By Michael Arbeiter
If you’ve ever gone to sleep with a cat at your feet, there’s a fairly good chance you’ve woken up with your face enveloped by a tummy of fur. Although your bed is large enough to afford the both of you ample resting space, your cat has no doubt shown a preference for setting up camp right on top of your head. Your feline friend’s behavior may be vexing, but don’t be so quick to assume that he’s trying to do you in. In fact, the reason behind this quirk could be fairly simple.
'Why Does My Cat Sleep on My Head?'
“First of all, it’s warm on the top of your head,” said Marilyn Krieger, certified cat behavior consultant and proprietor of the Redwood City, California, based operation, The Cat Coach. Though it’s warm on other places, the heat from your body usually escapes from you head, which can influence your cat’s decision on finding the warmest spot to sleep. A cat's average body temperature is 102 degrees Farenheit and they need to maintain heat for proper basal metabolism, so seeking an external heat source allows the body to not have to work as hard to stay warm while sleeping.
This is just one of several theories Krieger has. Consistent among several of her suggestions is the notion of comfort; a cat seeking hospice at the head of a bed may not only be seeking warmth, but evading the tics of a restless sleeper.
“A lot of people … toss and turn or have restless legs. There’s always some movement, but some people are more agitated than others,” Krieger says. “Being towards the head, there’s less agitation than there would be lower down. The cat wouldn’t have to move as much or be as accommodating.”
In other words, your cat’s sleeping habits may say a little something about your own.
Krieger does offer a more complementary option, however: your cat may like your scent (particularly the smell of your hair), which can help them feel safe and secure when sleeping. Cats are also territorial and dominant animals that want to mark their people with their scent, so as much as they are picking up on your scent, they are marking you with theirs. That sense of security plays a role in another trifling habit many have found in their feline bedfellows.
“A lot of people complain about their cat sleeping with its rear end toward its person’s face,” Krieger said. While it may not be the most appealing ritual, it is indeed a good sign. “This is the cat showing trust for the person,” she said, highlighting the improbability of the animal to turn its back on a creature it didn’t consider a part of its proverbial family. In a natural environment, cats will find the safest place to take refuge and sleep. In a home, the safest place is next to the owner, where if something awakens the person, the cat will be alerted to the present danger. In the wild, they find the safest place—away from predators and other dangers—in order to rest between hunts.
Your Cat’s Nocturnal Patterns
While innocuous, or even flattering, these habits may prove disruptive to your own sleep. A cat’s after-hours restiveness can be thanked to its ingrained inclination to be constantly on the prowl for potential meals. According to the Indoor Pet Initiative of the Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, cats do not have the daily sleep-wake cycle that we and many other animals have and instead sleep and wake frequently throughout the day and night. Cats in the wild need to hunt as many as 20 small prey each day and must be able to rest between each hunt. Though domesticated cats don’t eat this way, they maintain the same internal clock as their wild relatives.
Finding a Comfortable Solution
Though predisposed toward late night stirring, Krieger said that cats are nevertheless naturally flexible and can indeed be convinced to adopt more convenient sleeping habits, starting with some activity before bedtime.
“[Use a cat toy] in a way that imitates the hunt—drag the toy away from cat and let the cat catch it,” Krieger said. “After a nice workout, immediately following that last catch, give the cat a nice bowl of cat food. The cat will then eat, groom, and go to sleep.”
While any behavioral modification may take some time, repetition can always help encourage predictable behaviors, Krieger said. Your pet may be stubborn at first, but time and patience will indeed lead to a more mutually comfortable schedule and sleeping quarters.
Find out why cats get "the crazies" at night: The Nocturnal Habits of Cats