Cats seem capable of falling asleep at the drop of a hat, at any time and in any place – as long as it is safe and warm. Their capacity for sleep is truly amazing: in fact, they spend more time sleeping than any other mammal. Although some behaviourists have suggested that this is because they use up large amounts of energy in short bursts when hunting, this has not been proven and the real reason for their unusual sleep patterns is unknown.
Kittens will sleep huddled around their mother’s body both for protection and warmth. The mother cat has the ability to sleep lightly, which the kittens will develop when they are about five weeks old.
Although we do not know why cats sleep so much, we know a lot about their sleep behaviour. This is simply because they do sleep so much, and therefore make ideal subjects for research into sleep patterns.
Just like humans, cats have two phases of sleep: light, or shallow sleep and deep sleep. Light sleep occurs first, during which time the cat may sit up or lie down, keeping the muscles toned in the neck and body. This phase will last between 10 and 30 minutes, after which the cat will fall into a deep sleep. In deep sleep, the cat’s muscles are relaxed and the animal will take up a lying position, usually rolling on to its side. Deep sleep lasts about six to seven minutes. During a period of sleep the deep phase alternates with the light phase until the cat becomes fully awake.
ASLEEP BUT AWARE
In all phases of sleep the cat’s brain continues to be active, and in fact it is as active as it is when the cat is conscious. It is constantly gathering and processing information about its surroundings, and will be wakened instantly if it should receive crucial information. During light sleep, for example, it may be awakened by the sound of a can opener or a sudden noise that could signal danger.
It is, understandably, impossible to know what cats dream about. However, during deep sleep they often move parts of the body as if responding to dream activity. For example, ears may quiver, tail and whiskers may twitch, and the cat may mutter.
Q. My cat refuses to sleep in the cat basket I have bought for her. As it was quite expensive, and is attractive, I would prefer her to use it. Can I train her to sleep in it?
Cats want to sleep where it is warm, near a source of heat, and secure, where the cat feels safe from possible attack. Examine the places where your cat does sleep, and if possible, place the basket there. Otherwise, just give up and tolerate her behaviour.
During the first four weeks of their lives, kittens only experience deep sleep. At about five weeks, they assume the sleep pattern of an adult, when the part of their brain that controls light sleep develops.
- Cats develop their own favourite sleeping position.
- Those who feel secure will even sleep on their backs, exposing the vulnerable stomach area.
- Studies made on cats have discovered that sleeping position depends on temperature. When cold, cats will curl up to sleep and when they are hot, they sleep in a more open position.