Cats are among the most mysterious creatures on Earth. They can be found everywhere. From your home to a rainforest and they play an important role within their respective ecosystems with or without humans around them.
So why do cats sleep so much? It turns out that many theories are explaining this phenomenon which ranges from the plausible to the absurd!
The plausible explanations:
Cats are predators.
They evolved to spend most of their day looking for food, especially when populations of prey are low, which is often the case in human-dominated landscapes.
The good news is that cats don’t need to kill every time they are hungry! Prey species can be relatively plentiful if cats only eat one out of every 1-4 available prey that they see.
So, cats can afford to take it easy and sleep through most of the day when food is scarce because their efficiency will improve during the night when more prey are active.
Cats conserve energy by sleeping a lot because they lose it as heat from their body.
Cats have thick fur coats and they don’t sweat. They rely on their ability to dissipate heat through the pads of their paws and the insides of their ears.
Cats, therefore, need to be relatively inactive and sleepy when it’s warm out to avoid overheating. All those hours spent sleeping allow them to survive hot days without having to pant like dogs do, which would only waste more energy.
Cats are crepuscular animals
Most active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk when prey species are also most active. Cats can allocate more time to sleeping in between their hunting sessions because they don’t need daylight to hunt effectively like many other predators including owls do.
The less plausible explanations
Cats sleep so much because they are stuck in the REM stage
This means that their muscles paralyze to allow them to dream.
I know you are tempted to say “I have heard this one before” and yes, we debunked it some time ago. But while this particular meme is false, it does share some elements of truth with other theories.
Cats do need to enter a special “REM state” (stands for rapid eye movement) in which their muscles are paralyzed to prevent them from acting out what is happening in their dreams.
However, REM sleep has nothing to do with confusion! It’s simply when cats experience the most vivid dreams and the paralysis of their muscles prevents them from acting out (and potentially injuring) what happens in their dreams.
Cats also spend a relatively small proportion of their sleep time in REM compared to other mammals such as primates or dolphins, which means that they can’t possibly be “confused” by it all the time!
Cats sleep so much because they are hiding from humans.
This explanation is also false. Cats, despite being beloved pets of many people, can sometimes conflict with us.
For instance, they can cause car accidents when hunting wildlife along roads or get into trash cans to eat our food only to get sick afterward.
However, most cats manage to coexist with humans without any major problems. Cats can be very curious creatures and their nocturnal lifestyle allows them to explore the world during times when we are asleep!
Perhaps people feel that cats sleep a lot because they don’t have anything better to do while we sleep?
Cats sleep so much because they need more REM sleep than other mammals.
This explanation is also false. As we said earlier, cats spend an average amount of time in REM compared to other animals and they don’t appear to need more REM sleep than primates or dolphins who are known to be very active and intelligent!
Cats sleep so much because they evolved from nocturnal ancestors.
This is probably the most plausible explanation and I hope to never see another meme about cats sleeping because they are “lazy” or any other insult.
Cats evolved from ancestors that were nocturnal, meaning that they hunted and roamed around mostly at night (this pattern of behavior is also linked to their sensory abilities such as eyesight which is better suited for low-light conditions).
It is thought that cats have been living with humans for over 10,000 years and that our relationship may have influenced their evolution.
In particular, the development of cats’ personalities is strongly linked to their ability to coexist with us (and not just by staying away from our normal activities while we sleep or hunt).
For instance, cats that are more engaged with their owners tend to be better at socializing with other people.
Cats are one of the most popular pets in the world, but many people know surprisingly little about their sleep patterns.
One myth is that cats spend so much time sleeping because they are confused or lazy by REM sleep- this isn’t true! Cats only experience a small proportion of their total sleep time as REM and it has nothing to do with confusion.
Instead, they have evolved from ancestors who were nocturnal predators meaning that now they mostly hunt at night when we’re asleep.
Another common misconception is that cats need more REM than other animals which also isn’t true- all mammals require roughly the same amount of REM per day for cognitive functioning.
It turns out that cats just have different needs than other species such as primates and dolphins which means they sleep a different amount of time each day.
One final myth is that cats only need as much sleep as reptiles which isn’t true either!
Cats have evolved to spend about two-thirds of their lives sleeping according to one study- they just do it in bursts ranging from 20 minutes up to 18 hours at a time.