Why Do Cats Sleep on You and What Does It Mean?

Author: K. Marie Altoby K Marie Alto Updated 8 min read

Why Do Cats Sleep on You and What Does It Mean?

Over the last little while, I've been covering a lot of common cat behaviors and helping pet parents know what they mean. We've already covered a lot, which you can check out here, including:

And plenty more. So, now let's talk about one of the simplest – and yet most adorable – behaviors that a cat can display. What is it? Well, obviously, if you read the title of this post, you already know. It's when your fur baby is looking for a place to curl up and doze, and they choose your lap (or chest, or stomach, or the crook of your arm, or anywhere else next to you.)

What does it mean when they choose to sleep on you instead of in their bed, up on their cat tree, or in that cozy sunbeam breaking through the curtains?

How Cats Choose a Place to Sleep

It's important to know how a cat chooses where they want to sleep. They're predators, but they're also small and vulnerable to the predations of larger animals. In the wild, a cat has to be cautious of other cats, dogs, coyotes, and big cats like mountain lions. They can't just pick a nice warm spot and sleep there; they need to find someplace they can consider safe.

What makes a location safe? Well, that varies.

Cats like to sleep somewhere relatively enclosed. This is why when you hear tales of people finding stray cats having kittens nearby, it's usually in a hedge, under a dense shrub, under a porch, in a crawlspace, in a garage or barn, or another closed-off area. It's someplace they can get into, where they have shelter from the elements, and where other animals are less likely to be. They will also choose somewhere up high if they can since many of the animals that threaten them can't climb as well as they can. That's why they "get stuck" in trees and on rooftops from time to time.

You can often see that same behavior in our domesticated feline friends. They'll find a place on top of a shelf, in a nook around the TV, in a drawer or cupboard, or – as is so often adorably observed online – in a box.

Kittens Sleeping Together Image by Toe Beans

Another big element of safety, though, is the scent. Cats have a fairly keen sense of smell (nothing like a dog's, but still better than ours), and they leave scent markings around their area. That's why they rub their faces and paws on you and on the things in their domain, and it's why they scratch at surfaces. They would also scent mark using urine if they aren't fixed and/or trained away from doing so.

So, when your cat is looking for a place to sleep, their first priority is safety, and their second priority is comfort.

So, why do they choose you?

Why Your Cat Chooses to Sleep With (or on) You

If your cat is choosing to sleep next to, curled up with, or on top of you, they're doing so because of one of a few different reasons.

The first and most common for dedicated cat parents is that your fur baby has bonded with you. Cats aren't really the aloof, standoffish, and independent creatures they're made out to be. They have plenty of complex social behaviors, and they form bonds. Those bonds are often formed with other cats (like their parents, siblings, littermates, and other friendly strays around them in the cat colony), but they can also be formed with people.

So, the number one reason why your cat chooses to sleep with you is because they've bonded with you. This is actually a combination of several factors, though.

A related reason is that your cat feels safe with you. They know you aren't going to do anything to hurt or threaten them – at least not on purpose. Because really, who among us hasn't accidentally kicked or stepped on our loving fur baby in the middle of the night when we can't even see them? It's always heart-wrenching, but at least they forgive us.

Cats need to feel safe to sleep. Ideally, they'll feel safe all throughout your home because you've made it safe for them. Out of the whole home, though, they'll want to prioritize spending time with the cats or people they've bonded with, and that means hanging out with you. Since cats do a lot of sleeping, that's going to be their primary trust activity.

A Cat Sleeping on their Owner Image by Toe Beans

Another reason is the scent marks of safety. There's an amusing anecdote somewhere on X: a couple have two cats, and they always have the same routine of settling in their respective chairs for the evening. Their cats each go to their favorite person and take up a position on the arm of the chair to spend time with them. Then, one day, the two decided to switch spots and see what the cats would do.

Much to their chagrin, the cats went to their usual spots. The parents, heartily amused, determined that the cats didn't have a favorite person at all but rather just a favorite spot.

That's only half true. The full truth is, the chair you spend every day sitting in – or the bed you spend every night sleeping in – is saturatedwith your scent. If you give your cat the choice between a brand-new chair you're sitting in, or the chair that you've sat in every night for years, they're going to detect strong saturated scents from the one you spent so much time in. It's familiar, comfortable, and safe.

So, part of safety is feeling secure with the scents around them, and what better place to bathe in your scent than right on top of you in bed or on a chair?

Another reason why cats like to sleep on people is simply because cats like to be somewhere warm. Cats already have a higher body temperature than we do, which means that keeping our houses at a temperature comfortable for us is a little chilly for them. They certainly make up for it with their fur coats, but they'll happily soak up the sun in a window and enjoy even more warmth. So, why would they want to sleep on you? Your body heat is warmer than the floors and other surfaces, so you're a nice warm place to curl up and doze.

One other possible reason is hormones. We get good hormones like oxytocin when we spend time with our fur babies, and dogs definitely get some when they spend time with us, so it's not out of the question that cats do, too. Unfortunately, vets aren't sure whether or not that's true just yet, so for now, it's just a theory.

Finally, cats are just social sleepers. There are a million different adorable cat pictures on the internet of two or more cats curled up in a pile to sleep, in on and around one another. Well, if they don't have other cats to snuggle up to, they'll just as likely pick the next best thing, which is you. After all, you're part of the pack as well; even if you don't partake in grooming, you don't really talk right, and you don't scratch the furniture.

Is It Bad to Sleep With Your Cat?

Some people believe that it's bad in some way to sleep with their cats. Some people view cats as dirty and that the cat will soil their beds. There's a little truth to that, sure. If your cat is ill, they can vomit or lose bowel or bladder control on your sheets, and no onelikes to wake up to those telltale noises that mean hours of suffering at three in the morning.

Truth be told, most of the time, it's fine to let your cat sleep with you. There are three reasons why it might be bad, though, so let's cover them.

The first is parasites. If your cat has brought in some kind of parasite with them – most notably, fleas – letting them sleep with you can spread the parasite to you. At the very least, it can infest your sheets, and that's unpleasant for everyone involved.

If your cat is an indoor-only fur baby and they don't have the opportunity to pick up parasites, this probably isn't much of a concern. It's worse for cats that go outside from time to time, especially if they do so unsupervised, which I don't recommend.

The second reason is bacteria. It's kind of the same thing, really; cats can catch illnesses and bring them into the home with them. While cats like to keep themselves groomed and cleaned as much as they can, they don't exactly go wash themselves with soap, and the bacteria they carry can cause problems with you if you're susceptible to it. In particular, if you're immunocompromised, on antibiotics, or otherwise vulnerable, you should sadly try not to let your fur baby snuggle up to you while you're sleeping. Fortunately, while cats can potentially carry diseases, as can parasites on them, a well-cared-for fur baby isn't going to have much you have to worry about unless you have other reasons to be concerned for yourself.

The third reason is allergies. You may keep your allergies under control through shots or pills during the day, but at night, they can run wild. The worst part, though, isn't the allergies themselves. Chronic inflammation from constant low-level allergic reactions is pretty bad, but more than that, allergy attacks during the night will break up and disrupt your sleep and reduce the quality of the sleep you get. Since everything from heart attacks to colds is increased because of poor quality sleep, you really want to do what's best for you.

If you aren't concerned about any of these, you're probably fine with letting your fur baby sleep with you at night. Of course, since cats like to be nocturnal, they'll probably be restless and won't stick around too long at a time. They have better things they could be doing, like prowling.

Sleeping With a Cat Image by Toe Beans

Take special care if you have babies or young children to care for. You shouldn't let your cat sleep with them. First, if the cat is startled by the baby abruptly waking, screaming, or flailing around, they can react with a bite or scratch, and that's dangerous. Second, a cat curling up on their chest or head to sleep can even cause unintentional suffocation. It's always better to be safe than sorry when a non-fur baby is involved.

Finally, if your cat is sick in any way, you really want to keep them somewhere where they aren't going to be transmitting it to other cats or to you. It can feel bad to try to isolate them when they're suffering, but you can spend time comforting them when you're comfortable yourself. You don't want to make yourself feel worse just to make them feel better; you can't care for them if you're suffering, too, right?

Of course, not every cat even wants to sleep in your human bed with you. Some may be content to be curled up at your feet, or even just somewhere else in the room. As long as they can share the space with you, that may be enough for their fuzzy little minds.

So, there you have it! A thorough explanation of why cats like to sleep on you, with you, around you, and share space with you. Isn't it a wonderful feeling to know that your fur baby has chosen you as their beloved human, their littermate, their bonded packmate, and their friend? There are few better feelings when acting as a pet parent than earning that trust and love from our beloved feline friends.

Do you have any other common cat behavior questions you wonder about or would like explained? If so, feel free to leave them in the comments below! I'm always on the lookout for ways to answer your questions and engage with my community, so I look forward to hearing from you.

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more

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