Is it bad to disturb a cat while it is asleep?

When your cat falls asleep on your lap, it can be heart-breaking to move them. But is it really a bad thing to wake up your cat whilst they're sleeping?

18th September 2016

We share similar sleep cycles to our cats, who experience REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep.

While your feline friend enjoys REM sleep, they’re more likely to twitch, chatter their teeth, and make squeaking sounds as they dream. However, it isn’t recommended that you disturb your cat while they’re asleep – let’s explore the reasons for that…

How long do cats sleep?

It takes a lot of energy for our moggies to move, whether that’s chasing toys, hunting, or pouncing on their prey.

However, you might be surprised to learn that your furriest family member sleeps for around two thirds of their life!

Why do cats sleep for so long?

Cats are ‘crepuscular’, which means they’re active during dawn and dusk. The reason your moggy’s instincts tell them to stay alert at sunrise and sunset is down to their prey. In the wild, cats are active when creatures like mice and birds are awake because it improves the chances of a successful catch.

Kittens and older felines tend to spend more time sleeping, though if you’re concerned your cat is sleeping too much, please contact your vet.

A grey cat sleeping on a yellow sofa

Sleep stages

REM sleep involves ‘rapid eye movement’, so your cat’s eyes will move rapidly under their eyelids as they process the day’s memories and dream.

Deep sleep is different to REM sleep. Your feline friend enjoys an extremely relaxed state that allows their body to rest and repair during deep sleep. You may hear some people say non-REM sleep includes deep sleep, too; this is because it can be easier to separate your feline’s sleep into REM and non-REM cycles.

When in light non-REM sleep, this can make your moggy more aware of what’s happening around them. Cats in light, non-REM sleep are likely to wake up at the smallest sound suggesting something’s nearby, like tasty treats or fluffy slippers!

Cats in REM sleep

Felines in this sleeping phase tend to display the following behaviours:

  • Twitch their ears, eyes, whiskers, legs, and/or tail.
  • Dream
  • Chatter their teeth

Cats in deep sleep

  • Relax.
  • May lie on their side
  • Appear peaceful.

Cats in non-REM sleep

  • Might wake immediately when they hear something.
  • Tuck paws underneath their body, ready to spring into action.
  • Could seem to be sleeping, but are actually aware and ‘dozing’ lightly.

Always contact your vet if you’re worried about changes in your cat’s sleeping habits.

Why do cats twitch in their sleep?

The reason our cats might twitch while they’re asleep is because REM sleep causes their muscles to relax, which allows nerve signals to be sent to their paws, whiskers, and tail as they dream. Sometimes, when our cats twitch in their sleep, they might make sounds or chatter their teeth, too!

Is it bad to move a sleeping cat?

While your mischievous moggy might wake you to the sound of a melodic meow, or pat you with their paw until you stir from your slumber, you should never disturb your cat while they’re asleep!

Should I wake my cat up if he’s twitching?

If your cat is stopped from sleeping at any stage, they might become lethargic or irritable. Our feline friends need so much sleep because it restores their immunity and repairs damaged cells in their body.

Young cats and kittens especially will require extra sleep, to enable them to build their bones and muscles, too.

So, wherever possible, you shouldn’t wake your cat during any of their sleep cycles.

A grey cat sleeping on a white blanket

How do I wake my cat to move them?

Only move your cat after they stir.

As soon as your cat wakes up, coax them off the couch or carefully pick them up to move them. Once they see there’s no threat, your cat can easily fall back to sleep – especially if they’re moved somewhere cosy and comfortable!

Does your feline friend feel frightened at the slightest sensation? If so, waking your cat by stroking or lifting them may scare them and cause them to lash out. To help them stir, if they’re a sensitive soul, try making a quiet noise near your cat until they wake up.

What if cats fall in their sleep?

Thanks to evolution, our mysterious moggies have an amazing ability to land on their feet if they fall in their sleep!

It isn’t recommended that you ever disturb your cat while they’re sleeping, but if they happen to slip off their sleeping surface, it’s likely they’ll land on four paws – even if they’re still sleepy.

Where is the best place for my cat to sleep?

Creating purrfect places for our felines to snooze is important for their health and happiness.

Remember: Your cat will want to sleep in different areas throughout the day and night, so it’s worth setting up a few sleeping spaces for them to use!

To craft the ideal sleeping situation for your cat, keep it:

  • At a height – cats prefer sleeping somewhere they can survey their surroundings and keep an eye on their kingdom.
  • Cosy – curling up in a comfortable bed, away from draughts and heat (e.g. radiators, fireplaces, ovens, etc.), will keep your kitten content.
  • Quiet – staying away from loud sounds (like washing machines, TVs, the front door, etc.) can help your feline friend feel calmer as they enjoy a nice nap.


Read our cat blog!

If you found this article useful, why not visit our cat blog for more news, insight and opinion pieces?


Need cat insurance?

Cat insurance can help cover the cost of veterinary treatment if your cat gets injured or falls ill.


We know pets

Animal Friends Insurance is a multi-award winning FCA-regulated pet insurer, founded in 1998 to provide industry-leading pet insurance and first-class animal care to create a better life for every animal.
As one of the UK’s largest pet insurance providers, Animal Friends works with vets, veterinary professionals, and partners pioneering the latest veterinary technology & healthcare advancements to achieve our vision.
Our policyholders have helped donate over £8.5 million to more than 800 animal charities worldwide and by educating and inspiring others to act on current events and responsible pet ownership, Animal Friends is driving positive change for animal welfare and conservation.