How does my cat know I'm sleeping?
January 6, 2007 7:18 PM   Subscribe

How can my cat tell that I am asleep?

I can be lying in bed and reading and nothing happens. I can be lying in bed playing Tetris on my phone and the cat leaves me in peace. HOWEVER. The moment I go and take a nap (with the light still on, mind you - there are reasons, but they're not important), nothing has changed in my environment, I am not making any more or less noise, but suddenly the cat springs into action.

I can not lie down with my eyes shut for more than three minutes without being meowed at insistently. Again, if I am simply lying in the bed without trying to sleep, the cat's agenda does not include meowing in my face.

Why is this? Why God why? Can she smell my brainwaves or what?
posted by grapefruitmoon to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If you're sleeping, how might you know you're not making any more or less noise? My SO denies snoring, for example.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:24 PM on January 6, 2007

Breathing, maybe? I know whenever my breathing changes for whatever reason (exercise, a cold, asthma, etc.), my cat goes bonkers and tries to put her entire head in my mouth.
posted by Zosia Blue at 7:30 PM on January 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

The most obvious perceptible clue would be breathing patterns. Let's face it, the real question is why your cat wants to torment you when you're asleep. And the answer is obvious: because your cat is a dick.
posted by nanojath at 7:31 PM on January 6, 2007 [55 favorites]

Blazecock Pileon: If this were happening when I was deeply asleep, I would accept snoring. Though I don't. My husband vouches for that. I do grind my teeth though. Anyhow, this is within the first five minutes of trying to sleep that the cat loses what little mind she possesses in the first place.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:35 PM on January 6, 2007

Based on how well cats can discern by ear alone the identity of who is walking nearby outside, I imagine it has learned to tell via the change in your breathing.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:47 PM on January 6, 2007

The demons tell her. You needs Jesus. Ever heard of a Witch Fermiliar? Okay then. Ever hear of a dog?

No but seriously folks, she knows a routine she likes the result of. My cat invites me to snuggle time around 9pm in the bedroom. He comes to find me for this. She likes to wake you up. Figure that one out.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:07 PM on January 6, 2007

Think of it this way:

Your cat's entire universe is contained within your house or apartment. The absolutely most important thing in its life is most likely you (or you and whomever lives with you). Every bit of your cat's well developed senses are likely focused on you, all the time you're around. You supply food, affection, water, entertainment, and a mother figure (regardless if you're male or female).

Your cat probably pays more attention to your behavior than you pay to his. They're intelligent up to a point. You are likely the absolute CENTER OF HIS UNIVERSE. and that's not an exaggeration. He listens to your breathing, your voice, your footsteps, watches and smells your comings and goings all the time, day after day. They know what's going on in this simple, animal sort of way, and have rudimentary memory of all of this.

That's how he knows you're asleep. You have a pattern and he recognizes it.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:15 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Can you tell when the cat is asleep, vs. just resting? The cat does the same thing.
posted by mendel at 8:24 PM on January 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

My cat is just the opposite. I've always felt lucky after hearing stories from friends with similar situations to yours. My cat never meows while I am asleep. If he wants to wake me up, he puts his cold nose on my cheek or gently paws my shoulder area. It's like he knows not to wake me up harshly. It's strange, but I guess I am lucky. Cats are amazing little creatures that are impossible to figure out with any certainty.

posted by Gerard Sorme at 8:42 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

My point is, regardless of what your cat is doing, he KNOWS what you're doing, as long as you're around.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:51 PM on January 6, 2007

My car doesn't fall asleep next to me until I change my breathing. I'll do it on purpose; breathe slower and deeper with my eyes closed so she thinks I'm dozing off. When I open my eyes she is usually drifting off to sleep. I'm going to vote for breathing.
posted by Holy foxy moxie batman! at 10:04 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

er, that's CAT. My cat doesn't fall asleep next to me...
posted by Holy foxy moxie batman! at 10:05 PM on January 6, 2007

Maybe your cat doesn't actually know you're sleeping, he's only ever "pretty sure." Which explains the meowing. He's actually going "Dude. Dude... are you asleep? Dude? Oh, oh yeah... you were asleep? Yeah, I thought so>"
posted by nanojath at 10:12 PM on January 6, 2007 [10 favorites]

Your cat is not a dick. Your cat is Santa Claus.

(But seriously, I agree that she has an intense interest in you and notices the change in your breathing pattern.)
posted by maudlin at 10:41 PM on January 6, 2007

I just wanted to jump on the breathing patterns bandwagon, because I wanted to add that it is ridiculously easy to tell when someone is falling asleep by their breathing patterns alone. People tend to have a very loud, distinctive, and predictable breathing pattern within the first few minutes of sleep. Before and after this phase, breathing is harder to read. I can hear this happening from across my apartment, you can bet your cat does too.
posted by breath at 11:35 PM on January 6, 2007

Do you have sleep apnea? If you ever stop breathing while asleep, your cat may be freaking out because she thinks you're going to die.
posted by kindall at 11:51 PM on January 6, 2007

Have you thought of 'pretending to sleep' just to break the behavior?
posted by filmgeek at 11:56 PM on January 6, 2007

My suggestion is to gently yet firmly apply the sleeper hold. Show no fear, give no quarter or he'll run and they can be quick. It's kitty nap time. Your sleep is precious.

I had a huge problem with this when my cat had allergy problems and was extremely anxious. Every-single-time-I-tried-to-fall-asleep-SoHelpMeG*d, he would go off like a teapot. Nothing I could do would cure this behavior -- eventually his allergies cleared, his anxiety faded, and he stopped on his own. Mixed results from grasping cat by the shoulders and screaming in its face. Kidding, calm down.

Odd-individual-cat-behaviorFILTER: my cat relaxes a short while after getting high on catnip. He pretty much always has the munchies. Maybe yours will, too.
posted by empyrean at 1:01 AM on January 7, 2007

Your cat has a brain. It's not going to ever be able to do, say, algebra, but it is capable of a lot of really remarkable things.

I mean, the status of nearby mammals and birds is this thing's stock and trade. It's going to be keyed into the rough health, sleeping status, friendliness, anger, fright, size, mobility, edibility, etc., of any living thing around it. It's going to be able to operate it's zillions of muscles to move around, and design routes around obstacles to get where it wants. If it's like my cat, it will try to open doors if it needs to. It also has social protocol for dealing with other animals (hissing, playing, etc.) Nobody is going to, say, hack a Roomba to make it as smart as a cat any time soon.

By way of a more direct answer, I'd bet that, within about 1 second of seeing a person sleeping, you know they are sleeping, and I bet you need no higher logic to reach that conclusion.

In fact, I bet, if you could fully answer the question "how do I figure out if someone is asleep," you'd probably have the cat's answer, as well. (And a much better understanding of how the brain works than anyone else alive today.)
posted by blenderfish at 3:09 AM on January 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

It's likely breathing, but it could be the smell too. Babies sometimes smell different when they go to sleep, and I've even seen a few adults do it, probably because they sweat differently. Cats have a pretty good sense of smell. I used to leave the back door open so mine could entertain themselves. I used to call it "reading the newspaper", because I figured they were checking out what was happening in the neighborhood.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 9:51 AM on January 7, 2007

unrepentanthippie: I refer to the cat sitting in the window as "watching the Food Network" as there's a nice big tree with birds and squirrels right outside.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:58 PM on January 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

My cat likes to snuggle my neck when I am resting but she knows that it takes about 20 - 30 minutes of tossing and turning for me to fall asleep. So she waits patiently for me to stop squirming. Once, she thought I had dropped off to sleep, but in reality I had one eye open, and I watched her carefully, inch by inch, move from my feet to my face. It took about 60 seconds, pausing between each movement to make sure she didn't wake me. Cutest thing i have ever seen.
posted by vronsky at 3:57 PM on January 7, 2007 [3 favorites]

Agreeing with blenderfish and jeff-o-matic (though I think the latter is mistaken in thinking that a cat truly places anything other than itself as the center of the universe. We may be objects of utility, amusement, even affection, but more than that...)

When I was double-dogged, they could tell whenever I was about to wrap up a phone conversation. They'd perk up just before I said, "Well, I better let you go" or whatever ticcish phrase I use, and if the conversation started back up, they'd slump back to the floor with a disconsolate *fffppffft* of the lips. What were they picking up on? Vocal rhythms? Intonation? Speech-squelching pheromones? No idea. (Now that I'm down to one dog, I scratch her belly with my foot while I'm talking on the phone, so she'd just as soon have me jabbering away 24/7.)

All of which is to say -- these critters, they have their ways of figuring us out. It's pretty much their full-time job.
posted by vetiver at 5:40 PM on January 7, 2007

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