Nighttime Activity in Cats

Cats are known for sleeping long hours, but they can be very active when they are not snoozing. The periods of activity often happen in the night. If your cat attempts to wake you after you have gone to bed, he may want to play, eat or simply enjoy your company. Cats under one year of age in particular can drive their owners crazy from sleep deprivation!

The cat’s ancestor, the African wildcat, is nocturnal. Domestication has shifted the pet cats’ activity patterns to be more diurnal (awake during the day), but many cats still tend to wake at least twice during the night. The good news is that cats can learn to let their owners sleep in peace.

Rule Out Medical Problems First

If your cat wanders restlessly around the house at night meowing or crying, they may be suffering from an underlying medical problem that causes pain or discomfort. Take your cat to your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues, especially if you notice meowing excessively during the day and night.

What to Do If Your Cat Keeps You Awake At Night

To prevent your cat from disturbing your sleep, try:

  • Schedule interactive play session with your cat in the evening. Use toys that mimic the movement of mice and birds (i.e. toys that dangle and wiggle). Games with ping pong balls, soft balls and furry mice toys are great for cats who like to fetch. Play until your cat seems tired.
  • Feed your cat a main meal just before bedtime. Cats will sleep for a bit after a big meal. If your cat continues to wake at night for food, purchase a timed feeder that can fill and set to dispense once or twice during the night. If your cat is hungry, they will learn to wait by the feeder rather than bother you while sleeping. Make sure you reduce their meal size so they do not gain weight.
  • Incorporate a number of enrichment activities to keep your cat busy during daylight hours. The more active your cat is during the day, the more likely she will sleep at night.
  • If your cat is social with other cats, consider adding a second cat to the family. If the two cats are compatible, they will probably play with each other and leave you alone at night.
  • Playful cats sometimes unintentionally injure their sleeping owners. For example, your cat may notice your eyes moving under your lids as you sleep and swat at your face in play. If your cat tries to play with you or wake you while sleeping you might need to shut her out of the bedroom at night.

If she cries and scratches at the door, you can discourage her by putting something in front of the door she will not want to step on like a vinyl carpet runner placed upside down to expose the knobby parts, double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil or a “Scat Mat” (available at most pet supply stores or through online pet supply sites).

What NOT to Do

Unless you suspect that your cat is hurt or sick, do not get out of bed to attend to her. If you get up and feed your cat, play with her or interact with her, you will have inadvertently rewarded her for waking you. She will try harder and harder to wake you every subsequent night. Even getting out of bed to scold the cat will not work well because negative attention from you may be better than no attention at all.