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During a particularly stressful period in my life, Apple, my long-haired cat, began sleeping on my head. Each night, she would arc her body around my scalp, and I would drift off to sleep wearing a sort of ridiculous calico nightcap.
Was she trying to comfort me? Or was there something less altruistic to it? Is there a reason cats climb onto our beds in the moonlight? And why, exactly, do they knead our chests, curl into the crook of our arms or drape themselves over our legs?
Alas, until intrepid researchers finally decode the feline mind, we can only speculate. Here are a few thoughts.
One possible explanation is that cats may be attracted to our body heat. When there’s no crackling fire or heating vent to curl up next to, perhaps our bodies are the next best thing. (And given that most of our body heat escapes from our heads, that may provide a more narcissistic motive for my cat’s nighttime posturing.)
Since cats have a far superior sense of smell than we do, it’s possible they follow their noses into our beds. It could be that being in close proximity to the familiar scent of their people provides them with a sense of safety and contentment.
While research has shown that dogs may release oxytocin — the feel-good love hormone — when in contact with their owners, the jury’s still out on cats. But perhaps they too feel the hormone-induced love when nestled in our necks.
Last but not least (and what we’d most like to believe), perhaps they simply snuggle with us out of companionship. Maybe our cats really do love us after all.
Years after my cat first started sleeping on my head, I found a greeting card with an illustration of a calico cat sprawled across the pillow above a woman trying to sleep. I sent it to the surgeon who had helped my cat through an emergency surgery; inside, I wrote, “Thanks to you, Apple’s sleeping on my head again.” At that point, I didn’t really care why she did it. I was just grateful to have her there.
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