The Purr-sistence of Slumber: Unlocking the Mystery of Why Big Cats Sleep So Much

Blackfire and Rocklyn greet each other by “chuffing” at TCWR

There is an abundance of scientific knowledge about why humans need more sleep in the winter months. Known causes include reduced sunlight and our circadian rhythms, less melatonin production from the sun, colder temperatures, and decreased activity levels. But why do big cats sleep between 18 and 20 hours daily, regardless of where they live?

Several factors contribute to this instinctive behavior in big cats. Despite being apex predators, their hunting strategies involve short bursts of intense physical activity. These bursts are energetically demanding, and the cats need time to recover and conserve energy for the next hunt. Most of the time, big cats eat large meals from a successful kill. Afterward, their bodies enter a prolonged “rest and digest state,” just like humans after a Thanksgiving meal. As carnivores, their bodies metabolize nutrients differently; breaking down proteins takes more time and energy.

Sleeping during the day and being active at night helps to increase big cats’ hunting success by enhancing their ability to sneak up on prey. Hunting at night in the cooler temperatures rather than in the sun’s heat is also more advantageous. Living their lifestyle according to their hunting patterns makes it more beneficial for big cats to sleep most of the day. 

In essence, the extensive periods of sleep exhibited by big cats are an adaptive behavior that aligns with their ecological roles as top predators. It ensures they are well-prepared for the physical demands of hunting and contributes to their overall well-being in their respective environments. When visiting the Refuge, we recommend coming first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon to see the most action since this aligns with their biological behaviors.

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