Cats sleep up to 18 hours a day, or sometimes even more as they age. You’ve probably found your cat sleeping in a number of different positions, and some of them may be pretty strange.
What does it mean when your cat sleeps curled up versus right next to your head?
Much of a cat’s sleeping behavior stems from social tendencies. Despite their reputation as aloof, cats can have social connections and form bonds with pet parents and other pets. They also seek out warmth from body heat while sleeping. This is what leads cats to sleep on you or next to you or another pet in the household.
Other cat sleeping positions go back to their wild roots. Cats are both predators and prey animals, so in the wild or while outdoors, their lives depend on paying attention. Because of this, cats are highly observant of their surroundings and protective of their bodies. So that explains why they might sleep curled up in a ball, for instance.
With a little insight, it’s possible to decode your cat’s sleeping positions and what they say about your cat’s state of mind. Here are 20 positions you might find you cat sleeping in and what they mean.
Curled in a Ball
Cats often sleep curled up in a ball, with nose to tail. Cats like to be warm, and this shape helps them retain body heat. This position also protects vital organs in their abdomen by surrounding them with less essential and more resilient muscle and bone.
On Their Backs
You’ve probably seen your cat sleep on their back, with their front legs either resting on their belly or outstretched over their head, and their bellies fully exposed. Cats instinctively protect their vulnerable organs, so if a cat is sleeping with their belly exposed, it means they feel very safe and confident.
Even though your cat feels safe, you should probably not try to rub your cat’s belly when they are in this position. Most cats will still attempt to defend themselves when touched in the belly area (by biting, swatting, or scratching).
Cats also like to sleep on their side, with their legs stretched out. Similar to sleeping on their backs, your cat’s vital organs are exposed in this position. Again, this means your cat is very comfortable with you.
However, sleeping on their side makes it easier for your cat to jump up and/or run if they need to. As prey animals, having this escape option acts as a bit of insurance, helping your cat to get a restful sleep.
In a Loaf Shape
This position resembles the shape of a loaf of bread. Cats sleeping in this position keep their front paws curled underneath their body, with their head up. This position preserves a cat’s body heat and protects their vital organs. Cats sleeping in a loaf position may be relaxed, but they are also poised to spring into action and use their claws if they’re suddenly in danger.
The Superman Pose
In the Superman position, the cat lies on their belly. Their front legs and paws are stretched forward, and their back legs and paws are stretched behind them, like Superman in flight.
Cats can be relaxed in this position, but all four paws are still extended and ready to for action. They also have the advantage of protecting their vulnerable bellies. Lying on something warm, like a fuzzy blanket, can also help conserve body heat. However, if the weather is hot, or the heater is cranked up inside, cats may choose to lie on a tile or hardwood floor to cool down.
Perched on Furniture or Appliances
It may seem precarious when a cat sleeps perched on the back of a couch, the arm of a chair, or even on top of the refrigerator, but this sleeping position has its advantages.
For one, with a high vantage point, cats are safe from potential predators while sleeping. In your home, this might mean other pets, children, or even unfamiliar visitors.
Also, as a predator themselves, a perched sleeping position gives your cat a panoramic view to keep an eye on potential prey. In your home, the “prey” will most likely consist of toys or other pets, instead of mice or squirrels, but the motivation for your cat remains the same.
Cats sometimes sleep in very uncomfortable-looking positions. But unlike their canine counterparts, cats are extremely flexible, so a sleeping position that seems very awkward may actually be quite comfortable for your cat.
The discs in a cat’s spinal column are very elastic, allowing cats to twist their bodies into unusual shapes. Also, a cat’s shoulder blade is attached very loosely, giving them an extremely large range of motion in the shoulder joint.
It can be cute when cats sit up in a way that looks like they are trying to imitate a human, but it’s a vote of confidence in their surroundings. A cat sleeping in a sitting position is exposing their belly, which means they feel safe.
In addition, sitting up gives a cat easier access to groom their belly with less effort between naps. Cats sleeping in a sitting position may also be doing it to support their back muscles.
On Your Chest
There are many reasons your cat might sleep on your chest. If your cat is bonded to you, they may lie on your chest because they want to be close. Your cat may also want to sleep on your chest to be closer to your mouth, as your voice may provide comfort.
Also, in much the same way that the sound of a heartbeat can soothe an infant, your cat may be soothed by the sound of your heart and the rhythmic motion of your breathing. Sleeping on your chest also gives your cat a great source of body heat.
Next to You
Lying next to you, but not on you, doesn’t mean your cat is not bonded to you. In fact, sleeping next to you means your cat trusts you enough to be in a vulnerable position while sleeping. Some cats are not comfortable sleeping on their cat parent because they prefer the security of a small buffer zone. This sleeping position is their way of saying that they are bonded to you, but need a little extra space, at least in the moment.
On Your Head
Sleeping near your head may be simply a matter of a cat finding a soft place to nap. After all, your head is usually on a soft pillow when you are lying down. Your head also moves around less than the rest of your body while you sleep, so your cat is less disturbed.
Also, because many cats adapt to your sleep schedule (however loosely), your cat may just want to be near you and sleep when you do. Sleeping by your head gives your cat easy access to you. Poised by your head, a cat can easily reach out and wake you for food, attention, or other needs.
On Your Feet
When a cat sleeps at your feet, they keep your feet warm, but they may also be seeking warmth from you. Sleeping by or on your feet lets your cat be close to you, but also gives them the security of an easy escape when near the foot of the bed, couch, or chair.
Between Your Legs
When a cat sleeps between your legs, it may be somewhat uncomfortable for you, but it can definitely have some perks for your cat. Your cat can be very close to you, and your legs provide a warm, safe, nest-like area for your cat to sleep. Even so, your cat still has the security of an easy escape route.
In a Box
As a prey animal, cats need a place to hide from their enemies. This need is why cats seem to derive such pleasure from jumping into empty cardboard boxes. Boxes also give your cat security and warmth, sort of like camping tents do for humans, while providing an easy exit, just in case. When cats try to fit into a box that seems too small, they are seeking security, like an infant feels when they are swaddled.
In the Litter Box
If your cat is sleeping or lying in their litter box, there is usually a medical reason, including urinary or digestive issues. So if your cat begins to sleep, rest, or lie in their litter box, contact your veterinarian immediately. This can indicate a sudden change in your cat’s health.
There are a few cats that just enjoy sleeping in the litter box, or they may sleep in the litter box when there are limited spaces to hide or sleep, like a cat in an animal shelter.
Eyes Open or Half Open
Cats can sleep with their eyes fully or partially open. Sometimes you can even see your cat’s eyes well enough to observe rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is the stage in which humans (and probably cats) dream.
Cats have a translucent third eyelid between the other eyelids, which may be seen when a cat is sleeping. It protects the eye from irritants or from becoming dry when a cat is asleep.
Though sleeping with eyes open can be normal for a cat, you want to make sure there is not a medical reason behind it. If you see any of the following eye problems, see your veterinarian as soon as possible:
Eye swelling or discharge
Pawing at the eye
The third eyelid is visible while your cat is awake
Paws Over Eyes
Of course it’s cute when your cat sleeps with their paws covering their eyes, but there is a good reason for this behavior. Putting their paws over their face can provide some insulation and warmth, for both the paws and the face. A cat’s paws can also act like a sleeping mask, blocking out harsh light or even dust or pollen.
With Other Cats
While some cats living in the same home merely tolerate each other, many more enjoy each other’s company and will even sleep together. Sometimes this simply means sharing the same comfortable bed, but cats may also sleep together because they are bonded to each other, and sleeping in a group provides heat. Cats sleeping in a group may be soothed by the sound of another cat’s purr.
With a Dog
While they are not natural enemies, some cats and dogs have a predator/prey relationship. That’s why dog and cat introductions should be undertaken slowly, with great care and under supervision. Sometimes cats can form bonds with dogs, just as they can with humans or other cats. In these instances, the dog and cat will sleep together for companionship, warmth, and comfort.
If your cat likes to sleep under the covers, they are probably enjoying the warmth as well as the familiarity and comfort of your scent.
Cats can also be quite sensitive to noise, and the covers offer an escape from stressful noises. In addition, some cats like the security of being wrapped or swaddled in a blanket.
While cats tucking themselves under covers or sheets is generally considered safe, always be aware of where your cat is so you don’t accidentally sit on them and injure them. Make sure that the material that your cat is under is breathable.
Featured Image: iStock.com/danilovi
Stuart Hovis, DVM
Dr. Stuart Hovis is a 1997 graduate of the University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine. After one year of general practice, Dr....
If your cat sleeps on your bed, he may choose a position that lets him see out your bedroom door more easily. If he's curled up in a ball under your bed or in a quiet corner, then he may be hiding. Cats who sleep under the covers might love being close to you, or they might be hiding to feel safer.What do different cat positions mean? ›
A cat sleeping in a sitting position is exposing their belly, which means they feel safe. In addition, sitting up gives a cat easier access to groom their belly with less effort between naps. Cats sleeping in a sitting position may also be doing it to support their back muscles.What does it mean when a cat is in the sphinx pose? ›
In this position, the cat feels comfortable in its surroundings, and does not see any threat. However, your cat is also ready for some movement, as she isn't really sleepy, just taking the time to relax. If your cat regularly relaxes in this position, she is likely to relax and calm down.
This cat sleeping position is the most common, and is also known as the crescent. The reason why most cats tend to sleep curled up is to protect themselves while maximising body warmth.