Do Cats Actually Keep You Safe at Night? The Surprising Truth

Do Your Cats Keep You Safe While You Sleep?

Many cat owners report feeling more secure and sleeping better with their feline companions nearby. In one survey, over 50% of cat owners said they allow their cats to sleep in bed with them because it makes them feel protected and safe at night.

But is this merely a psychological phenomenon, or do cats actually help guard their sleeping humans? In this article, we’ll explore the predatory instincts, territorial behaviors, and attachments cats form with their owners to understand if and how felines might truly protect their people after bedtime.

Cats as Predators

Cats are natural predators with strong hunting instincts that evolved over thousands of years. Even domestic cats retain these instincts, though they are not always able to act on them when living indoors. According to How to Channel the Thrill of the Hunt For Your Favorite Feline, a cat’s predatory drive does not disappear when they become house pets. Cats have a natural desire to hunt, even when fed regular meals by their owners.

A key component of a cat’s predatory nature is their territoriality. As discussed in Cat Prey Drive: Cat Hunting Instinct, cats are highly territorial and view their homes and owners as part of their domain. This protective attitude translates into guarding behaviors that help keep their owners safe while sleeping.

Territorial Behavior

Cats are very territorial animals by nature. They view their home and the people living in it as part of their territory that they must protect and defend (Source 1). This territorial instinct is strong in both male and female cats. When a cat feels its territory is threatened, it will go to great lengths to mark it and keep intruders away.

Cats see their owners as part of their social group and territory. By sleeping near their owners, especially when they are vulnerable at night, cats are watching over what they consider part of their domain. They are guarding their territory and protecting their group (Source 2). So in a sense, cats do protect their owners and watch over them as they sleep.

Attachment to Owners

Cats form strong bonds and attachments with their human caregivers. According to a 2019 study by researchers at the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at Oregon State University, most cats rely on their owners as a source of security and comfort Do Cats Remember People? All Signs Point to Yes. This attachment behavior demonstrates that cats see their owners as important members of their social group that they want to protect and feel bonded to. Just like dogs, cats can experience separation anxiety when away from their owners for extended periods. Their desire to be close to their owners comes from an instinct to protect those they are attached to.

Cats often show their affection for their owners through behaviors like head-butting, kneading, purring loudly, bringing “gifts,” and following them from room to room. While cats are more independent than dogs, they nonetheless form strong social bonds with their human families. Their attachment is evident in the way they greet their owners at the door, sleep next to them at night, and rely on them for food, shelter, and social interaction.

Anecdotal Accounts

There are many heartwarming anecdotes of cats protecting or alerting their sleeping owners to potential danger. For example, Reddit user u/justnognomes shared a story of their cat hissing to alert them of an intruder downstairs in the middle of the night, allowing them to call the police in time ( Another Redditor, u/kittehkattt, described how their cat scratched at their face to wake them when their apartment was on fire (

There are also many reports of cats attacking or scaring off intruders and predators while their owners slept. The YouTube channel Cole and Marmalade shares various stories submitted by viewers of their cats fending off burglars, snakes, insects, and other unwelcome nighttime visitors ( While anecdotal, these accounts suggest cats may use their keen senses and protective instincts to alert and defend their sleeping owners.

Scientific Studies

In a 2022 study published in Animals, researchers investigated how pet cats choose sleeping locations in relation to their owners at night [1]. The study involved setting up cameras to observe the sleep behaviors of 21 cats and their owners. The findings showed that most cats chose to sleep in the same room as their owners, usually near their head or feet. Very few cats slept in a separate room. The researchers concluded that cats seem to prioritize being close to their owners while sleeping.

Another 2022 study published in Human-Animal Interaction indicated sleeping with pets may negatively impact sleep quality [2]. Researchers surveyed over 1,000 pet owners about their sleep habits. They found that while over half of respondents slept with their pets, those who did reported more sleep disturbances and restlessness. The researchers suggested pets in the bed lead to interrupted sleep cycles and less restful sleep overall.

Sleep Benefits

There is evidence that a cat’s presence can lead to improved sleep quality for their owners. One study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings followed 40 married couples for one year, monitoring their sleep when allowing their cat to sleep in their bed versus keeping the cat out of the bedroom. The researchers found that when the cat slept in the owner’s bed, the owner’s sleep efficiency improved by 5% and there was 9% less waking after sleep onset (Wasilewski et al., 2022).

Another study by Mayo Clinic researchers surveyed 1500 pet owners about their sleep quality. They found that about two-thirds of pet owners said their pets helped them sleep better at night. Most reported that pets helped them fall asleep faster, wake up less during the night, and feel more rested in the morning (Krahn et al., 2015).

Researchers suggest that the companionship and comfort provided by a cat helps reduce anxiety and depression symptoms that can interfere with sleep. The rhythmic breathing and warmth from a cat can be soothing and induce relaxation. Simply petting a cat has been shown to increase oxytocin levels and lower cortisol, reducing stress. Having a cat nearby leads to a sense of security that can minimize nighttime worries and restlessness (Vormbrock & Grossberg, 1988).

So while the research is limited, the evidence suggests sleeping near a cat can provide meaningful improvements to sleep onset, quality, and duration. Their presence seems to have real benefits in terms of reducing anxiety and promoting rest.

Reduced Anxiety

Having a cat around has been shown to reduce anxiety and create a feeling of security for their owners. According to a study from Cornell University, petting a cat for just 10 minutes can decrease stress hormones. The repetitive motion of stroking a cat’s fur and feeling its purring can have a calming effect. Cats also provide comfort and companionship, making their owners feel less alone. Anxious people often feel insecure, so having a loving cat that depends on them can make them feel more confident and needed. There’s also evidence that simply being around cats lowers physiological signs of anxiety, like heart rate and blood pressure. Their presence creates a soothing environment that makes owners feel relaxed and secure.


While cats can provide some protection while you sleep, they have limitations compared to dogs. Dogs have been specifically bred over thousands of years to guard and protect homes and people. They tend to be larger in size than cats, which gives them a physical advantage in confronting intruders. Dogs also bark loudly when they sense a threat, acting as an alarm and deterrent, whereas cats are largely silent. Some studies have found that homes with dogs are robbed at a lower rate than homes without dogs. However, cats still have sharp claws and teeth they can use to defend if necessary. But overall, cats are less of a physical deterrent compared to larger guardian dogs that are bred for protection. So while cats can offer some security benefits, dogs are generally more effective guardians.


In conclusion, while cats may not literally stand guard and protect you as you sleep like a security guard, there are ways that cats do provide protective benefits while you slumber. Cats are natural predators and can be very territorial, which may drive them to be alert to any strange noises or movements during the night. Their attachment to their owners also means they want to stay close by, and having your cat sleep near you can provide you with a sense of comfort and security. Anecdotally, many cat owners report feeling safer with their cats around at night. Scientifically, having a cat nearby helps reduce anxiety and can lead to better sleep. However, more research is still needed to conclusively determine the extent of cats’ protective abilities.

The key takeaway is that having a cat around can help you feel more relaxed and secure as you sleep. So while your cat may not literally scare off burglars, their presence and natural predatory instincts may offer some protective perks. As adorable and cuddly as cats can be, they still retain those wild instincts that can make you feel just a bit safer with them around.

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