How Long Do Cats Sleep? The Truth

cat asleep with boy

The cat and girl will sleep for a similar amount of time! Photo by dannysoar

Here is the truth about how long cats sleep. There is a lot of incorrect information on the internet about how long cats sleep. Nearly all the articles exaggerate the amount of time a cat sleeps. The exaggerations can be excessive. Even the top ranked sites, as found by Google in a search, overstate the amount of time cats sleep.

The reason why the authors of these articles get it wrong is because (a) there is no comprehensive information on this subject on Google Scholar which is a huge database of scientific studies (b) there are tens of thousands of webpages on the internet written by authors who recycle the misinformation that is on other webpages and (c) there has been no solid research on the duration of cat sleep – until now! – and (d) the cat books also get it wrong or have little to say on the matter, indicating a lack of available information.

For example, the excellent The Cat, Its Behavior, Nutrition & Health has only one reference, which is to newborns, “neonatal kittens should spend the majority of their time sleeping….” That is it. There is nothing in Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook. There is nothing in The Welfare of Cats. Both are first rate reference books.

We are in the dark! Asleep on the job 😉 Ubiquitously, authoritative authors on websites state that the domestic cat sleeps from 12 hours to as much as 20 daily. A Google search for “how long do cats sleep” results in Google presenting at the very top of the first page: “12 – 16 h Cat, Daily sleep”. Google lifts that from Wikipedia (what else?). Wikipedia also states that 13–14 is the average time a cat sleeps. And where does Wikipedia get that figure from? Sadly and incorrectly, there is no reference for that.

According to Google, the top website (other than Wikipedia) on cat sleep is PetMD. They say that cats sleep an average of 15 hours a day and up to 20 hours per day. This is clearly copied from Wikipedia and as I said, Wikipedia do not quote a source for that information. It is incorrect in my opinion.

There is only one solid guide for how long cats sleep: a BBC documentary which I am yet to see as it will be screened next Monday which is about the sleeping habits of animals. Giraffes need a mere 2 hours sleep and cuttlefish and octopuses dream as can be seen by their rapid eye movement during sleep.

Gorillas and lions slept for a similar time to human teenagers at 8 hours or more “…lions grab a full eight”. That flies in the face of many websites. I have read that lions sleep the most of all cats at 19 hours per day. Teenagers need between 8 1/2 to 9 1/4 hours (National Sleep Foundation). Yahoo Answers state that lions sleep for around 20 hours per day. Wrong. Sorry. And Yahoo Answers is right a the top of page one on search so people read this and quote this thereby perpetuating the inaccuracy.

For me the BBC documentary provides us with the first solid guidance as to the sleep requirements of cats in general. We know that domestic cats are a whisker away from the wild cat species so says the world’s more authoritative book on the wild cat species (Wild Cats Of The World ISBN-13:978-0-77999-7). We know that anyway.

This fine book does not tell us how long lions sleep. They say that lions rest for 17-20 hours a day, but that is not sleep. The authors steered clear of lion sleep because they did not know the answer. The book was written in 2002. Now they would know.

I would argue that lions are able to sleep more than the average wild cat species because they a top predator. They are more secure. Therefore we could state with some confidence that other wild cats sleep for shorter periods and one of those cats would be the wild forerunner of the domestic cat, the Near Eastern wildcat.

The truth is that the domestic cat actually sleeps around 8 hours a day and rests in the reclining position, snoozing or simply resting for an additional 8 or more hours depending on the individual cat. This accounts for the fact that cats are alert at these times. If you wake up a cat that is genuinely sleeping the response is not instant. There is a wake up period although it is still short. The period of sound sleep is not continuous but interspersed by rest and snoozing.

The domestic cat should live in a very secure home which will allow for more sleep. I would bet that feral and stray cats sleep less than domestic cats.

Link to photographer’s Flickr page.

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How Long Do Cats Sleep? The Truth — 25 Comments

  1. I think the word ‘catnap’ came from how a cat ‘naps’ not really asleep just sort of drowsing, it must have originated with cats in the wild always having to be alert to any sign of danger.
    It’s said cats sleep two thirds of their lives but I don’t believe that.
    I think cats who don’t get enough attention sleep through being bored.
    Our cats certainly don’t sleep most of their time. They have got used to having the same bedtime as us but never sleep all night. They are always ready to get up as soon as they can wake us up too lol

    • Ruth that makes me sad – Gigi does this. She sleeps because she is bored and I hate it. Things are much better now and she is showing her sense of humour and desire to play and be silly alot more now but it’s not enough and she is not ‘fine’.

      • She sounds quite needy bless her, you can only do your best Marc when you have to go out to work, you give her lots of attention when you are home I know.
        Do they still use the catio?

        • Yes they do and you really hit the nail on the head when you said she is ‘quite needy’ – I think that’s the issue. But last night for example she had fun and we played and then she came lay on the bed all stretched out in a funny position like she used to – not a little ball up the tree – and I could see she felt satisfied. She is needy. You are right. I think she is just different – very mental, she thinks and talks a lot more than other cats – I guess I just have to adapt to her and it should be ok I hope.

          • I think some cats are more needy than others. My little Bryan always liked to be where I was, he was almost my shadow. Now Jozef likes to be with me quite a lot too, although he does go off out to enjoy being a cat, then comes in and is happy snoozing on the couch here. Or if Babz is home and upstairs he goes up to be with her for a while. Walter is much more self sufficient and likes his time alone, he likes to snooze on Babz bed while she’s at work. Both boyz are usually waiting around to meet her when she comes from work, she will be an hour later today and they’ll be looking at me puzzled as to where she has got to lol

            • Ye however Gigi doesn’t follow me – more she wants to be alone and curled in a ball looking sad. Only if I go to her and follow her does she like it usualy. She seems to like to take me for a walk around the place to all her usual shelves and cubby holes for a once over checkup and then we have a play in the living room – and usually by then she is looking happy and satisfied. She very sensitive. You mustn’t touch her unless she asks you to. Not even a tiny touch or she will meow and go away.

              • I think you are doing a good job loving Gigi on her own terms, she is obviously a very private cat and probably perfectly happy that you give her attention when she asks for it.
                She may not be sad when curled up in a ball, just liking to sleep that way.

        • They love the catio and soon I will be doing lots of stuff to it – like planting p[lants and putting a cat tree out there – it’s going to be very nice for them I hope.

  2. It’s all about the difference between actual sleep and resting with eyes closed. Most of the time they are just awake with their eyes closes. It would be very hard therefore to calculate when they are finally asleep and for how long. 16 or 18 hours might be how long they appear to sleep but it’s more like 10 or 12 I believe.

    • It’s all about the difference between actual sleep and resting with eyes closed

      Absolutely agree. This is where the confusion for some people comes from. Some people who don’t know cats equate lying down with eyes closed and being silent as “sleep”. It is not. Cats in this state are alert. Their ears are mobile and they rapidly turn their ears and heads at unfamiliar sounds.

    • This is so true. I believe that those of us who truly know our cats watch their ears closely, when their eyes are closed and they appear to be sleeping. I’ve made the mistake often enough of reaching out to pet my 20-yr-old Muckaluck (Lucky) thinking that she was just resting, and she would jerk, startled. I think that she is an exception though, because of her age. She rests in a deeper zone than younger cats. Hope that makes sense. 😉

  3. I’m up in my bedroom with two sleeping cats now, Jozef is curled up in a little ball in the cat bed under the desk next to the radiator and he’s snoring his head off, Walter is on the my/his bed stretched out halfway across it fast asleep, but after a while they will sit up a bit and drowse for a while before launching into another sleeping position for more zzzzz’s, I think they sleep better on an afternoon than they do at night. I love watching them sleep. I love watching them whatever they’re doing though.

  4. My cat Carmen likes to sleep, off and on threw out the day. When I wish she is awake she’s sleeping, off and on all day and wants to wake me up every morning at about 5 am, I don’t sleep well since my mom passed 3 yrs ago for some reason, and when I go to sleep 2 or 3 hours later at 5am, she want’s to eat and play, it’s exhausting. Then she whines a lot around that time and quiet all day when I’m awake.

    • Two things (a) v.sorry to hear that your sleep has been affected by your mother’s death (b) cats tend to shorten our sleep because we have different sleep habits and cats generally are in charge 😉

    • Cats love to be up at 5am, we are lucky there are two of us and can take turns to be the early riser with ours, but it is hard having to get up so early especially after a sleepless night.

      • Charlie makes it known to me when he has had his 8 hours by hopping to the end of the bed which is the position from which I pick him up and take him to the kitchen for food. If I don’t move he starts to talk to me, then scream at me. Then the argument can begin.

        • lol I can just imagine it!
          Jozef climbs on me and I beg him for just a few more minutes but he is without mercy, he walks up and down on me digging his feet in. If that doesn’t work he does a spinning top impression beside me as he knows it will make me laugh and give in. The minute I sit on the side of the bed Walter appears at the top of the stairs to celebrate victory with Jo lol

    • lol so do ours, they are back in and fed and happily snoozing an hour after getting us up, but by then we are too wide awake to go back to bed.

      • I wish that I could just lie down and go back to sleep like they do. How do they do that?
        They eat breakfast, expend a whole lot of energy all morning, running, chasing, playing. But, I do too.
        Then, they just drop and go to dreamland.
        Human babies do that too.
        So, we had that ability once but lost it, I guess.

  5. well my cats certainly have the good life slseeping more, what ive noticed which i didnt realise is how can they keep their eye openwhile still asleep. But as soon as cat food noise i.e canopener or rattle of cat container they’re immediatly awake. i cant even do that esp mornings.

    • When a cat is woken from real sleep he or she will not jump to attention immediately. They actually wake up like us. I think people confuse real sleep with resting with eyes closed which is not the same thing.

  6. My cat Mitzy, has her sleep routine, like most cats do. After being awake from about 5-7am, she goes to one of her favorite places for the next 6-8 hrs.

    Fortunately I’m an early riser, so she rarely wakes me up, except during full moon nights. Then she’s restless during the night, and cries for me to get up. I try to ignore her, and call for her to come and lay on my chest, which usually works after awhile. I don’t sleep in this position, but it feels wonderful. After about 20 minutes she climbs off to lay near my feet.

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