Why Do Cats Like to Sleep With Their Owners?

Why do cats like to sleep with their owners?

Cats are often seen as more independent and less needy than some other pets. Yet ever wonder why your kitty loves to curl up and fall asleep at the feet of your bed at night?

From physiological to psychological, there are several reasons why your feline friend may be keen to get cozy with you. But should this behavior be allowed?

Below experts talk to Newsweek about your feline's snoozing habits.

Warmth

At the most basic level, cats can't resist sleeping near you for the warmth of your body. A warm human can be the "perfect place" for sleeping at night, especially near the head and feet, from where most body heat escapes, Vicki Jo Harrison, the president of The International Cat Association (TICA), told Newsweek.

Security

The most important reason for why cats like to sleep near their owners is security, according to Harrison.

Cats are most vulnerable and at their "greatest risk of being attacked by a predator" when they're sleeping, she said.

"When your cat sleeps with you it means that they trust you and feel secure with you by their side.

"It also means they trust that you will provide an extra layer of defense if needed," the TICA president explained.

Comfort

Cats also find the owner's bed to be "the most concentrated source of familiar scents," Pam Johnson-Bennett from Cat Behavior Associates told Newsweek.

"Cats may choose to sleep there as it provides psychological and emotional comfort. In multi-cat homes where there is tension, a cat may sleep in the owner's bed to be kept safe from being the victim of an ambush," the author said.

Bonding and Companionship

In addition to added warmth, Johnson-Bennett said cats may sleep with their owners for bonding and affection.

The author explained that in an outside cat colony, it's common for bonded cats to sleep curled up next to each other or at least in close proximity. This is considered "friendly social behavior." They may also sleep close together for extra warmth in very cold weather conditions, she said.

Cats are often thought of as being independent and pets that like to be by themselves. But despite these stereotypes, "cats do get lonely and enjoy companionship," Harrison said.

"If your cat sleeps with you, this indicates that they enjoy your company and want to spend time with you," she added.

A cat sleeping on a bed.
A cat sleeping at the feet of a person on a bed. Despite the stereotype that cats are independent, they do get lonely and enjoy companionship. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Marking Their Territory

Cats also love to claim their territory by rubbing their head on things and walking on objects "because they have glands in their feet and head which release pheromones," explained the TICA president.

"Making themselves cozy on your bed and bumping heads with you marks you as their territory," she said.

Should I Let Cats Sleep With Me?

Unless you are allergic to cats, there's no reason to be concerned about a cat sleeping in the bed. It can actually be a way of a bond with a timid cat, Johnson-Bennett said. "A cat who might be afraid to approach during daytime hours may feel more comfortable getting close in the dark when the owner is asleep."

The author warned, however, if you do let your cat sleep in your bed, don't encourage playtime there.

"Don't wiggle your fingers under the covers to entice your cat to pounce" or else the cat may decide it's playtime in the middle of the night and launch "an unexpected play attack on your fingers or toes when you're sound asleep," she said.

Hands holding a sleepy kitten.
A kitten sleeping in the hands of a person. Cats may also sleep with their owners for bonding and affection. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Having cats in your bed can be disruptive at bedtime. According to a study of 932 women in the U.S., published in 2018 in the Anthrozoös journal, "cats who slept in their owner's bed were reported to be equally as disruptive as human partners, and were associated with weaker feelings of comfort and security than both human and dog bed partners."

Cats may also wake you up early in the morning because they are bored or hungry, Zazie Todd, the author of the upcoming book PURR: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy, told Newsweek.

One way to keep your cat from waking you up is to make sure they get plenty of play time at other times of the day. Giving them a snack before bedtime can also help, Todd said.

"The important thing is to make sure that cats have choices of places to sleep, including in the daytime, such as cat beds and cat trees," the author said.

Other downsides to having cats in your bed include them leaving bits of fur everywhere on your bed cover, as well as even cat litter or mud, if they have outdoor access.

So be sure to wash the bedding on a hot wash and make sure your cat is "up-to-date" on parasite medication, Todd advised.

A cat sleeping on a person.
A cat sleeping in the arms of a person. Cats are most vulnerable when they are sleeping. iStock/Getty Images Plus