Do cats dream?

April 26, 2024 - 7 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
close up of a white cat with a pink nose sleeping

Have you ever watched your cat’s whiskers twitching in their sleep? Chances are they’re chasing mice in dreamland.  

The science is clear: Like humans and dogs, cats experience REM cycles that involve dreaming.  In this article, we'll dive into the surprisingly complex world of cat sleep behaviors and explore what might be going on in their dozy feline heads. 

Cat sleep behavior

Cats have a unique relationship with sleep that often puzzles their human companions. From catnaps to prolonged periods of slumber, our feline friends seem to have mastered the whole sleep spectrum. Understanding how your cat sleeps can help you assess their overall health and lifestyle. 

Cats fall asleep quickly

Domestic bengal cat with striped fur lying on gray sofa in the sunshine.

It's a familiar sight for any cat owner: One moment your cat’s wide awake, and the next they're curled up in the corner with their eyes closed.

Cats are the envy of insomniacs the world over, boasting an extraordinary ability to transition from wakefulness to sleep within moments. This skill—and it IS a skill—stems from their evolutionary background as both predators and prey, where quick reflexes and the ability to rest efficiently were critical for survival. 

The feline sleep-wake cycle is highly adaptive, allowing them to conserve energy while remaining ready to spring into action at a moment's notice. This rapid sleep onset also helps them manage their energy reserves, so they’re always prepared for hunting or play at any time of day.

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Why do cats sleep all the time?

Cats are notorious for their lengthy sleep schedules, often spending 12–16 hours a day sleeping. They’re not lazy; their extensive need for sleep is a biological necessity. As natural hunters, cats use a considerable amount of energy in short bursts of activity. Sleeping helps replenish their energy stores, allowing them to be fully alert and effective when they’re awake.

Cats are notorious for their lengthy sleep schedules, often spending 12–16 hours a day sleeping.

Sleep keeps cats alert!

Again, being on high alert during waking hours is a trait cats have inherited from their wild ancestors, whose vigilance helped them survive. This state of readiness—along with the ability to become a high-powered hunter at a moment’s notice—requires immense energy. Sleeping deeply in between bursts helps to maximize efficiency during these critical moments.

Most cats are crepuscular

Did you know there’s a whole world of sleep behavior between nocturnal and diurnal? Cats are “crepuscular,” meaning they’re most active during dawn and dusk. This activity pattern is an adaptation to a cat’s natural prey, which is more active during these times. 

Cats are “crepuscular,” meaning they’re most active during dawn and dusk.

Some cats are nocturnal (kind of)

While it’s true that the majority of domestic cats are crepuscular, some may exhibit nocturnal tendencies, especially if their environment or their human’s schedule dictates activity during the night hours. This can also vary by breed or individual temperament.

Your cat may be feeling stressed or unwell

If a cat sleeps more than usual, stress or discomfort could be contributing factors. Just like humans, cats might sleep more when they’re not feeling their best, either due to emotional stress or a physical health problem.

Your cat may be bored

Conversely, a lack of stimulation can also lead to increased sleep. Cats who don’t have enough toys, interaction, or environmental enrichment might sleep out of boredom. (Yes, cats can get bored.) Providing engaging activities and play can help them stay healthy and happy—and help regulate their sleep patterns. 

Should you wake your cat if they’re twitching?

Watching your cat twitch in their sleep can alternate between amusing and concerning. These twitches often occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep, where dreams typically happen. But should you ever wake them up if you see this happening?

Reasons for cat twitching in sleep

Young striped kitten laying in a carrier on a bed

Good news—twitching during sleep is totally normal for cats. It happens for several reasons, all of which are generally harmless:  

  • Dreaming: Just like humans, cats likely dream during REM sleep, and twitching might be a physical reaction to those dreams.

  • Nervous system development: In kittens, twitching is often part of nervous system development. It helps strengthen their muscles and motor skills.

  • Sensory responses: Cats might react to external sounds or disturbances in their sleep with slight movements or twitches.

  • Comfort adjustment: Sometimes, a twitch is just a cat’s way of finding a more comfortable position without fully waking up.

In most cases, it's best to let your cat sleep undisturbed.

Waking them suddenly can be startling and confusing, potentially leading to stress or defensive reactions. However, if you notice your cat seems to be twitching excessively or appears to be in distress while sleeping, it might be worth monitoring their behavior more closely and consulting a vet to rule out any underlying issues.

Cat sleep cycles

Understanding the sleep cycles of cats can give us deeper insight into their health and behavior. Like humans, cats experience several stages of sleep, each serving different purposes. Let’s start with the most fascinating: REM sleep, where dreams are born. 

REM sleep

REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, is a vital part of a cat's sleep cycle, characterized by quick movements of the eyes behind closed lids. This stage is crucial for brain development and memory consolidation. During REM sleep, cats are deeply asleep yet exhibit brain activity levels similar to their awake state. It's during this phase that cats are believed to dream.

During REM sleep, cats are deeply asleep yet exhibit brain activity levels similar to their awake state. It's during this phase that cats are believed to dream.

Their body, however, remains mostly immobile, a condition known as atonia. This prevents them from acting out their dreams. Watching a cat during REM sleep might reveal whisker twitches, paw paddles, or even soft meowing, suggesting they’re engaged in vivid dreams about their daily adventures. This cycle not only supports their mental health but also helps them maintain sharp hunting skills and cognitive functions.

Deep sleep

Following the lighter and more active REM stage, cats enter the phase known as deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep.  While deep sleep sessions are shorter, they’re intensely restorative. This stage is crucial for physical restoration and health. 

During deep sleep, a cat's brain waves slow down significantly, their breathing becomes more regular, and their heart rate drops. This state allows for the body to repair tissues, strengthen the immune system, and grow muscle.

Deep sleep is particularly important for kittens and older cats, as it supports essential physiological processes like growth and recovery. For kittens, this stage helps in the development of their bones and muscles, while for older and senior cats, it aids in the overall maintenance of bodily functions and health.

Cats don’t spend as long in deep sleep as humans do, often waking or shifting to lighter sleep stages more frequently. This pattern reflects their need to always be alert to their surroundings, even while resting.

What do cats dream about?

Cat wrapped in green blanket

While we can't ask our feline friends directly, scientists believe that cats, like humans, likely dream about their daily experiences. Let’s explore what might be flickering through their minds as they twitch and purr in their sleep.

Do cats dream about us?

It's a heartwarming thought for any cat owner: You’re always front and center in your cat’s mind, awake or asleep. While there's no way to know for sure, evidence suggests that animals do experience complex dreams about recent events or common activities. 

For cats, this would almost certainly include their interactions with their human family. Think about the role you play in your cat’s life, providing food, shelter, gifts, play, exercise, and everything in-between. How could you not feature in their dream scenarios? 

Cats might replay moments of affection or play in their dreams, processing the day’s interactions and solidifying memories. So when you see your cat’s paws twitching or hear a soft purr as they sleep, they could very well be dreaming of cuddling with you or chasing toys you've tossed for them. 

When you see your cat’s paws twitching or hear a soft purr as they sleep, they could very well be dreaming of cuddling with you or chasing toys you've tossed for them. 

Do cats have nightmares?

Like humans, it's plausible that cats could have unpleasant sleep experiences, especially if they’ve experienced significant stress or trauma. So do cats have bad dreams? 


Nightmares in cats could manifest as growling, meowing, hissing, rapid breathing, or more agitated twitching during sleep. Meanwhile, factors that might trigger nightmares include past traumas such as accidents, fights, or abuse, as well as current stressors in their environment like loud noises or changes in their home or living situation

However, it's important to remember that occasional twitching or distressed sounds during sleep are normal and don't always indicate nightmares.

Occasional twitching or distressed sounds during sleep are normal and don't always indicate nightmares.

If your cat seems to be having frequent night terrors, it may be helpful to look at their sleeping environment and overall health. Making sure they have a calm, comfortable sleeping area can likely reduce the occurrence of nightmares. The same goes for addressing any underlying health issues that could lead to stress.

Speaking of which, regular vet check-ups can help keep your cat healthy.

Safeguarding your cat’s dreams—and their health  

From their quick dozing habits to the vital phases of REM and deep sleep, cats use their unique sleep habits to hone their predatory nature and nurture their overall well-being.  By recognizing what might be going on in their dreams, we gain insights into their emotional lives, and can better empathize with their experiences, both awake and asleep.

So when you observe your cat’s sleep habits, think about their overall health and happiness. A happy, well-rested cat is more playful, affectionate, and connected to their human family.

And if you're concerned about your cat’s sleep or general health, it might be time to consider how cat insurance can help you manage their care with greater peace of mind. 

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.