Why do cats sleep on you? Are cats protective of their owners?

Why do cats sleep on your lap? Tabby cat asleep on man's lap
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’ve ever wondered why cats sleep on you rather than in their beds, you aren’t alone. Many cats live in luxury when it comes to sleeping arrangements because we provide them with so many options!

From the best cat beds and cat cushions to cosy armchairs and freshly made beds, as cat owners, we always do our best to ensure our favorite feline’s comfort! So why, with all the other options available, do cats still choose to sleep on our laps? Well, it turns out that it’s the ultimate compliment.

Why do cats sleep so much?

If you live with a cat, you’ve probably felt a pang of jealousy as you head out for work in the early hours and see them curled up, snoozing cosily on the sofa. But that jealousy might worsen when you plod into the house, exhausted at the end of a long working day, and see that they haven't moved an inch from their snoozy spot! 

So why do cats sleep so much? Well, in the wild, they would sleep for long periods between hunting for food to build up their energy. Of course, even though your cat might catch a mouse now and again, they’re no longer reliant on hunting for survival. Still, that instinct to conserve energy ready for hunting hasn’t disappeared. 

So, before you roll your eyes at your kitty having a kip, remember, they might be intending to bring you back something nice from their imaginary hunting trip too!

Why do cats sleep with you?

Cat asleep on lap

(Image credit: Getty Images)

1. They feel safe

When your cat is in the land of nod, they’re unaware of their surroundings and therefore unable to defend themselves against any potential threats. For this reason, sleep is a time when a cat is at their most vulnerable and unprotected. The fact that your cat is willing to sleep on you, and expose their vulnerability, means not only that they do not perceive you as a threat, but also that they trust you to keep them safe from any dangers.

2. They love you

When your cat sleeps on you, it is a sign that they love you, and by sleeping and relaxing on you, they are helping that bond to grow. You may even find that they purr and knead on your lap before eventually giving in to sleep, which is the purrfect sign of feline affection!

3. You’re warm and cosy

Your body temperature combined with the softness of your lap provides a comfortable environment that is great for a catnap. Your cat enjoys your company and when they feel the warmth from your body as they sleep, it reminds them that you’re near and that they’re safe. 

4. You remind them of kittenhood

Cats are used to sleeping in groups. When they’re kittens, they curl up together with their mum after feeding, sharing each other’s body heat and reassuring each other. Whilst they slept alongside their littermates, they would have been able to hear their little squeaks as well as the sound of their breathing and their heartbeats. So, the sound of your breathing and your heartbeat will be a source of comfort to them, helping them to relax and reminding them of when they were with their mother.

5. You belong to them!

There are lots of behaviors that cats do to mark their territory. They have scent glands on their face, paws, and tail base, as well as some other areas, and by kneading or head butting, they transfer their scent onto objects that are ‘theirs’. When they sleep, there’s a lot of contact between them and you, meaning that a lot of their scent will be transferred to you. This is a great compliment since it means that they don't want to share the best sleeping spot with anyone else, and they want to keep you all to themselves!

Do cats pick a favorite person? 

As heartbreaking as it can be, cats often do choose a favorite person, and it's not always the person you'd expect! If your cat is a foodie, the person with the bag of treats or the one who is usually around for feeding time is the most likely choice. On the other hand, if your cat enjoys playtime, the favorite family member might be the one who devotes the most time to playing with them.

However, who turns out to be your cat's favorite will depend on what your cat values most. If your cat is independent, the person who gives them the most space and interacts with them only if approached is probably the one for them. Find out what makes your cat tick from an early age, and you could end up having the closest bond with your purr-fect pal!

So, why does your cat always sleep on you?

The special bond that you have with your cat means that they love and trust you as a sleeping companion and are willing to show you their vulnerable side. They feel comforted by your warmth and your presence and feel safe in your company. For your cat, your lap is the perfect spot for a snooze. Just don’t go sharing it with any other cats!

If you want the answer to, ‘Why does my cat sleep on my chest?’, check out this behaviorist’s guide.  

Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS

Dr Hannah Godfrey is a small animal vet who graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2011 and began work straight away at a busy mixed practice. Initially, she treated all species, but focussed on small animals from 2014. She has a passion for soft tissue surgery, ultrasound, and canine and feline dentistry, having completed additional training in these areas.