Paul C. Rosenblatt Professor Emeritus of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota
Many couples sleep with cats and enjoy it. They may enjoy the things that cats do that wake them up. (“Purr. Pet me.”) They may even enjoy the uncomfortable positions in which they are forced to sleep because of their cats. That’s just as well, because in some sense many cats own the humans they live with, so best to get along with them.
There are also many couples in which one of the partners is unhappy about sharing a bed with cats. The cats awaken them as they play, walk on the humans in the bed, demand to be fed, snuggle up against a human, lick a human face, chew on the mouse they have just killed, and so on. Some people are very unhappy to lose sleep because of cats. Some are very unhappy because they don’t want a cat bringing grit, cat hair, and other unpleasant things into the bed. Some people find it very hard on their body to have a cat sleeping on their chest or head, against their back, on their feet, or behind their legs. What can you do if you are not happy about sleeping with cats?
1. Work Out a Shared Plan With Your Partner
One challenge in deciding what to do about cats is that you and your partner may disagree about whether the cats should be in the bed. One of you may feel that it’s the cats’ house and bed, while the other feels desperate to have a cat-free sleep and a clean bed. But let’s say you and your partner are in agreement about cats in the couple bed. Then what do you do to achieve what you’ve agreed on?
2. Keep the Cats out of the Bedroom
If you have effective bedroom (or basement) doors, and if it’s okay with your human partner to keep the cats out of the bedroom, you can close off the bedroom from the cats. You may have to learn to live with whatever the cats do to try to get through the closed door — for example, loud meowing or endless scratching and clawing at doors. But if the cat noise bothers you, wearing good ear plugs may help.
3. Let the Cats in Bed But Get a Bigger Bed
If the cats are going to be in the bed, sometimes a bigger bed helps. Then the cats have more room and may not be in contact with you or y our partner so much. And if the cats prefer to spend most or all of their time close to your partner in a bigger bed that can happen without your sleep being bothered so much.
4. Change Your Thinking About Cats in Bed
If you have been unhappy to have the cats in bed with you but they are going to continue to be there, change your thinking. Learn to enjoy cats the way some people who have long experience sleeping with cats do. Enjoy their leaps, pawing, hunting, stretching, sleeping on top of or next to humans, playing, investigating, and so on. If you can’t persuade the cat to be different, enjoy the cats the way they are.
5. Learn to Live With Cats in Bed
If you have problems with the cats being in bed with you, but that’s where they are going to be, perhaps you can learn to sleep with them. Think of cats as like many other potentially bothersome presences in the night that we have learned to live with. Like nearby trains, the sound of road traffic, the sound of the heating system, the sounds of the neighbors, the tossing and turning of your bed mate, and so on, you can learn to live with the cat in the bed. Trust your brain to learn to accommodate to the cats.
6. The Problem of Cats Wanting an Early Breakfast
Many cats are alarm clocks for the humans they live with because they try to wake their human servants early in the morning, often before the humans want to wake up, because the cats are hungry. Perhaps if you consistently ignore their wake-up meows and purrs, pats, walking on you, licking exposed hands, face, or feet. etc., you may learn to sleep through it or they will start leaving you alone. Another possibility is for you or your partner to get up and feed them and then go back to bed and to sleep. But some people are not good at going back to sleep once they are up. So an alternative is to have a system that feeds the cats in the morning without a human needing to wake up.
7. Cats That Can Be Trained
Despite dog owners who tell you with pride that dogs can be trained to stay out of beds but cats cannot, some cats are trainable. For some cats a human hissing at them, staring at them, scowling at them, squirting them with water, or speaking sternly to them is powerful enough to persuade the cat to stay away from where the human doesn’t want the cat to be. So if you are lucky enough to have a trainable cat you may be able to train it to stay out of the bed if that’s what you and your partner want.