There are fewer things more adorable in this world than watching a cat twitch in her sleep. We sit in wonder, watching our purrfect angels snoozing away, little whiskers twitching and ears flicking. We dare not move, lest we disturb our slumbering overlords. If you’re like me, you’ve often wondered what exactly is going on to make your kitty twitch like this.
Why do cats twitch in their sleep?
Well…experts believe a cat’s twitching during sleep is like the rapid eye movement (REM) that humans experience during dreaming. Some twitching is normal and healthy. Excessive twitching, difficulty waking up, or violent movements in sleeping cats are cause for concern.
Sleep itself is a fascinating event that all living beings share.
Below, I’ll delve deeper into feline sleep behaviors such as twitching and dreaming to help you better understand what’s going on in Kitty’s mind and body. I’ll also cover some things to look for during nap time to help keep your precious cats safe and healthy for years to come.
Different Reasons Why Cats Twitch in Their Sleep
While most pronounced in newborn and young kittens, sleep twitching is a common and harmless part of feline sleep behavior. Depending on the age of the cat and its overall health, twitching during sleep has different purposes.
Some of what I’ll cover here is conjecture based on anecdotal evidence by cat parents. However, some of these reasons have been researched and tested officially, too. Basically, we don’t know all the details for sure, but we’re learning more and more every day. Besides being incredibly cute, here’s what we know so far about sleep twitching in cats.
A fact all cat parents agree on is that cats dream. Much to our delight, all healthy cats twitch in their sleep as kittens. Many of them grow to adulthood hanging onto that cute behavior. They often chatter, flick their ears, and even knead the air with their paws or make suckling sounds in deep sleep, too. I’m surprised I haven’t woken my cats with my squeals of delight every time they do this.
Something scientists weren’t ready to agree on until recently is whether cats dream or not. Some thought the twitching was simply involuntary muscle spasms, some thought the cats were waking up, while others believed cats were experiencing the same level of REM sleep that humans do, and twitching was the key.
As it turns out, cat parents were right all along; cats do dream. Science finally caught up with cat parents’ knowledge when they tested a bunch of rats in a lab. By watching brain waves in the rats as they went about their waking world tasks, then seeing the same kind of brain waves during sleep, scientists finally realized mammals do dream, including cats.
Since cats sleep up to 16 hours a day, and they drop into REM sleep much more often than humans, you can expect to see sleep twitching frequently in a cat that’s prone to do so. If your older cat doesn’t twitch often, that’s okay, too. Lack of sleep twitching is only a concern for very young cats.
REM Sleep Is Fleeting
For cats, REM sleep, the time in which they dream and twitch, is short-lived. Many cats spend a mere 6 – 8 minutes in REM sleep, so you may not even catch their twitches at all. But don’t be alarmed by this short dream phase. Cats generally get plenty of rest at other times of the day. These rest times include dozing (cat naps) and light sleep.
We know that cats dream and that the twitching is part of the dreaming process. We also know that dreams exist to help cats (and humans) process things that have happened during the day. However, newborn kittens are notoriously twitchy, yet they have little to no life experiences to dream about. So why do they twitch so much?
While the answer isn’t completely clear, experts speculate that the near constant twitching in newborn and young kittens during sleep has to do with prepping their fast-growing bodies. By priming the pumps, so to speak, the kitten’s body is preparing for more vigorous activities such as walking, running, pouncing, and playing. The twitching helps the nervous system develop properly, so don’t be alarmed if your kitten twitches a lot.
Kitten sleep twitching is typically more pronounced than twitching in older cats. This is for a good reason. Newborn and young kittens have what’s called “activated sleep”. During activated sleep, a kitten may lash their tail about, cry, squirm, or jerk. It’s all part of nature’s design, helping kittens gain muscle strength and control even during sleep.
Never wake a sleeping kitten. It’s important for them to sleep until they are done and wake naturally. Without enough rest, kittens can’t grow strong and healthy. This is especially true for newborn and very young kittens that still go through activated sleep. It would be like you missing leg day at the gym each week; you’d never get a complete workout, leaving part of your body weak and underdeveloped.
Even if your cat isn’t prone to sleep twitching, they may surprise you with a sudden jerk while drifting off to sleep. This is also normal, so don’t panic.
Unlike sleep twitching during REM sleep, the jerky movement as your cat falls asleep isn’t based on dreaming. It’s a lot like your own jerking awake as you doze on the couch. It’s harmless if a bit startling.
Since REM sleep is so important to healthy bodies and minds, and cats get such a small amount of it, you may be wondering how to help your kitty get enough. That, as it turns out, is pretty simple.
Provide your cat with a variety of comfortable, dark, and warm locations to take naps. Many cats love kitty cubes, scratching posts with hiding spots, and even window seats to catch some sun. My cats love to curl up under my blankets on my bed, so I always make a little tent when I get up each day to make it easier for them to crawl inside.
If your house is chilly or drafty, you can add a cat-safe heating pad to a kitty cube or cave bed to provide extra warmth.
And, of course, your lap is probably the ultimate relaxation zone.
What About Seizures?
All this talk about twitching, dreamy kitties is making me sleepy. But before I go, I wanted to mention a less happy topic. Informed cat parents keep cats healthy, and that is the goal of this website, after all!
Some cats may stiffen during sleep. The tail may twitch a bit during this time, but the body and limbs will be stiff and the cat will become unresponsive. You may see the toes, ears, and nose twitch, as well. This is not normal; this is a seizure.
While seizures don’t only happen during sleep, it’s one time that cat parents are more likely to notice their cats behaving differently. If you are concerned your cat may have had a seizure during his last nap, pay attention to how he behaves upon waking.
Cats who have experienced seizures will not act normal when they’re awake. They tend to be lethargic, wobbly on their feet, disoriented, confused, and may even vomit. If you notice any of these symptoms, please don’t delay a trip to the vet!
If your cat is twitching a little in her sleep in your lap, don’t panic. It’s normal and healthy! Consider yourself lucky that she is relaxed enough in your arms to fall so deeply asleep that she can dream of chasing butterflies and pouncing on toys. Enjoy the moment, try not to say, “Aww!” too loudly, and be grateful you have this sweet fluffball in your life.