Are cats good or bad for human sleep?
An alternative question might be: “Do cat companions disturb human sleep?” And having spent a good while looking at research and articles on this topic, there is no clear answer to the question in the title disappointingly. Falling back on personal experience I have to confess that my cat does indeed disturb my sleep and I don’t really like it. Although there are many variables. However, logic dictates that domestic cats are likely to disturb sleep as they are normally far more active than humans during the night as they are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk). My gut feeling is that millions of cat owners are disturbed at night by their cat, but they get used to it and accept it.
Also, millions of cat owners ban their cats from the bedroom for this reason which I don’t agree with but understand. Cats like the human bedroom and a compromise should be found that is acceptable to cat and caregivers. A study: Are Pets in the Bedroom a Problem? found that in the USA ‘more than half of pet owners [this will be cats and dogs] allowed their pets to sleep in the bedroom’. Twenty-percent thought that their pets were disruptive. But 41% did not!
Like I said the picture is unclear, but I suspect that the more disruptive pets are the cats despite the fact that dogs are essentially crepuscular like cats. But I think dogs have adapted more to the human circadian rhythm than cats due to longer domestication and therefore are less active at night. Plus there is the added comfort factor for dogs in terms of security.
Certainly, another study: An Examination of Adult Women’s Sleep Quality and Sleep Routines in Relation to Pet Ownership and Bedsharing, found that women slept better with their dog than either with a cat or human.
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“Compared with human bed partners, dogs who slept in the owner’s bed were perceived to disturb sleep less and were associated with stronger feelings of comfort and security. Conversely, 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.”
The added feeling of security from a dog’s presence is obvious as dogs are able to protect humans. Cats less so. And dogs are pack animals programmed to protect the alpha, the human.
There is this added benefit of sleeping with a dog compared with a cat especially for single women. And a lot of cat owners are single women. The perceived comfort of a dog’s presence probably nullifies any disruption to sleep whereas cats simply tend to disrupt sleep.
Although I am a devout cat lover, I do wonder if sleep disruption among millions of cat owners is an issue that they put up with but would rather not have to. Although there is this background psychological comfort as described by a female cat lover who recently lost her cat to old age and had her freeze dried! I hate that but she makes a good point. She said: “I craved the endorphin hit of feeling fur against my skin. The comforting way she’d walk across me in my sleep, waking me multiple times in the night…” For her, sleep disturbed by her cat was entirely acceptable and even comforting. This highlights the difficulties in addressing this topic.
In respect of non-sleep matters an Australian study (Psychological Health in a Population of Australian Cat Owners) found that cat owners have “a lower level of psychiatric disturbance and could be considered to have better psychological health than the non-pet subjects.” The Australian governments of the various states and territories are constantly finding ways to restrict and control cat ownership to protect wildlife. They should remember the human benefits too.
An article on the Psychology Today website concluded that “There’s no single answer to the question of whether sleeping with pets affects one’s sleep quality for better or for worse.”
The author states that 66% of Americans sleep with their pets. They say that there is a growing body of research which shows benefits in sleeping with pets. This is unsurprising as pets in general bring certain psychological benefits to their owners which is carried forward to the bedroom.
For example, reduced loneliness is a huge benefit for single people. We might say that for single people living alone that cat companions either don’t disturb sleep or the person is more likely to accept the disturbance than a married couple because of the general benefits.
Also, three in a bed might be stretching it a bit: partner and cat ?. It gets a bit cramped. Although I don’t know of any research to support this, perhaps married couples are more likely to lock their cat out of the bedroom than single people. Makes sense to me. It is logical and common sense.
The best compromise I have seen on avoiding cat nighttime disturbance comes from Jackson Galaxy, the American cat behaviourist, who recommends allowing cats access to the bedroom at night as they crave it but make them a little bed of their own from smelly human clothes. Cats like the human bedroom because of the scent (Galaxy calls them ‘scent soakers’). Let cats enjoy that.
General research on how cats affect sleep concludes that “in some cases, there’s no loss to sleep quality, or a small reduction in sleep quality” and “other research shows that sleeping with pets can be a source of disruption to sleep quality” according to Michael J. Breus Ph.D. writing for Psychology Today. It just depends on many variables such as: single or married couple, poor or good sleeper, male or female, anxious or relaxed person and so on?