Why Does My Cat Sleep on Me?

There are a few reasons why your cat likes to be in physical contact with you.

Asian teenager snuggles with her gray cat
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Sometimes cats prefer to nap in a private perch or choose the safety of a hidden nook, but sooner or later, most cats end up sleeping on their owner's lap, chest, or even head. Yes, your cat may do this to bond and feel closer to his favorite human, but this behavior is mostly the result of biological instincts, especially how kittens socialize with their mothers and siblings and how adult cats interact with one another in the wild. These are some of the most common reasons why your cat sleeps on you.

Why This Matters to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our cats, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing.

Marking Their Territory

Cats have scent glands that release pheromones all over their body. Marking humans with these pheromones means that they are part of the cat's in-group, a behavior learned in groups of cats in the wild to distinguish members of the pack from non-members. When a cat sleeps on you, it marks you with its scent so it can be reassured that you smell familiar and safe. Even cats who enjoy solitude may rub and head-butt their owners as part of the same scent-marking process.

Staying Warm

Many cat owners are familiar with the sight of their cat sleeping in a sunny patch on the bed, or even knocking over plants and whatever else is in the way in an attempt to get an ideal window napping position. Warmth induces relaxation and sleep in cats, and few spots in the house are warmer than being directly on top of a person. Warmth may also contribute to the initiation or maintenance of restorative sleep in cats, meaning that seeking out warm spots for sleep can help them stay healthy.

Feeling Safe

Animals are more vulnerable to attack while they're sleeping, and cats are no exception. As a result, cats who see their owners as a sign of safety and security may enjoy sleeping on or near them. It ensures they won't get attacked while unconscious because they trust you to keep them safe. Sleeping with their back to you—even if it feels like rejection—is actually another sign of trust.

This behavior can also be traced back to kittenhood. When young cats are growing, they are typically in large litters with other cats, nursing from their mother, and sleeping together in a group, sometimes stacked on top of one another. Particularly without other cats in the house, humans may have a substitute role in this situation.

Bonding With You

In experiments to stop cats from destructive scratching and urine-marking behaviors, scent-marking was proven to be a powerful way to preserve cat-human bonds. When your cat sleeps on you and marks you with their scent, it's creating a powerful olfactory reminder that you both belong to the same group. Being close to humans also allows cats to hear and feel familiar and comforting sounds, like a beating heart or rhythmic breaths during sleep, which are reminiscent of safe sleeping spaces with a mother cat and siblings.

Cats are most active at night and early in the day, but some will adjust their habits to reflect that of their owners, in order to maximize the time spent together. See, they do care, even if they like to act standoffish!

Showing Affection

As demonstrated by a recent study on cat-human bonding, cats are not the solitary creatures they are often portrayed to be. In the wild, cats comfortably live in matriarchal societies and are known to exhibit a variety of group bonding behaviors including mutual grooming, allorubbing (when two members of the same species rub against each other), and sleeping together. Sleeping with their owner is one way cats can show affection and caring.

Why Cats Sleep on Different Parts of Your Body

Cats have been known to sleep on a variety of locations on and around their owners, including their head and neck, chest, and lap.


It has long been assumed that cats like to be near their owners' heads because that is where the most heat escapes, but the human head actually releases about the same amount of heat as the rest of the body. That said, the head moves less when people toss and turn in their sleep, so cats may stay near the top of the bed for safety. In addition, cats use their gaze as a way to communicate with their owners and other cats, so they may also like being close to their owner's eyes.


Kittens spend a large part of their period of formative development sleeping on or near other kittens, leading veterinarians to theorize that the sounds of regular breathing and a beating heart nearby may comfort cats and help them sleep with more ease. You might also be the calmest sleeper out of your family members, which makes you a more appealing bedmate to a cat.


While there isn't any definitive research to attest to this, most cat owners know what their cat wants when it jumps into their lap to sleep — to be petted and receive attention. Laps are the perfect spot to keep warm and be easily reached by owners, and what cat lover hasn't spent an entirely inconvenient amount of time sitting in one place to let a peaceful cat continue resting comfortably?

Are There Reasons Not to Sleep With Your Cat?

Your preferences will be quite personal, of course, but there are a few things to keep in mind. If you're a light sleeper, the presence of a cat in your bed might disturb your sleep and make it harder to fall into a deep restorative slumber. Some cats can track kitty litter into the bed, which raises hygiene concerns, and you don't want to be inhaling cat fur, especially if you have any respiratory issues. It's certainly not safe to let a cat sleep with a child under age five, and any child could startle a cat and cause it to scratch.

View Article Sources
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