Decoding Your Cat’s Favorite Sleeping Positions

Cats have more than 20 different ways they can sleep, and some of these positions can be downright perplexing to their owners. What's your feline thinking when she curls up on your head or chest at night, and which sleeping position may be a red flag that something is wrong?

cat sleeping position

STORY AT-A-GLANCE

  • Most cats sleep anywhere from 12 to 18 hours a day, while close to 40% sleep more than 18 hours a day
  • Sleeping curled in a ball is a cozy position keeps your kitty warm while also protecting the vital organs in her abdomen
  • Cats often sleep on the back of a couch or top of a refrigerator. This gives your cat a bird’s eye view of its surroundings and keeps her safe from “predators,” such as other pets, small children or strange visitors
  • Sleeping on your head is a way for your cat to be near you without being disturbed, since your head moves less than the rest of your body while you sleep
  • If your cat is sleeping in its litter box, seek veterinary care, as there’s likely an underlying medical issue, such as a urinary tract infection or digestive problem
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If you check on your cat right now, there’s a good chance she’s sleeping. Most cats sleep anywhere from 12 to 18 hours a day, while close to 40% sleep more than 18 hours a day. While humans usually sleep in one long stretch at night, cats’ sleep pattern is polyphasic, which means they have multiple sleep sessions each day and night.

Each time your cat falls asleep, she’ll sleep for an average of 78 minutes, although this can vary significantly and commonly ranges from 50 to 113 minutes. Further, unlike humans, who have a diurnal sleep cycle that predisposes us to be awake during the day and asleep at night, cats are crepuscular animals.

This means they tend to be most active at dawn and dusk, during the twilight hours. This is beneficial for cats, which, as prey animals, can be awake just before sunrise to prey on diurnal birds as well as around sunset, to prey on nocturnal animals.

However, many pet cats adjust their sleep schedule closer to that of their guardian. During all of this sleep, cats can come up with some inventive sleep positions. PetMD’s Dr. Stuart Hovis highlighted 20 of them — and what they may reveal.

20 Top Cat Sleep Positions

  1. Curled up in a ball — This cozy position keeps your kitty warm while also protecting the vital organs in her abdomen.
  2. On their back — Sleeping belly up, with vital organs exposed, indicates your cat feels safe and confident. Rub your sleeping cat’s belly at your own risk; she may try to defend herself if you do.
  3. Side sleeper — This is another position that indicates your cat is comfortable and confident, since her vulnerable organs are also exposed.
  4. Loaf position — If your cat is sleeping with her front paws tucked under her body and her head upright, similar to a loaf of bread, she’s preserving body heat while keeping vital organs protected. This position allows your kitty to move quickly if threatened. If your cat only sleeps in this position she may have abdominal pain.
  5. Superman pose — This means your cat’s front legs and paws are outstretched in front and their back legs are stretched out behind. It’s a relaxed position that can keep your kitty warm (if laying on a blanket) or cool (if laying on a hardwood or tile floor). Plus, her belly is fully protected.
  6. Perched in a high-up spot — Cats often sleep on the back of a couch or top of a refrigerator. This gives your cat a bird’s eye view of its surroundings and keeps her safe from “predators,” such as other pets, small children or strange visitors.
  7. Awkward positions — If your cat is sleeping in an a strange, twisted position, it may look uncomfortable to you. But remember that cats are extremely flexible, so it’s probably comfy for your kitty.
  8. Sitting upright — Sleeping in an upright position indicates your cat feels secure in its surroundings. It’s also an ideal position for grooming their belly between short dozes.
  9. On your chest — Kitties that are bonded with their owners may sleep on their owner’s chest. It’s a warm place to lay, and they may enjoy hearing your heartbeat or your voice for comfort.
  10. Next to you — Sleeping near you shows that your cat trusts you; they’re willing to be vulnerable in your presence.
  11. On your head — Sleeping on your head is a way for your cat to be near you without being disturbed, since your head moves less than the rest of your body while you sleep. Plus, it’s a good spot to be when your cat wants to wake you up for a snack. It’s also possible that your cat is sleeping on your head because she likes the pillow you’re lying on.
  12. On your feet — Your cat probably likes your warmth and wants to be near you. But by laying by your feet, she can make a quick escape if she needs some space.
  13. Between your legs — This is a cozy, nest-like spot for your cat to feel safe in. It also provides extra security because your cat can easily leave when she wants to.
  14. In a box — Cats enjoy boxes for the security they provide. Sleeping in a box is similar to sleeping in a tent for a human. It makes your cat feel safe but also allows for an easy exit if necessary.
  15. In the litter box — Most cats don’t choose to sleep in their litter box, unless they’re in an animal shelter with very limited space. If your cat is, seek veterinary care, as there’s likely an underlying medical issue, such as a urinary tract infection or digestive problem.
  16. Eyes half open or open — This can be normal for cats but can also be a sign of a medical issue, especially if it’s accompanied by eye swelling, squinting, eye discharge or a visible third eyelid.
  17. Paws covering eyes — This adorable sleeping position has a practical side. It provides extra warmth while blocking light and keeping out environmental contaminants.
  18. With other cats — Many cats enjoy sleeping with one another because they’re bonded, enjoy the warmth that other cats provide and may also find their purrs to be soothing.
  19. With a dog — If your cat is bonded with a dog in your home, they may sleep side-by-side for the same reason many animals sleep together — for warmth, safety and companionship.
  20. Tucked under the covers — If you find your cat sleeping soundly under the covers, she’s likely enjoying the warmth, security and escape from loud noises.

Should You Sleep With Your Cat?

One other common sleeping spot for cats is in bed with their owners. There are more than 94 million pet cats in the U.S., and the majority of them get to snuggle up next to their guardians in bed come nighttime. Surveys suggest that 62% of cats sleep with their adult owners while another 13% sleep with children in the household.

The immediate benefits of sleep alongside a cat are obvious: they’re soft, warm and cozy. As long as your cat doesn’t interrupt your sleep, you and your cat can both benefit from the companionship, which can be soothing in the middle of the night.