Why Cats Aren't Nocturnal and When They're Supposed to Sleep

Find out why your cat has such odd sleep habits, and when they're most likely to catch their beauty sleep.

Published March 15, 2023
Grey cat looking out window at night time

Does your cat sleep a lot during the day, then race around the house at 3 a.m.? Because of their odd sleeping behavior, you might think cats are nocturnal. Actually, cats aren't only active at night. They catch their Zs during the day and at night in short increments. Hence the term, "cat nap."

Are Cats Nocturnal?

No, cats are not nocturnal. This is a common misconception because cats like to nap during the day and are fairly active at night, but that's because they are crepuscular. Crepuscular animals are most active during dawn and dusk. This differs from nocturnal animals, who are active during nighttime and sleep during the day.

There's an evolutionary reason behind why cats are crepuscular, and no, it's not so they can wake you up hours before your alarm goes off. Cats are hunters, and the best time for them to hunt small prey is before sunrise and around sunset. Many of the small mammals that cats like to eat, including mice and rabbits, are also crepuscular.

Fast Fact

Cats have a unique eye structure that allows them to see clearly in low light. This is how they're able to hunt during twilight hours.

House Cat Sleeping Behavior Explained

It makes sense that wild felines follow this crepuscular activity pattern, but what about house cats? The truth is that cats are not entirely domesticated. Cats have only been living with humans for the last 10,000 years (as opposed to dogs, who have been undergoing domestication for more than 30,000 years). So cats have retained a lot of their wild characteristics, including their carnivorous diet, razor-sharp teeth, and crepuscular habits.

When Do Cats Sleep?

Considering they're up at dusk and dawn, when do cats get their beauty rest? Cats sleep for short periods at night and during the day. They are polyphasic sleepers, which means instead of having one big night's sleep as we do, they sleep several times in a 24-hour period. Cats will snooze for an average of 78 minutes each time they take a nap.

How Much Do Cats Sleep?

It might feel like your cat is always sleeping because they probably are. According to experts, most cats sleep 12 to 18 hours a day, and many cats sleep even more. This is why you see your cat snoozing throughout the daytime hours and why they might sleep with or on you at night. It takes a lot of beauty sleep to look that cute.

Help Your Cat Sleep Through the Night

Even though cats are more active during dusk and dawn, you can help them adjust to a sleeping pattern similar to yours. Make sure your cat has plenty of enrichment activities to keep them busy during the day and interact with them in the early evening through play, petting, or even trick training to tire them out. This will help your cat get sleepy around bedtime and reduce their desire to explore when you're trying to sleep.

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Why Cats Aren't Nocturnal and When They're Supposed to Sleep