Sleep - Behavior

Photo: Naturally cats are experts at cat-napping

Cats do a wide variety of things in their daily lives, but, as befits specialist hunters that must conserve their energy for brief, high-performance bursts of activity, they delight in rest and relaxation. Taking "cat-naps" of a few minutes at a time, they total about sixteen hours of sleep out of twenty-four, and are the greatest sleepers among mammals. They out-drowse even the rather dozy Giant Panda which is active for about fourteen hours per day. Why the cat requires so much sleep, we just don't know.

It goes without saying that cats enjoy their naps and are masters in selecting the warmest and most sheltered spot in the garden or the cosiest nook indoors.

While they sleep their brains continue to work at a basic level, recording and analyzing stimuli coming in from their surroundings. In deep sleep, surprisingly, the brain reminds as active as it is when awake, and the senses continue to scan for the first signs of danger. At the first alarm, the cat's nervous system, which is ever-alert, rouses the body muscles instantaneously. Experiments have been done in which external stimuli are completely removed, and the cat is put into a darkened, sound-proof, adour-free room. When its brain-wave activity is recorded it is found that the mental processes gradually wind down to a minimal, body-maintenance level. There is apparently no spontaneous thought: as the cat lies there it doesn't compose poetry, recall with relish past dinners or fantasize about the young queen in the house next door. This is quite different to what is found in human beings placed under similar conditions. They proceed from trains of spontaneous thought to suffering hallucinations and other mental aberrations.

Like ours, the cat's sleep pattern embraces periods of both deep and light sleep. Seventy per cent is light and thirty per cent is deep. The phases alternate, with evidence of dreaming during the deep phases. You can tell that your cat is dreaming when, in a similar way to dogs, its paws and claws may move, its whiskers twitch, its ears flick and in some cases, it actually makes noises.