The Ultimate Guide to Sleeping with Your Cat

Does your cat sleep in your bed with you? Are you wondering if you should continue doing it? Is it healthy? Is it unsanitary? What are the downsides?

Many people invite their cats into bed with them. However, there are some potential risks to falling asleep with your cat(s) you should know about.

In the guide below, we’ll go over it all: how to sleep with cats, why you should, why you shouldn’t, and expert opinions and answers to your cat-sleeping questions. First, though, we’d love to know your current cat situation to help us gather some data on what you’re looking for from this article.

  1. Do you sleep with your cat? 
  1. Yes 
  2. No
  3. I don’t have a cat 
  1. If you sleep with your cat, does it positively or negatively affect your sleep quality?
    1. Negatively
    2. Positively
    3. Neither
    4. I don’t have a cat
  2. Are you looking for tips on how to better sleep with your cat? 
    1. Yes 
    2. No
    3. I don’t have a cat
  3. If you do not sleep with your cat, are you looking for tips on how to get your cat to sleep with you?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. I don’t have a cat 

Benefits of Sleeping With Your Cat

Some cats don’t care where they sleep. On the other hand, you may have a cuddly one that thrives on close contact with you. If it makes your pet happy and doesn’t interfere with your sleep, then having your cat in bed with you presents some benefits.

It provides a calming effect

Pets protect against loneliness, anxiety, and depression. A survey by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute[1] found that 85 percent of pet owners experience less loneliness because of their pets. Another study[2] found that 52 percent of participants who shared a bed with their dog or cat got some level of comfort and security from it.

If you’re a person who tends to have anxiety at night or wakes up with nightmares, having your cat nearby might be a tremendous relief and comfort.

It relieves stress

Animals help relieve stress. In a 2021 study[3], researchers looked at the impact having pets had during the COVID-19 lockdown in Malaysia. The study’s results showed that those who owned pets coped significantly better, had more positive emotions, and had better overall psychological well-being than non-pet-owners.

This is largely because, as we now know, pets can help with feelings of loneliness, but on a more chemical level, the act of actually petting and snuggling your animal increases levels of oxytocin[4] (a happy hormone) while simultaneously reducing levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). These benefits also translate to lower blood pressure[5] and better-coping abilities.

It promotes bonding with your pet

Janet Culter, Ph.D., Certified Cat Behaviorist at Cat World says, “People often describe feeling more bonded to their cats if they sleep in their room and also if they spend more time touching them.” Dr. Cutler adds, “many cats also choose to spend time on the bed, so it’s likely they enjoy it as well.”

This might be especially true if you’ve got a busy schedule and you’re not home a lot; sharing a bed with your cat at night might be the longest block of bonding time you two have.

cat calming stressed woman illustration

It can help you fall asleep faster

There is a major caveat to this one: As long as your kitty settles down at a reasonable hour, it can help you fall asleep faster. Of course, this is a coin toss because cats are crepuscular[6]– meaning, they are evolved to be low-light predators, so their eyesight is better during twilight. For many, this means nighttime is playtime.

However, if your cat isn’t as active at night, having an already-sleeping pet can provide some comfort and relaxation that might help you get to sleep faster. For instance, a cat’s purring can be a source of white noise that masks other disruptive environmental sounds, or for those who like the comfort of a weighted blanket, having your cat sleep on your legs or torso might provide some of the same benefits like reduced anxiety and increased melatonin production[7].

Downsides of Sleeping With Your Cat

Cats' sleep patterns change with age, but most adult cats will sleep between 12 and 20 hours[8] a day. However, as mentioned before, cats are crepuscular, which means they are more active at twilight.

As you’re trying to drift off, your kitty may decide that it is the perfect time to run circles through your bedroom or chase a ball around the house. If that’s the case, you may want to consider an alternative sleeping arrangement. Additionally, there are other downsides to keep in mind:

It can disrupt your sleep

According to a 2015 study[9], people who co-slept with their pets took longer to fall asleep, were more likely to wake up tired, and were more likely to be disturbed by their pet’s noises at night.

Dr. Mikel Delgado, Cat Behavior Expert with Rover suggests that sleeping with a cat might not be the best for light sleepers as “it can restrict your movement while you sleep– especially if they lay on your legs or chest.” Dr. Delgado adds that “some cats are active at night, so they might be spending more time playing on the bed than sleeping on the bed!”

If you’re a sensitive sleeper, a cat in the bed might be a disruption rather than a positive addition to your sleep. No matter how much you love your furry friend, if they’re keeping you from getting quality sleep, it’s probably time to get them their own sleep space.

It exposes you to litter box debris

Even the cleanest of cats will get litter box debris on their paws. There’s no way to avoid it. Just remember that they’re tracking that into the bedroom with you, and it could include traces of fecal matter, which can be a potential health risk. If your pet spends any time outdoors, they’ll also be tracking in all the gunk from outside.

It can cause allergies and worsen asthma

According to research[10], about 10-20 percent of adults are allergic to cats, and this appears to be on the rise. Even if you don’t specifically have a cat allergy, it is estimated that about 20-30 percent of people with any sort of respiratory allergies will be sensitive to cats10.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology[11], avoiding cats is the best way to deal with cat allergies or worsening asthma.

Illustration of Person Allergic to Cats

They could be a threat to young children

Cats pose a risk of accidentally suffocating[12] babies and toddlers. This is because, unlike dogs, cats tend to cozy up on the chest or close to the face of their sleeping humans, which could be disastrous for a small child. If you want your cat friend to be able to sleep in bed with your child, wait until your kids are at least four or five years of age.

They are hard to evict

Research[13] shows us that cats are very territorial; so much so that they place more importance on the security of their territory than they do on their attachments to people or other animals.

This can make them incredibly hard tenants to evict from your bedroom. Once they know it is part of their territory, it will be hard to convince them that it’s not.

Locking them out might lead to loud meowing or other protest behavior[14]. Therefore, if you’re on the fence about whether your cat should sleep with you, err on the side of no until you’re completely sure.

You could be exposed to parasites and fungal infections

Fleas, mites, roundworms, and hookworms are just some of the nasty parasites that you could be exposing yourself to by sleeping with your pet. Roundworms are the most common gastrointestinal parasite affecting cats, infecting 25 to 75 percent[15] of them. Unfortunately, infections like roundworms can be passed to humans by contact with cats and can lead to rare, but sometimes quite serious diseases, especially in young children.

Ringworm[16] is another common infection that humans can catch from cats, though it is not a worm or parasite at all but rather a fungus.

The FDA[17] recommends that all cats, whether indoor or outdoor, be on year-round heartworm, flea, and tick prevention to avoid some of these issues.

You could get bacterial infections

The chances of coming into contact with particles of fecal matter are pretty high if your cat sleeps in bed with you; especially if they use a litter box. Humans can catch salmonella from their cats’ feces, as well as pasteurella multocida from their cats’ mouths. This bacteria is present in 70-90 percent of cats’ mouths and can cause serious infection when that cat bites a human[16].

Similarly, the more well-known “cat scratch fever,” (technically known as “Cat Scratch Disease”) is a bacteria found in cat saliva, usually transmitted to humans by scratches or bites[16].

People with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk for these types of infections. While they’re not usually serious, the symptoms of fever, fatigue, stomach pain, and muscle soreness can linger for months.

You should keep protozoal infections in mind

Protozoans are single-celled organisms, and protozoal infections18 occur when an animal (including humans) is contaminated with parasitic protozoans. These can be introduced to the body in any number of ways, but as far as your cat goes, they can transmit these parasites to you by way of their feces. The most common protozoal infections that can be transferred to you by your cat are Cryptosporidiosis, Giardia, and Toxoplasma which causes Toxoplasmosis[16].

It is more likely that humans will contract one of these protozoal infections by eating something unwashed or contaminated, rather than from their cat.

Sleeping With Cats During Pregnancy

You may be wondering if it’s safe to sleep with your cat while pregnant. Above, we touched on the terms Toxoplasma and Toxoplasmosis, with the first leading to the latter.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[19], if you are infected with Toxoplasma prior to your pregnancy, your baby will be okay. They go on to say that some experts recommend waiting six months before trying to get pregnant if you’ve been infected.

On the other hand, if you become infected while already pregnant or just before conceiving, the baby could also become infected. The CDC reports that while babies might not exhibit symptoms immediately at birth, they can develop symptoms later in life, such as blindness or a mental disability. There are some occasions, though, in which a baby is born with eye or brain damage as a result of the infection[19].

If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, this doesn’t mean you can’t keep your cat. Rather, you’ll want to take the precautionary measures that we’ve outlined below, as provided by the CDC[19].

  • Avoid changing cat litter. If you have to do it, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands with soap and water immediately afterwards.
  • Change your cat’s litter box every day.
  • Feed your cat commercial dry or canned food instead of raw or undercooked meats.
  • Keep your cat(s) indoors.
  • Avoid being contained with stray cats and kittens, and do not adopt a new cat while pregnant.
  • Cover any outdoor sandboxes.
  • Wear gloves while gardening and or during contact with soil or sand as they could be contaminated with cat feces. Additionally, wash your hands afterwards.

Tips for Better Sleep With Your Cat

If you do decide to sleep with your cat(s), there are some tools and tips that might help make it easier, more hygienic, and more restful for both of you.

  1. Use a HEPA filter. HEPA filters (or High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filters) are very powerful mechanical air filters. They are excellent at removing things like dust and pet dander from the air and could make it easier for you to sleep with your cat.
  2. Keep your door closed. According to experts at Vet West[20], if your cat starts to disturb your sleep, set a firm boundary. Close your bedroom door and make sure your cat has their own comfortable sleeping area, water, and litter box.
  3. Visit the vet regularly. It is recommended that your cat goes to the vet every six months[21] for regular checkups. This will help you prevent things like transmissible parasites, fleas, and fungi so that you can feel safer and more hygienic sleeping with your cat.
  4. Clean your cat’s fur regularly. If you want to make sure your cat isn’t tracking dirt (or worse) into your bed, be sure to clean their fur regularly. This will be especially important for cats who use litter boxes.
  5. Clean the litter box with gloves and wash your hands. It’s possible to get the parasitic infection toxoplasmosis[22] from cleaning your cat’s litter box. The best way to prevent this is to wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning the box, or even better, use gloves.
  6. Change your bedsheets once a week. Most experts recommend changing your sheets once a week anyway, but this is especially important if you want to share your bed with your cat. Regular sheet washing can help not only remove dirt but also any dust mites, fleas, cat fur, and anything else your cat (or you) has dragged in.
  7. Make sure your cat is active during the day. This one might be hard to control, especially if you’re out at work all day, but if you want to sleep peacefully with your cat at night, it’s recommended that you get them to expend their energy during the day. Experts[23] advise leaving out toys that they can play with alone if you’re gone all day.
  8. Have a play session before their dinner. The SPCA[24] recommends doing an intense play session just before you feed your cat dinner, and then wind it down to slower, more relaxed play. If you do this regularly, you’ll also be teaching your cat that it’s almost time for bed and to wind down.
  9. Use an automatic feeder. This will allow your cat to get up for food and water in the middle of the night without disturbing you.
  10. Keep toys around the house at night. This way your cat can get up and play if they get a sudden case of the zooms, rather than waking you up.
  11. Be mindful of changes in your cat’s routine. If you notice changes in your cat’s sleeping routine, this could be a sign of an underlying issue. According to Dr. Caroline Wilde, staff veterinarian at Trupanion “a sick or anxious cat might sleep in a place far away from people where it is isolated, when it is usually more social. A cold or sick cat might be more reluctant to greet its owner from rest or sleeping, or sleep in a place that is warmer than its usual spot.” Dr. Wilde goes on to say that “any changes in a normal routine should be noted, and if a pet owner is concerned, they should consult with their cat’s veterinarian.”
Illustration of a Cat Left outside of the Baby's Room

How to Train Your Cat to Sleep With You

Training your cat to do anything might sound like a challenge, but there are some expert-recommended tricks to help teach them to sleep in the bed with you – once you have expended all of their energy and made sure they are clean and healthy.

  • Buy or make a perch for your cat in your bedroom. Experts[25] say that most cats prefer to hang out in places with good vantage points because evolutionarily, this would help them protect themselves, especially at night. If you put a perch next to your bed and start getting ready for bed, this will allow your cat to get familiar with your nighttime routine.
  • Make your bed inviting for a cat. You know your cat better than anyone, so take that knowledge of your cat’s dislikes and likes and make your bed a place they’ll want to cozy up. You might set up a “cave” made from covers or pillows at the foot of your bed; you might try a blanket that is more or less soft. Experts[26] say the goal is to create an environment where your cat will feel invited to relax.
  • Use a heating pad to make a warm spot. If you’ve ever seen a cat lying in the sun, you know how much they love a comfy, warm spot. You can take a heating pad and warm up an area on the bed just before you go to sleep, and then remove it. Your cat should be drawn to that spot and (hopefully) ready to curl up and sleep.
  • Reward your cat for getting in bed. The Humane Society recommends using positive reinforcement[27] to train your cat and what better reward than a treat? In this case, try hiding treats in your bed that your cat can find. As they start getting more comfortable jumping into bed at night, reward them less and less until they just do this without treats.
  • Know your cat’s positions and make room. If you want your cat to sleep in bed with you, you’ll have to make room, and it might be a lot of room, depending on their mood. According to Dr. Delgado, usually “the more stretched out a cat is when they are sleeping, the more relaxed and comfortable they are. A tight, curled up position can be because the room is a bit chilly for them and they are trying to conserve heat” in which case, you might want to turn up the thermostat.
  • Ignore bad behavior. The SPCA recommends ignoring any bad behavior–meowing, pawing, playing, etc. Any response to this will teach your cat that bad behavior gets a reward– your attention. Instead, just keep sleeping, or at least, pretending you are24. If this causes you to lose too much sleep, though, we recommend putting your cat in a different room.
  • Move the cat bed to the foot of your bed. If your cat has a blanket or cat bed they already feel comfortable lying on, try moving that to the foot of your bed. This might help the transition to sleeping on the bed more comfortable for them.
  • If it’s not working, let it go. Dr. Delgado reminds us, “Not all cats want to sleep on the bed.” For example, “if you are the type of sleeper who moves around a lot they might find it disturbs their ability to sleep and relax.” Whatever the reason, if your cat simply refuses to fall asleep in your bed or keeps you awake night after night, we suggest letting them sleep elsewhere.

Common Questions About Sleeping With Cats:

Are cats nocturnal?

No, cats are not nocturnal. Instead, they are crepuscular, which means they are evolutionarily best suited for low light. This will mean that they are more active at twilight[6].

What do cats do at night?

If you have an indoor cat, chances are they are sleeping, playing, scratching something, or eating. Remember, they are most active just after sunset and before sunrise, so their activity will depend on what time of the night it is.

If you have an outdoor cat, though, researchers at the University of Georgia[28] found that they stay busy at night. They placed small cameras on 55 cats in the Atlanta area and studied the nighttime footage. They discovered that 44 percent hunted small bugs and rodents, 25 percent encountered other cats, 45 percent crossed roads, 25 percent ate and drank away from home, and 20 percent explored crawlspaces and storm drains.

Why does my cat sleep on me?

Many cats like to sleep with their owners because they’re vulnerable at night. In the wild, they were prey to larger animals and sought coverage and protection. They probably feel safe and secure in your presence, and as Dr. Delgado adds, “some cats just love to be close to their humans!”

Why does my cat sleep between my legs?

Dr. Cutler says that “many cats end up sleeping either between their owners’ legs or on top of them. It could be that cats like to sleep between legs as they often like sleeping in smaller, confined spaces. Sleeping at a persons’ legs may also make a cat feel like they can get up and leave more easily when they feel they want to.”

Last Word of Advice

As you can see, there are arguments both for and against having your cat in bed with you. It’s important first to determine if your pet interrupts your sleep. Then check for signs of allergies.

If you enjoy having your cat in bed with you, then we recommend doing what makes you happy as long as you take health precautions to protect against disease.

References

  1. Social Isolation & Loneliness”. Human Animal Bond Research Institute. Webpage accessed January 12, 2023. 
  2. Rose PsyD, Mary W., Lance MD, Colleen G., Schenck MD, Carlos H., “Dogs and Their Promising Roles in Sleep Disorders Therapy”. 2015. 
  3. Grajfoner, Dasha., Ke, Guek Nee., Wong, Rachel Mei Ming. “The Effect of Pets on Human Mental Health and Wellbeing during COVID-19 Lockdown in Malaysia”. National Library of Medicine. 2021. 
  4. Beetz, Andrea., Uvnäs-Moberg, Kerstin., et. al. “Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin”. Frontiers in Psychology. 2012.  
  5. Friedmann, E., Katcher, A.H., Thomas, S.A., et al. “Social interaction and blood pressure. Influence of animal companions”. National Library of Medicine. 1983. 
  6. Ling, Thomas. “Why do cats sleep so much?”. Science Focus. 2021.  
  7. Meth, Elisa M.S., Brandão, Luiz Eduardo Mateus., et. al. “A weighted blanket increases pre-sleep salivary concentrations of melatonin in young, healthy adults”. National Library of Medicine. 2022.
  8. My cat sleeps constantly – how much is too much and when should I worry?”. Animal Emergency Center. Webpage accessed January 19, 2023.
  9. Smith, Bradley., Thompson, Kirrilly., Clarkson, Larissa., Dawson, Drew. “The Prevalence and Implications of Human–Animal Co-Sleeping in an Australian Sample”. Taylor & Francis Online. 2015.  
  10. Sparkes, Andrew H. “Human allergy to cats: A review of the impact on cat ownership and relinquishment”. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2021.  
  11. Pet Allergies”. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Last modified April 23, 2018. 
  12. Castro, Joseph. “Do cats really kill babies by sucking away their breath?”. LiveScience. Last modified August 27, 2021.  
  13. Bradshaw, John. “Normal feline behaviour: … and why problem behaviours develop”. National Library of Medicine. 2018.  
  14. Common Cat Behavior Issues”. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Webpage accessed January 19, 2023. 
  15. Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats”. Cornell University: College of Veterinary Medicine. Last modified June 2018. 
  16. Zoonotic Disease: What Can I Catch from My Cat?”. Cornell University: College of Veterinary Medicine. Last modified March 2017.  
  17. Keep the Worms Out of Your Pet’s Heart! The Facts about Heartworm Disease”. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Last modified December 22, 2022. 
  18. Protozoal Infection”. Science Direct. Webpage accessed January 12, 2023. 
  19. Toxoplasmosis: Pregnancy FAQS”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last modified December 13, 2022.
  20. Excessive Nocturnal Activity in Cats”. Vet West. Webpage accessed January 12, 2023.  
  21. How Often Should You Take Your Cat To The Vet?”. Feline Medical Clinic. 2019.  
  22. Toxoplasmosis: General FAQs”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last modified December 1, 2022. 
  23. Exercising Your Cat”. PDSA. Webpage accessed January 13, 2023. 
  24. Nocturnal Behavior”. San Francisco SPCA. Webpage accessed January 13, 2023.  
  25. Why cats like to relax and sleep up high”. Killeen Veterinary Clinic. Webpage accessed January 13, 2023. 
  26. Becker, Dr. Marty. “Why Doesn’t My Cat… Sleep in Bed With Me?”. VetStreet. 2016. 
  27. Training Cats with Positive Reinforcement”. Humane Society of Huron Valley. Webpage accessed January 13, 2023. 
  28. Loyd, Kerri Anne Therese. “Sociopolitical, Ecological, and Behavioral Aspects of Free-Roaming Cats”. University of Georgia. 2012.
Natalie G.
Natalie G.
Writer

Natalie is a content writer for Sleep Advisor with a deep passion for all things health and a fascination with the mysterious activity that is sleep. Outside of writing about sleep, she is a bestselling author, improviser, and creative writing teacher based out of Austin.

When she's doing none of these things, you will most likely find her outdoors, at the gym, or... asleep.

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