How does sleeping benefit a cat’s overall health?
Just as is the case with humans, sleep is a vital part of a cat’s overall health. Adequate sleep strengthens the immune system, aids in the proper digestion of food, is an integral part of healing and recovery from illness, and may even have psychological benefits.
About 15 percent of the time that cats are sleeping (which is roughly 85 percent of the time), they experience REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. During these periods, their tails, legs, and facial muscles twitch and rapid eye movement is present, all indicating that they are dreaming.
In humans, REM sleep is the time when our minds clean house, processing new information, and filing away our memories. While it is unclear what’s going on with cats, they do possess memory, the ability to learn, and intellectual skills like object permanence. (They understand that objects they cannot see, like a bag of kibble in a cabinet, continue to exist even when they are out of sight.)
Changes in a cat’s sleep habits can be an indicator of illness, and should not be ignored. Thyroid issues can disrupt the sleep cycle and cause a cat to stay awake longer. Infections can have the same effect. Kidney problems and cancerous conditions may increase the time a cat sleeps, and elderly cats, especially those with feline cognitive dysfunction, may wander and cry at night.
Always take your cat to the veterinarian for evaluation as soon as you notice any significant changes in his nap schedule. Because felines, as an element of their survival instinct, hide illnesses and even wounds, knowing your cat’s particular behavioral patterns is especially important in keeping him happy and healthy.