“My cat won’t let me sleep!”

If you have been a cat parent for a while, these are words you’ve almost certainly uttered before.

Cats have a mind of their own, and it’s what we love about them.

Not so at 3 am when they decide it’s playtime, and your bed is the playground.

Let’s dive into why your cat does this and what you can do about it.

READ MORE: Why Does My Cat Not Want to Sleep With Me Anymore?

Why Won’t My Cat Let Me Sleep At Night? (6 Reasons)

The reasons behind why your cat won’t let you sleep at night include everything from hunger to boredom to cats just being cats!

Let me start by saying that it’s completely normal behavior for a cat to be active at night.

Cats are most active at dawn and dusk, but their circadian rhythm, or sleep schedule, leans toward being nocturnal .

That is why you will find your cat just napping and lazying about most of the day.  

It helps them save their energy when they need it most, dusk, dawn, and nighttime.

Pet owners may wonder why that is. After all, cats are domesticated. Would it not make more sense for their waking hours to mirror ours?

It turns out that ‘domestication’ is pretty relative .

Cats are less dependant on their owners’ schedules and have maintained behaviors and instincts from their wild ancestors.

cat playing toy at night

They have also retained their nighttime activity. From when the sun begins to set until it has risen again, cats go about most of their cat business.

The night is the time that they enjoy exploring and interacting with other cats.

It is also the best time for them to hunt. Even though domesticated cats get the food they need, they will keep hunting as their wild ancestors did.

A cat’s whole body is perfect for hunting in the dark. Nowhere is this more obvious than in their eyes.

Cat eyes take in more light. That is because their pupils, the dark part of the eye that lets light in, are slit-shaped to open far wider when it dilates. 

That said, instinct is not the only reason your cat might be busy at night. Furthermore, their natural instincts don’t include playing with their human in the middle of the night.

So when a cat frequently wakes you at night, it is likely that there is more to it. Let’s look at some of the main reasons your cat might be waking you up at night.

Reason 1. They’re Hungry

Didn’t we say that cats are usually up at night because it’s hunting time?

So why are they bothering you if they can go out and catch their meal?

Well, cats are very, very clever animals. They may hunt, but they also know that you are the easiest source of food.

It is even more likely to happen if your cat is used to being fed at regular intervals, like when you use an automatic feeder to manage their feeding schedule.

Then, your cat will pounce around, bite you, and paw at you until you wake up.

It is a behavior intended to get you to sort out their food situation while the cat burns off some of that pent-up energy intended for their nocturnal activity.

Can you imagine your cat’s indignation when you have the gall to roll over and go back to sleep rather than fulfill your human duty to feed them?

There is another reason that your cat may be expecting a meal from their pet parents at 2 am though. 

We humans don’t think nocturnally; we eat our meals during the day. As a result, we don’t usually need another meal partway through the night.

But, unfortunately, this diurnal or day-centric way of life does not always suit our cats’ schedules. 

cat eating on his stainless bowl

If you feed your cat every six to eight hours during the day, they may expect another meal after the same duration at night.

That means that your can might wake you around the time that they expect this meal because it would seem, to them, that you have forgotten about it.

READ MORE: Why does my cat cry all night?

Reason 2. You’re Moving While You Sleep

The second most common reason your cat might wake you is that you are giving them a reason.

For example, if you start moving, twitching, or talking in your sleep, your cat can interpret it as a sign that you are awake.

The cat might approach you out of curiosity about your seemingly strange behavior.

kitten cuddling with his owner

On the other hand, your cat might also assume it’s time for attention now that you are not asleep anymore.

Either way, your cat is going to come in for a closer look. 

It’s this investigation that is likely to wake you up, and the situation leads to a misunderstanding between you and your furry pal.

Your cat did not mean to wake you up, but all you see as you wake is their curious expression staring back at you.

Reason 3. A Dull Day

Every cat owner knows that every cat is unique .

One might be completely content spending their days relaxing in preparations for a long night of much-deserved resting.

The next cat might spend so much time running about and playing that one is left wondering if they ever sleep. 

The more active your cat, the more physical and mental stimulation they probably need.

If they don’t get enough stimulation, a cat is more likely to nap during the day, leaving them primed for action at night.

It also increases the risk of Felix engaging in destructive behavior or seeking your attention at night.

Boredom is even more likely to be the reason your cat wakes you when they do not have a feline friend.

Even though they are not the most social animals, cats tend to engage each other when they need social interaction.

Reason 4. Claustrophobic Kitty Cat

If your cat doesn’t have enough room to explore, they might become restless.

Because cats are largely nocturnal, that restlessness is most likely to kick in at night. It can be a daunting problem for anyone living in an urban area . 

Your cat wants to get out and explore at night. nocturnal animals are adapted to function best at night.

If suddenly kept locked up indoors throughout the night, cats can develop some abnormal behaviors.

One such behavior is to engage you for entertainment to make up for the lost social interactions. 

Cats socialize with other cats in the area at night. Most of these interactions would seem odd to a human onlooker. 

A lot of it is posturing, hissing, and what would appear to be staring contests. 

Even though the behavior does not make a lot of sense to us, your cat can grow lonely without it.

A lonely, claustrophobic cat is far more likely to wake you up at night.

ALSO READ: At what age do kittens sleep through the night?

Reason 5. Under The Weather

It could be that your cat isn’t feeling well and waking you to try to alert you to their distress.

Sometimes it can be very hard to tell the difference between a cat seeking attention and a cat trying to signal that something is wrong.

One would think it would be rather easy to identify the problem based on your cat’s daytime behavior.

But, unfortunately, while this can be true of many ailments, it’s not always the case when it comes to injuries.

Because your cat can spend a lot of the day being pretty sedentary, an injury may not bother them as much.

It’s a lot like when we have a twisted ankle or a sprained muscle. It would be difficult for someone else to notice it at night when we aren’t doing much.

bombay cat covered by a cozy blanket

If they don’t get enough stimulation, a cat is more likely to nap during the day, leaving them primed for action at night.

If you suspect that your cat is waking you because of any potential medical conditions, you should consult your vet immediately.

Reason 6. Because You Are Their Human

We have spoken about cats trying to wake their owners up for food, out of boredom, or to get outside.

However, there is another reason that your cat may wake you, one that does not have any hidden meaning behind it.

Your cat wants you, they want your attention, and they aren’t going to wait.

A cat that wants their human’s attention will persist until they get it. Unfortunately, that attention can come in the form of negative attention.

Pushing kitty away, rolling over to try to get them to leave you in peace, or getting up to move them are all still forms of attention. 

Your cat is likely to seek this sort of attention when it is all they can get out of you. The cat will still interpret it as a kind of play.

Can cats sleep through the night?

There are a lot of conflicting opinions regarding whether cats can sleep through the night.

Even professionals and vets can’t seem to agree. However, one study suggests that it is possible to condition a cat to sleep at night .

The study highlights the difference that housing conditions can have on a cat’s circadian rhythm.

The study saw ten cats divided into two groups.

Five of the cats were placed with owners in small homes, with only one hour of access to a small garden area every morning. 

The second group of cats went to families in larger homes.

These cats were kept outside from nine at night to eight in the morning. 

The study found that the cats with limited space and limited access to the outdoors developed sleeping patterns closely resembling those of the humans they stayed with.

However, the second group remained nocturnal, spending most of the day in slumber.

“Our findings underline the high influence of human presence and care on the amount of activity and daily rhythm in cats,” writes researcher GiuseppePiccione.

Check: Keeping Cat in Garage at Night: Is it Okay?

How To Make My Cat Stop Waking Me Up At Night?

cat kneading on her owner but Why do cats imprint on humans?

Now that we know why your cat just won’t let you sleep at night, let’s find out what you can do about it.

Nighttime Is Ignore Time

As we mentioned, a cat interprets all attention, including a negative reaction, as you just plain give them attention.

Any response you give your cat will only reinforce the behavior.

As hard as it might be, your best option is to ignore your cat completely at night.

You can confine your cat to a different room, provided you kit it out with a water bowl and some toys. 

Big Meals For Dinner

Your cat will try to wake you if they can’t access food or if they can’t catch their own.

Your cat does see you as their most convenient source of food. So, a big dinner of wet food could help your cat stay full throughout the night. 

Day Time Is Play Time

kitten playing with yarns

Keep your cat indoors at night, and try to get in a lot of play during the day.

It may take a bit of time, but the more time you spend helping your cat adjust to your routine, the sooner you will get to sleep in peace.

FAQs

Conclusion

It is pretty common for cats to try to wake their owner at night. It’s usually a plea for food or attention.

Still, it can sometimes indicate boredom, wanting to go outside, or a possible health issue. 

Cats can learn to follow a daily routine where they sleep at night. It will require restricting naps during the day, playing with your cat in the day, and not letting them outside at night.

References

  • 1. Colgate. All About Your Cat’s Sleeping Habits . Hill’s Pet Nutrition. Publisher; 2021 . Available from: https://www.hillspet.com/cat-care/behavior-appearance/are-cats-nocturnal
  • 2. Jongman EC. Adaptation of domestic cats to confinement. Journal of Veterinary Behavior . 2007 ;2:193–6. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1558787807002274
  • 3. A Game of Cat and House: Spatial Patterns and Behavior of 14 Domestic Cats (Felis Catus) in the Home . Anthrozoös. 2015 . Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2752/089279396787001572
  • 4. Barratt DG. Home range size, habitat utilisation and movement patterns of suburban and farm cats Felis catus. Ecography . 1997 ;20:271–80. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0587.1997.tb00371.x
  • 5. Piccione G, Marafioti S, Giannetto C, Panzera M, Fazio F. Daily rhythm of total activity pattern in domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) maintained in two different housing conditions. Journal of Veterinary Behavior . 2013 ;8:189–94. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1558787812001220

What do you do when your cat won’t let you sleep? Please let us know your experiences in the comments below!

Tamsin
Tamsin

Hi, I’m Tamsin. I’m a serious animal lover and dog behaviorist and trainer. In fact, I live on a farm with nine rescues! So, I love writing about and creating awareness around the health and wellness of all animals.

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