Nighttime activity in Cats

Cats have different sleep-wake cycles than other animals and are often busy at night. This is because cats are crepuscular, which means they hunt and are active in the evening or early morning. 

This cat behavior at night is sometimes called the night crazies and may cause lack of sleep for cat owners. If your cat won’t let you sleep, there are things you can do to help.

Signs of Cat Behavior at Night

Your cat might have different behaviors that won’t let you sleep at night. These behaviors might start in the evening or wake you up in the middle of the night and include: 

  • Wild, excited play across you or your furniture 
  • Nibbling your toes while you sleep
  • Attacking your ears while you sleep
  • Walking across you while you sleep
  • Crying or yowling

Causes of Nocturnal Cat Behavior

Cats sometimes are more active at night or in the early mornings. This is usually caused by your cat’s natural instinct to hunt and travel at these times. But there may be other factors that add to excessive nocturnal behavior in cats, including:

Being home alone. You may leave your cat home alone during the day while you’re at work or school. During this time, your cat may spend most of the day sleeping or relaxing. All that rest during the day can lead to an active cat at night.

Boredom. If your cat is alone for most of the day, your cat might be bored and looking for more interaction and attention. Cats are social animals: your cat may have extra energy or be waking you up for attention. This can be a form of social play for your cat. 

Hunger. Cats often wake in the night to feed, which fits with their natural instinct to hunt in the twilight hours.

Old age. Changes in sleeping patterns are common as cats age. You may find your cat is more active at night, which can be caused by health problems as part of the normal aging processes.

Health conditions. Certain health conditions may cause your cat to be hyperactive, uncomfortable, or vocal and needy at night. These can include:

  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Chronic illness
  • Dementia that causes problems with
    • Sleep disturbances
    • Poor memory
    • Neediness

Your cat may naturally be more active at night, but if their nocturnal activity suddenly changes and becomes more intense, it’s a good idea to check with your vet to rule out a health problem.

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How to Get Your Cat to Sleep at Night

You can train or encourage your cat to sleep at night with a few adjustments during the day. The most important part is not to reward nighttime behavior with attention and instead schedule daytime play and feeding with your cat. 

Keep your cat awake with play. Spend time with your cat when you get home from work or through the evening. Don’t allow catnaps and play with or train your cat. This may include:

  • Laser light play
  • Cat teasers
  • Fetch 

Change the feeding schedule. Cats often fall asleep after eating. Changing the amount of food and feeding your cat more often during the day can keep your cat active while you're away. You can use an automatic feeder with smaller amounts of food set at different times throughout the day. 

Changing the type of food and moving evening meals to later at night might also make your cat sleepy before bed. If your cat tends to wake up early for food, set an automatic feeder for early morning.  Don't allow feeding in the middle of the night, though, as this will teach your cat to stay awake for food. 

Give your cat daytime activity. A feeding toy with food or treats will give your cat both mental and physical activity. Buying new toys or rotating your cat’s toys may also help keep your cat busy. 

Manage your own space. If daytime changes don’t work, shut your bedroom door and keep your cat out of your room. Set up a cozy sleep area with a litter box as far away from your room as possible. Put a towel at the bottom of the door to stop any door scratching or rattling. 

Medications may help. If your cat doesn’t respond to any other adjustments, your vet may prescribe medication or natural sleep remedies like melatonin or valerian. However, your cat can develop a tolerance to sleeping medications and they may not work after a few nights. 

Treating health problems like hyperthyroidism or dementia that cause hyperactivity or sleep disturbances may also help with cat night behavior. 

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Managing Nocturnal Behavior in Cats

You may feel that getting up and calming or feeding your cat will help, but it’s best to ignore your cat’s behavior as much as possible. Attention in the night rewards the behavior and your cat may learn to stay awake for food and attention.

Even though you may feel tired or frustrated, remember that night activity is natural for your cat. Avoid punishing your cat for this normal behavior as it may create more stress. If your cat won’t let you sleep, it’s best to change your daytime schedule to give your cat more exercise and play.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on February 14, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Animal Humane Society: “Cat keeping you awake at night? How to manage night activity.”

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA): “Older Cats with Behavior Problems.”

Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Indoor Pet Initiative: “Sleeping Habits.”

VCA Hospitals: “Cat Behavior Problems – Nocturnal Activity.”

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