Emotionally cats help people to sleep but behaviorally they disrupt sleep

There appears to be two opposing forces in play when it comes to how cats and dogs affect human sleep. On the positive side, the emotional support and warmth that cats and dogs bring to their human caregivers promotes better sleep. On the negative side, the behavior of a companion animal – particularly cats as they are prone to being active at night – can disturb human sleep.

To a certain extent these forces cancel each other out but not quite perfectly as a recent study in the United States concluded that overall humans sleep less well when they live with either a cat or dog. And the impact was greatest when living with a dog. My personal experience of living with a cat for many years supports the findings. I, like many other cat caregivers, have adapted to sleep disturbance when living with a cat who’s crepuscular – active at dawn and dusk. Mine is actually active all night long! My example is about the human adapting to meet the cat’s behavior rather than the other way around.

Man's sleep is disturbed by his cat! He can't breathe.
Man’s sleep is disturbed by his cat! He can’t breathe. Image in the public domain.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

“In our study, there were fewer differences in sleep quality indicators between cat and non-cat owners compared to the dog and non-dog owners.” – study authors

On my reading of the study, the net negative impact on sleep by pets is slight. The complicated chart below from the study indicates this finding. Take for example the line I have marked up on ‘trouble sleeping’. This shows the difference in trouble sleeping with and without a dog or cat. You can see the full chart by clicking on this link.

Click on the image below to see it larger when using a laptop or desktop.

Table showing how cats and dog negatively impact human sleep.
CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO SEE IT LARGER ON LAPTOP. Table showing how cats and dog negatively impact human sleep. Source: The association of pet ownership and sleep quality and sleep disorders in United States adults.

Overall, the results of our study indicate that pet ownership may have a negative impact on sleep quality, which is consistent with previous research.

Note the word ‘may’ in that statement. This is not clear cut and the chart shows that. For example, 21.6 percent of people with no dog had trouble sleeping while 28.7 percent had trouble sleeping when living with a dog. For cats it was 22.8% and 27.9% respectively.

Interestingly and perhaps a little bizarrely living with cat led to their owners leg jerking when sleeping!

Cat owners had greater odds of having leg jerks during sleep compared to non-cat owners. – the study authors.

The causation between cat and leg jerk is not explained.

But the researchers also state:

We found that dog owners have greater odds of trouble sleeping and having a sleep disorder in comparison to non-dog owners.

But overall, on my reading of the information, only around 5% more people sleep worse because of their cat or dog. Not much to be frank. But it is a downside to living with a pet. That has to be admitted and accepted. Although there is a weakness in the study as they don’t know if the humans slept with their cats or dogs.

And also, the depth of the bond between animal and human must be a factor but this was not explored.

It is just that we get used to it. Disturbed sleep is probably more of an issue for young people who’d normally sleep well compared to old people who sleep less well anyway. And as they are retired there is almost no impact in terms of the daytime. They can catch up whenever they like.

Title and link to the study: The association of pet ownership and sleep quality and sleep disorders in United States adults. Link: https://doi.org/10.1079/hai.2023.0005

F1 Savannah cat jumps to top bunk to wake sleeping boy

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

2 thoughts on “Emotionally cats help people to sleep but behaviorally they disrupt sleep”

  1. Personally, I sleep better when my cat lies beside me before I fall asleep. She does get me up a bit early though to be let out of her cat flap (I have to be in bed for long hours due to having chronic sleep apnoea.)

    1. I am very sorry to hear that you suffer from sleep apnea. Tough. Your cat provides a bit of emotional support. It is the same for me although he is active at night but I have adapted to it! It’s debatable in my home whether my cat is adapting to me or vice versa!

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