Unless you have a foolproof way of denying your cat entry to your bedroom (unlikely) then you probably end up sharing your bed with your feline friend.
Despite their liberal natures, cats are often hailed as calm-bringing animals, with the ability to relax their owners.
“The cat,” wrote Scottish author Murial Spark in her modern classic A Far Cry From Kensington, “will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding.” While this might be true of some cats, sometimes, others know that at times cats can be disruptive bundles of relentless energy.
More than half of pet owners, mostly cat or dog owners, allow their pets to sleep in their bedrooms according to data collected by the Center for Sleep Medicine, Mayo Clinic in Arizona. But is it a good idea?
Newsweek spoke with Dr. Amber Carter, doctor of veterinary medicine and member of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners and owner of Cat Care Clinic in Ormond Beach, Florida, about whether letting your cat sleep in your bed is the best decision for a good night’s sleep, and your health.
Should You Let Your Cat Sleep in Your Bed
Cats sleep on average of 12 to 18 hours a day, but these hours do not correlate with human hours. Cats are not nocturnal, a common myth about our feline companions but crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dusk and dawn.
“Some kitties are more active through the night, but that doesn’t make them nocturnal,” the Animal Humane Society says.
It’s well known that pets can help with a range of mental and physical health issues by reducing stress and encouraging healthy habits. A study by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) found that animals can help people with mental health problems feel more secure.
“Pets constituted a valuable source of illness work in managing feelings through distraction from symptoms and upsetting experiences, and provided a form of encouragement for activity,” the study said.
Despite the positive impact of pets on our daily lives, if you struggle to sleep or have a particularly active cat, their presence in your bedroom overnight may be having a negative effect on your health.
“I love sleeping with my cats,” Carter told Newsweek, “But it doesn’t always make for the best night’s sleep. You know those cartoons that show someone laying on the edge of their bed alongside multiple cats spread out getting the best sleep of their lives? That’s often the case at my house.”
The main reason not to shut your pet out at night is obviously, happiness. Spending time with our pets has been shown to decrease feelings of levels of cortisol according to the National Institutes of Health. “Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.”
“Allowing your cat in your bedroom can increase the bond you have with your cat,” Carter said, “especially if you work out of the home all day. Allowing your cat into your room reduces the amount of restrictions your cat thinks you are putting on them, and making time to lie down and spend relaxation time with your cat will increase trust.”
Some studies suggest that overexposure to cats, especially from a young age, can help lower the risk of developing asthma. A study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 2017 found evidence to suggest that interaction with cats contributes to a child’s absorption of sialic acid, which does not naturally occur in the human body but which studies show can regulate inflammatory reactions. However, if you do suffer from asthma and own a cat, increased fur on your pillow may exacerbate the symptoms.
“Not every cat and human are a good combination of sleeping partners,” Carter said, “and there can be several factors that can affect your sleep, and therefore your health.”
Adults between age 18 and 60 need seven or more hours of sleep per night, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Although the amount of sleep you get each day is important, other aspects of your sleep also contribute to your health and well-being,” the CDC says. “Good sleep quality is also essential. Signs of poor sleep quality include not feeling rested even after getting enough sleep, repeatedly waking up during the night, and experiencing symptoms of sleep disorders [such as snoring or gasping for air].”
While some studies have shown that cats can reduce the risk of heart attacks—including a 10-year study by the University of Minnesota’s Stroke Institute in Minneapolis involving 4,000 Americans which found that cat owners had a 30 percent lower risk of death from heart attack compared to non-cat owners—lack of sleep also increases the risk.
“Adults who sleep less than 7 hours each night are more likely to say they have had health problems, including heart attack, asthma, and depression,” the CDC says. “Some of these health problems raise the risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.”
As cats don’t have linear sleep patterns, they can prove disruption to our sleep.
“They can wake you up at various hours of the night, pawing at your face,” Carter said. “They might also think it’s a fun game to attack your feet, lick your face or chew your hair during the night to get your attention.”
They might even pose a slight safety threat.
“If your cat is fast asleep and you were to accidentally roll over it or startle it, they could suddenly wake and attack you—not out of aggression but just as a normal defense response,” Carter said.
The perfect human body temperature for a good night’s sleep is 65 degrees Fahrenheit, according to The Sleep Foundation, and while it may be mentally comforting to have a cat in your bed, cats have an average body temperature of 101 to 102.5 degrees and can disrupt sleep by transferring some of that heat to you.
“A cat’s normal body temperature is higher than ours,” Carter said. “So people who get hot easily at night may get too warm with a cat sleeping next to them. They are like little hot water bottles, and a small raise in body temperature can make staying asleep harder for some.”
Tips for Sharing Your Bed With Your Cat
If you love the idea of having your cat with you while you sleep but would like to reduce disruption to your sleep, there are certain things you can do to help.
Using an air filter can minimize any allergy or irritation issues moving around you bedroom while you sleep, says the Cleveland Clinic, who also recommends changing your sheets more often.
“Pet dander and ‘fungal organisms’ can come with dogs, cats and other furry friends,” is says. “Tossing your bedding in the washing machine more regularly, target once a week, can keep that icky stuff from accumulating.”
You can also attempt to train them to sleep in a certain part of the bed.
“Consider setting them up in a different part of the bed so they’re close but maybe not TOO close,” the Cleveland Clinic says. “You could also consider putting their own bed at the bottom of yours.
If you want to discourage your new kitten from getting in to bed with you altogether, Carter recommends starting immediately.
“Provide multiple other sleeping choices in areas they are comfortable with,” she said. “When they first come home, they may be isolated in a separate room. Get them used to a nice soft cat bed or hiding hut. Then you can move that bed into another area of the house as they get bigger.”
Older cats might prove slightly harder to dissuade from the practice.
“Ultimately, you may need to shut the door to your bedroom,” Carter said. “Your veterinarian may also be able to recommend or prescribe supplements or medications to make nighttime sleeping easier for your cat.”