- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Cats can see in the dark. They’re color blind. They have nine lives. There are about a million things we believe about cats—but when’s the last time you confirmed they were true?
One common idea is that cats are nocturnal. That belief certainly doesn’t come from nowhere. I have a friend whose cats wake her up in the wee hours every single morning, before her alarm clock goes off, insisting on attention from her. Even on the weekends, when she’s trying to catch an extra hour or two of sleep, they’re literally in her face.
Personally, my cats don’t do this—maybe because I myself am a night owl and usually don’t turn out the lights until 1 or 2 a.m. During the day you’re most apt to find my guys curled up into a furry C somewhere quiet, often in a sunbeam, snoozing the day away.
But that doesn’t make them nocturnal. Turns out, it’s more complicated than that.
Cats are neither nocturnal or diurnal
Although domesticated, most house cats will naturally gravitate to being most active in the early morning hours and again in the twilight hours in the evening, as is typical of many wild cats. As natural predators, the dawn and dusk hours are prime hunting periods, when prey animals tend to be on the move.
This pattern of prime activity is neither nocturnal (most active at night) nor diurnal (most active during the day) but crepuscular. Crepuscular animals are those whose most active periods occur during the low-light periods of early morning and early evening when the sun is either just rising or just setting.
So as animals whose biology is hard-wired toward crepuscular behavior, how do domestic cats fit in with us typically diurnal humans?
Well, part of the harmony is due to our modern lives and the fact that while we may leave our feline friends during the day for work or school, our at-home time tends to complement their most active periods.
We wake early and ready for the day, generally feeding our pets as we also prepare our morning cup of java or tea, shower, and dress. Then we return home eight or 10 hours later, making our dinner and performing evening chores, including feeding them and enjoying some playtime and games with them as we relax in the evenings.
When your cat keeps you up at night
This crepuscular activity pattern actually works out surprisingly well for us and our cats—until it doesn’t. What if you have a cat that insists on attacking your feet at midnight when you’re trying to sleep? Or uses your head as a springboard as she races around the room chasing shadows at 2 am? Or begins to meow incessantly as soon as the sky begins to lighten each morning?
Here’s what you can do to work with your cat’s natural activity periods but still get some shut-eye.
1. No attention is better than negative attention
One of the most important tools in your arsenal is to just to ignore your cat, according to the Animal Humane Society. Avoid trying to placate him with a toy or a treat when your energetic half-grown kitten wakes you up in the middle of the night looking for someone to play with. Even negative responses—like pushing him off the bed, or removing him from the room and closing the bedroom door—are considered attention to your kitty.
2. Put your cat in another room
If you have to, put him in another room with a litter box and food/water, before you go to bed each night. While it might seem like a good solution, putting him outside for the night will only perpetuate her nocturnal time schedule, as well as exposing her to outside dangers as well.
Late-night cars where drivers’ limited visibility in the darkness pose a serious risk to animals crossing the road unexpectedly. Wildlife such as raccoons and owls are also feline hazards best avoided by keeping your cat safe indoors.
3. Feed your cat right before bed
Feeding your cat before bedtime is a good way to help his schedule get synchronized with your schedule, according to PetMD. Just like with humans, a full belly after a meal usually induces drowsiness as our bodies get to work of digesting our food. This nap can last the whole night with our cats.
4. Embrace playtime before bed
Lastly, don’t ignore him when you’re awake. A game of fetch with a ball of crinkly paper or a feather toy he can chase is all it takes. Toys can be a great way to not only exercise your cat’s body and mind but strengthen your bond with him.
Include time for your cat in your evening schedule. It provides a great way for us humans to unwind after a long day while also giving your cat a way to use up their energy—maybe just enough to delay their evening hunting instincts.
More cat behavior