teeth falling out) like we do, however, they may also have stressful dreams depending on their real-life experiences and past traumas. Many cat parents report that they sometimes witness their cats waking with a start and displaying restless behavior for some time after that.
You can often tell when your cat is dreaming if you observe her making little twitches and sounds when sleeping, which are indicative of REM sleep.
Cats Can Also Have Sleeping Disorders
Cats can suffer from a range of sleeping disorders like snoring, sleepwalking, or losing sleep. These are often the result of physiological problems but some of them can also be caused by mental factors like stress or anxiety.
Snoring is the most common and least serious of the sleep disorders that cats may have. Some factors may increase the chances and severity of snoring in cats. These factors include being overweight, being a brachycephalic breed (breeds that have shortened muzzles like the peke-faced Persian), and suffering from respiratory problems such as chronic bronchitis.
Narcolepsy is when a cat goes into an uncontrollable REM sleep cycle due to certain triggers such as excitement or anxiety. This can be potentially dangerous if a cat lives outdoors where she needs to fend for herself. Unfortunately, narcolepsy in cats cannot be cured.
I had mentioned atonia above, which limits muscular activity during sleep to prevent sleepwalking. Although it is rare, some cats may experience REM without atonia, which can result in performing actions when they are not fully awake.
Senior cats can experience more problems with their sleep. This can be a change in their sleep cycles, or losing sleep and experiencing restlessness. These are often caused by hyperthyroidism, which is more common in older cats. Hyperthyroidism can cause high blood pressure and hyperactivity which may affect a cat’s sleeping habits.
If you notice any change in your cat’s usual sleeping habits, please consult your vet as soon as possible.
As we all know, cats are amazing and wonderfully peculiar – not just when they are awake but also when they are asleep!
It is lucky for us that one of their quirky sleep habits includes sleeping on our chests, which is a beautiful, bonding experience we get to have with them.
No matter why they choose to snuggle us, it is a lovely and intimate act that makes both sides feel content, warm, and safe while diminishing feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and depression.