Why Do Cats Sleep on Your Neck and Face?

Most cat owners know from first-hand experience that cats are perfectly comfortable bedding down on your neck and face when you're in the bed. Some will nestle under your chin and against your throat; others might lie half on the pillow and half on your head, twining their claws in your hair. The various possible reasons for this behavior include warmth, security, marking, separation anxiety, and reaffirming top cat status in a multi-cat household.

Joyful girl hugging red cat
Cats love snuggling up near your face. Not every owner loves it as much as this one does.
credit: Murika/iStock/Getty Images

Warmth and Comfort

Cats love to sleep in a warm place; they'll follow a sunbeam around the house to sleep in its warmth throughout the day. At night, when your body is under the bed covers, your head and neck are exposed. Most of your body heat releases through the head, making it a great cat heater. Meanwhile, your pillow is a soft, comfortable place for Kitty to lie while sleeping. Dr. Jane Matheys of the Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital and Hotel in Boise, Idaho, says on the Pets Best website that your head's warmth is her best guess for why a cat would snuggle on your neck and face. But she names other possibilities, too.

Feeling Safe

Often, sleeping against a human's head starts when a cat's a kitten. Kittens who snuggle against the human neck can feel the carotid artery throbbing there, and it gives then the sense of security they had in the womb. The sound of your breath and even your snoring is like purring to cats. If you accept your kitten sleeping near your face, he will carry that behavior into adulthood.

Marking You and Bonding

Cats like to constantly mark their territory with head-butting and whisker-stroking. They are actually spreading their scent from glands on their heads, cheeks, paws and other areas. You can not smell a cat's scent -- but when your cat rubs his face against you, he is marking you as part of his territory. While sleeping next to your face, he may be making sure you carry the mark of his ownership as much as he's enjoying together time.

Separation Anxiety

If you leave home every day to work or study, your cat may miss you while you are gone. If he suffers from separation anxiety, he will want to be with you constantly when you are home. The only part of you he can access while you are asleep is your head and neck, so that is where he will want to spend his time.

Did You Forget Something?

If snuggling on or around your neck and face isn't your cat's routine nighttime behavior, you might be neglecting some of his routine care. Did you fail to let him out during the day? Did you leave his water bowl nearly empty or forget to leave out some midnight munchies? Is the littler box in need of cleaning? Your cat might be standing on your face because it's the only way to get your attention. He can't text you a low food alert, after all. Sometimes taking up residence on your face is the only way a cat can get your attention, and sometimes the bed is the only place the cat can catch up with you if you're particularly busy.