Cat nap

Is it OK to let your cat sleep in your bed? Why the science is complicated

Plus why you may want to invest in a fleece blanket.

Originally Published: 
Lazy cat sleeping on bed

Many pet owners are willing to put up with mild annoyances that come from sleeping alongside their cat — so long as they can wake up with their furry feline by their side. Katherine Pankratz, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, is one of them.

“Personally, I would bear any physical discomfort — whiskers up the nose and all — for my cat to choose to snuggle with me each night,” she tells Inverse. “It is definitely an important bonding experience for me and, I hope, also for my cat, Kaeto.”

Other pet owners hate the experience.

When Inverse surveyed pet owners on r/pets, a Redditor who goes by tonkatsu_tempura replied that they tried it for two days before calling it quits. “I couldn’t stand the idea of sleeping as he tracked poop over my bed and me,” they explain. “The bedroom just feels fresher and far more relaxing without the pet dander and hair.”

But critically — is there a correct answer? In this article, Inverse dives into what researchers report, explains the pros and cons of sharing a bed with a cat, and reveals tips for sleeping soundly if you do let your cat on the covers.

Is it bad to let your cat sleep in bed with you?

Does co-sleeping with your cat worsen or improve your quality of sleep? The answer depends on the scientific study in question.

Ultimately, veterinarians can’t issue a blanket statement on whether it is objectively “good” or “bad” to sleep alongside your pet. Only the pet owner can really answer that question.

“Some people feel more comforted with their cat in the bed, other people will have difficulty getting comfortable, or might be disturbed if their cat walks on them or hogs the bed,” Mikel Delgado, a cat expert at Feline Minds and a postdoctoral fellow School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis, tells Inverse.

Pankratz, who works at the Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland, Oregon, says there is “no clear consensus” and that “further research is needed.”

“Some studies support benefits on sleep while others show an association with poorer sleep quality,” Pankratz adds.

Whether or not you can keep your cat from sleeping with you is another question.

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But if you want to dig into the scientific literature, here are the highlights:

  • A 2021 study of 265 pet-owning 13 to 17 year-olds found 78 percent of respondents slept with their pet. There were “no differences in sleep quality depending on age, gender, or co-sleeping status.”
  • A 2018 study found “cats who slept in their owner’s bed were reported to be equally as disruptive as human partners, and were associated with weaker feelings of comfort and security than both human and dog bed partners.”
  • Another 2021 study found cat ownership was associated with a higher odds ratio of failing to achieve at least seven hours of sleep — but the researchers were unable to conclude “whether this means that cats represent a risk factor” for reduced sleep quality.

The benefits of sleeping with a cat in bed

“For healthy cats and owners, the benefits outweigh the potential risks.”

Many cat owners report immense mental health benefits from co-sleeping with their pet, stressing how their pet helps them sleep more soundly.

“I recommend co-sleeping with a cat because doing it makes me happy. I feel sad when I fall asleep without my kitty near me,” a Redditor who goes by hunxie tells Inverse. “Mine could fall asleep on my face and I’d prefer it to sleeping without her.”

Others report that co-sleeping with their cats has benefited them in other surprising ways. Far from disrupting their sleep, these felines have helped their owners adhere to a routine sleep schedule.

Redditor LiteralHatCS tells Inverse:

“... it has made my actual sleep cycle much better because she waits on my bed when it’s time to sleep and I feel bad if I don't join her. I tend to have a messed up sleep cycle and the routine of just having a cat in general (especially feeding times) has improved it drastically.”

“For healthy cats and owners, the benefits outweigh the potential risks,” Pankratz states.

The cons of sleeping with a cat in bed

For Redditor Oxygen95, having their cat in bed was a non-starter.

“I am an extremely light sleeper, so my cat doesn't sleep with me. In fact, she's not even allowed in my room when I'm asleep,” Oxygen95 tells Inverse.

A stirring cat has the potential to disrupt your sleep, just like a snoring human partner. “A cat's effect on your sleep will partly depend on you,” Delgado says.

“In fact, she's not even allowed in my room when I'm asleep.”

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Before deciding whether co-sleeping with your cat is a dealbreaker for your sleep, you need to ask two questions, Delgado says:

  1. Are you a heavy sleeper or a light sleeper?
  2. Is your cat active at night, or do they sleep soundly on the bed with you?

But if sleeping with your cat just isn’t working out, you have some options — though your cat might not like them.

“Cats have free will to choose where they wish to sleep. If you wish to limit your cat's access to sleeping with you, you may consider denying access to your bedroom,” Pankratz says.

“This could result in initial frustration from your cat at the barrier to your room such as vocalization or scratching at the door,” she says.

This arrangement has worked out for Redditor tonkatsu_tempura, whose cat stays mostly in the living room, allowing them to keep valuables out in the bedroom without having to worry about keeping a close eye on their pet.

Is it safe to sleep with a cat in bed?

For the most part, yes.

“In general, I would consider it safe to sleep with your cat, but you have to know them and how they would respond to accidentally being startled or moved while sleeping,” Delgado says.

There is always the possibility that you might unintentionally scare your cat in your sleep, causing them to scratch you, “but that is not likely to be a frequent occurrence,” Delgado adds.

Some pet owners may worry about crushing their cat in their sleep, but that’s unlikely to occur — though you might want to exercise caution with co-sleeping if you’re raising newborn kittens.

“I've never heard of anyone crushing their cat while sleeping — most cats will move the second they feel uncomfortable,” Delgado says. “But to be safe, I'd wait until kittens are a little bigger before sleeping in the bed with you.”

Pankratz agrees — though she says some cats may need their own separate space from their owners to sleep for health reasons. Cats with chronic or pain-related conditions may need to be provided a place to sleep where they can avoid people who may move or shift during sleep.

Tips for sharing your bed with a cat

If you’re committed to making a co-sleeping arrangement with your cat work, Delgado and Pankratz offer three easy tips to make your life a little easier.

  • Create a specific location on the bed for the cat to sleep
  • Use aids — like a blanket that’s designated their spot on the bed — to help your cat to co-sleep properly
  • Create a bedtime routine for your cat to help them sleep soundly, such as playing with your cat and serving them a meal before bed

Pankratz suggests you “encourage a cat to rest in your preferred location by offering a desirable resting spot such as a warm cat bed or soft material.” The exact material will depend on your cat’s preference, but a fleece blanket might work well.

If your cat rejects its own sleeping area, you may want to involve a closed door.

Delgado agrees, stating that a heated pad might “steer" some cats to a particular area of your bed” though she acknowledges that “cats can be very individual, and if they decide they like your pillow best, that is likely where they will try to sleep.”

Meanwhile, the best tip might be: exercise some patience. Initially, Redditor probablylayinginbed experienced a reduced quality of sleep when they began sharing a bed with their kitten.

But with time, the cat adjusted to its owner’s sleeping schedule, and the owner, in turn, became less susceptible to the cat’s nighttime movements.

“She will usually sleep next to me in the evening and then move to one of her own beds for the night,” they explain.

What to do if your cat isn’t sleeping through the night

When co-sleeping with your furry feline, you might have noticed that your pet isn’t sleeping through the night properly.

While this could indicate that your sleeping arrangement might be affecting your cat, it’s also possible this sleeplessness is a sign of more serious medical issues.

“... most cats will move the second they feel uncomfortable.”

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Cats sleep a lot — approximately 50 to 70 percent of the day, according to Village West Veterinary, and that can be even longer for senior cats. The opposite — too little sleep or restlessness sleeping — may indicate heart disease or other ailments.

If you notice your cat having trouble getting to sleep, consult a veterinarian for a medical evaluation of your feline.

But in a 2015 post, veterinarian Eric Barchas also notes that cats tend to be crepuscular, meaning they are active for several hours before sunset and sunrise. If you notice your cat running around like a madman during the early morning hours, you can probably rest easy knowing your cat is just doing its thing.

The Inverse analysis — At the end of the day, the benefits of co-sleeping with a cat likely outweigh the cons.

But like humans, each cat is unique. Co-sleeping with a cat may work for some pet owners, but not others. Don’t force the habit if it’s not working for you and your kitty.

“It depends on a case by case basis on what the cat and the owner each want out of the sleeping arrangement,” Pankratz says.

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