Cats are wonderful companions, but sometimes, their behavioral quirks can drive you absolutely bonkers. If your cat won't sleep at night and is making it impossible for you to get some rest, you're not alone. There are a few common reasons for this behavior and plenty of solutions you can put into practice right meow to ensure you get some well-deserved Zs tonight.
Why My Cat Won't Sleep at Night
It's no secret cats sleep a lot. Studies show that most cats sleep between 12 and 18 hours or more, so why don't they sleep through the night? There are several explanations for this cat behavior.
Cats Are Crepuscular
It's often thought that cats are nocturnal, which means they are most active at night, but, in fact, cats are crepuscular. This means they're most active at twilight, which occurs twice a day at dawn and dusk. Because domestic cats are descended from large feline predators, they still have the instinctual behaviors of their forebears, who preferred to hunt when it was almost, but not quite, dark. This is why your cat may be most active and waking you up in the early hours of the morning.
Depending on your cat's day-to-day life, there are many factors that can make them more active at night.
They're Also Nappers
There's a reason short stints of rest are called "cat naps," and it's because that's how cats get their sleep. They're polyphasic sleepers, which means instead of sleeping for hours on end like we do, they sleep for short periods of time. Cats sleep for about 50 to 113 minutes at a time. That means they're up and about several times throughout the night.
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Cats Get Bored
For cats that spend their days alone without any physical or mental enrichment, boredom can become a serious problem. When you come home, your cat may be excited to finally have something interesting in the house. Unfortunately, humans tend to need to make dinner and then unwind after a busy day or even just go straight to bed, leaving a bored cat frustrated. This can lead to them engaging in more activity when you're trying to sleep as they have unspent energy and no outlet.
Cats Get Lonely
In addition to boredom, cats can also experience loneliness during the day. If you don't spend quality time with them when you're home, this can make a cat stressed. You may see this demonstrated with more "demanding" behaviors for affection and contact. In these cases, your cat isn't trying to ruin your sleep. Instead, they're probably just expressing how much they want attention from you.
RELATED: Recognizing a Lonely Cat
Your Cat's Hungry
In the wild, cats are used to eating several small meals per day and eating later in the evening after hunting at dusk. If your cat is fed two meals per day at your regular breakfast and dinner time, your cat may be up at night simply because they're hungry. Feeding them based on human meal schedules may make sense for owners but might not suit your cat best.
It Could Be Anxiety
Cats are sensitive to changes in their environment, and just as with people, they can stay awake and find it hard to rest if they're anxious. If you have a cat that's historically been fine and suddenly won't sleep at night, look at what changes have been made in the environment. It could help to learn the signs of a stressed cat.
Moving, a change in residents in the home, adding a new pet or the death of a current pet, a new baby, or loud noises near the home, such as construction, are all events that can add stress to a cat's life.
Or Displaying Mating Behavior
Another common reason for cats to stay up at night happens a few times a year and affects cats that are not spayed or neutered. If you have a male cat that's in proximity to female cats in heat, he will most likely be up, pacing and yowling due to his instinctual mating needs. Likewise a female cat in heat will be uncomfortable and up and about in the evening caterwauling to attract a mate.
Possible Medical Problems Should be Explored
Finally, cats may be more active at night if they're suffering from a medical condition. A physical injury may be painful, making it difficult to sleep. Internal medical disorders, such as kidney disease, cancer, and other illnesses, can also make it hard for your cat to get proper rest. Geriatric cats also may suffer from feline cognitive dysfunction, as well as arthritis pain. Make sure to speak to your veterinarian about any changes in your cat's behavior as these can be subtle signs your cat is sick.
How to Help Your Cat Sleep at Night (and You)
Even though cats don't naturally sleep through the night, that doesn't mean you need to deal with their nighttime shenanigans. It is possible to train your cat to let you sleep, but you'll need to put in the work to create a routine and stick with it. In the end, it'll definitely be worth it.
1. See Your Veterinarian
The first step in developing a behavior plan to help you and your cat sleep better at night is a visit to your veterinarian. While many cat owners dread taking their cat to the vet and also would prefer to avoid the expense, it's important to make sure that there is nothing medical causing your cat's behavior.
Sometimes, increased activity at night can be the first subtle sign of a serious illness, and you will miss the opportunity to diagnose and treat it earlier without a veterinary visit. Once your vet has given your cat a clean bill of health, you can work on adding interventions to change your cat's behavior.
2. Add Environmental Enrichment
Giving your cat more things to do during the day will help keep their mind busy mentally and physically. This will lead to a calmer cat in the evening. There are many options for adding more enrichment to your cat's life, and providing a variety of them can go a long way toward improving your cat's daily life, as well as your sleep!
Placing cat trees around your home can provide your cat with places to jump, climb, and hide. This allows them to express and engage in natural behaviors. You can also install shelving around your house instead of cat trees to serve the same purpose.
Window Perches and Catios
Giving your cat a chance to see the outside world and watch squirrels, birds, and other forms of nature can be mentally enriching. If you really want to thrill your cat, hang some bird feeders right outside the window.
Interactive Cat Toys
There are many cat toys you can give your cat that they will play with on their own. This alleviates boredom and gives the cat an activity to do while you're not home or too busy to give them attention.
Putting a video on your computer or TV for the cat to watch can also be mentally stimulating. There are even "cat TV" channels on YouTube and Amazon Prime that have videos of fish, birds, and other woodland creatures.
RELATED: More Easy Cat Enrichment Ideas
3. Increase Playtime and Interaction
The more you interact with your cat and give them loving attention, the less likely they are to be bored and lonely and seek attention when you're trying to sleep. There are many fun ways to interact with your cat that go beyond just simple cuddling, though cats love that, too.
Take a brush out and give your cat a thorough grooming while talking to them about your day. Your cat will love the attention, and it'll also benefit their skin and fur. As a bonus, it's a wonderful way for you to destress as well!
Play with Toys
Use toys like fishing wands or laser pointers that you can manipulate to play with your cat. You can even teach them to fetch and play with small mice or ball toys.
Although there's a common misconception that "cat's can't be trained," it's not hard to clicker train cats to do anything from basic obedience behaviors like sit or lay down to tricks like beg, shake, and roll over.
Clicker training is a wonderful way to exercise your cat's mind and have one-on-one time together.
If your weather permits and you have a safe area, train your cat to walk on a harness and take them for a walk outside. Most cats will enjoy this and will be tired out after a stimulating jaunt around the neighborhood.
4. Evaluate Your Feeding Schedule
If you feed your cat twice a day, with the second meal around your dinner time or breakfast, try changing their feeding schedule. Instead, feed them several smaller meals during the day, with the final meal later at night, such as around 10 p.m. This will make them less likely to be up in the early morning hours trying to wake you for their next meal.
Food foraging toys and cat puzzle feeders instead of regular food bowls can also give your cat's mind a workout and make them more likely to relax and sleep when they're done eating.
5. Address Stress
Is your cat showing signs of stress? Your veterinarian may suggest anti-anxiety medications for your cat if they feel that stress may be a trigger for your cat's nighttime behavior. There are plenty of things you can do to increase your cat's calm, such as pheromone diffusers, giving your cat safe spaces to decompress, and more.
6. Get Them Spayed or Neutered
If mating behaviors are keeping your cat up, (it is LOUD!) the best way to solve this is through spay or neuter surgeries. This will make male and female cats calmer in general and less interested in the mating behavior of other cats.
7. Adopt a Friend
Another option that you can try is to get another cat as a friend to your cat. This can significantly reduce loneliness during the day. However, not all cats want the company of another cat, so you'll have to judge if your cat is a good candidate for this option or not.
Some cats may not be happy with another cat but will enjoy the company of other animals, such as a cat-friendly dog or even small pets like guine pigs or rabbits. Of course, some cats will view smaller pets as prey, so you'll need to make sure that your cat will be safe with the other pets and vice versa.
8. Keep Them Out of the Bedroom
Finally, you can also consider closing the door to your bedroom and not allowing your cat in at night. Be prepared for your cat to protest loudly and make more noise at first if you do this. If you ignore their behavior, most cats will slowly stop crying to get in at night after some time has passed. This could be a few days to a few weeks or more, depending on the cat.
However, the problem with this solution is that it won't address what is causing your cat to be active at night, so you may still end up with a stressed and unhappy cat. Not being able to spend time with you at night can make the other issues worse. If you do decide to keep your cat out of the bedroom, it's best to observe these tips:
- Set up a comfortable area for your cat to sleep. Some cats may prefer to find a place around your house to sleep on their own, but giving them a space with an extra comfortable bed or cat tree can help encourage them to go there at night when the bedroom door is closed.
- A great addition in their space is a heated cat bed, which most cats will happily go to, especially if you live in a colder climate.
- Some cats will also love a "purring" toy that are used for kittens. These toys make a purring sound when your cat sleeps against it, which can be calming to a cat and help them sleep.
- Provide some toys for your cat in the special area, but make sure they're toys that can be enjoyed and that make no, or little, noise, as you don't want them to wake you up. Petstages makes some "nighttime" toys designed to entertain your cat while letting you sleep, such as the Swat and Play Quiet Mat.
- Plug in a Feliway diffuser in this area as well. Not all cats respond to them, but those that do will be calmer and more relaxed.
Getting More Sleep — for You and Your Cat
Not being able to sleep because your kitty wants to get breakfast or a cuddle at 4:00 a.m. can definitely be annoying for a cat owner. Before you reach for the earplugs and lock your cat out of the bedroom, take a look at their daily life to see what could be causing this behavior. Work with your veterinarian to make sure nothing medical is affecting your cat, and then implement environmental, physical, and mental enrichment changes to give your cat a daily routine that leaves them happy to sleep through the night.