Why Is My Cat So Active At Night?


Feline nocturnal activity is the bane of many a cat owner's existence. Just as you're slipping into deep REM sleep, a 10 lb. tabby jumps on your chest, attacks your feet, or yowls insistently to be fed. If you're like most cat owners, you reward this behavior by feeding the cat or giving her attention to try to calm her down. You know it's the wrong thing to do, but when you're desperate for sleep you'll do whatever it takes to restore calm. Understanding your cat's behavior is the first step toward modifying it and getting a good night's sleep.

Cats are nocturnal by nature. Wild cats hunt during the night, and domestic cats retain this tendency to be "night owls."

It's also a consequence of the typical housecat's lack of daytime activity while you're at work. Fluffy usually spends her entire day napping. When you get home from work, her day begins. You provide food, play and social interaction. By the middle of the night she's hitting her stride and is at her most rambunctious.

Research on cat behavior at night shows that even cats who have developed sleep patterns similar to our own still wake several times during the night. Once she's awake, Fluffy shifts into play mode, leaping at your every movement in bed, trying to entice you to play with her.

How To Encourage Your Cat To Sleep At Night

Simply locking her out of the bedroom at night is not always effective. She may yowl and pound at the door to be let back in. The best solution is to increase her activity level during the day so that she sleeps at night.

This can be problematic if you're away from home during the day, but it is possible to create an environment that stimulates her and increases her daytime wakefulness. Here are a few things you can do to provide a more stimulating daytime environment:

Install A Window Perch

This will allow her to see outside, keeping her engaged so that she sleeps less during the day. You can purchase a standard perch that functions as a shelf or hammock that attaches to the window ledge, or you can install a feline window box - a sort of "kitty solarium" - that fits into the window jam of double-sash windows. Both enable your cat to watch "Cat TV" all day, observing butterflies, birds, squirrels and other wildlife in your yard.

Get A Birdfeeder

Birdfeeders that attach to windows with suction cups are very popular with indoor cats, and will hold their attention for hours. Or, simply hang one near a window from which your cat has a view.

Adopt A Companion

If your cat is an only cat, consider adopting a companion for her. It will decrease her boredom and increase her activity level during the day. She will direct her nocturnal need to play away from you and toward her companion.

Increase Your Playtime

Play with your cat in the evening before bedtime. The best toys are laser light and fishing pole toys that encourage lots of running and jumping.

In addition to increasing her activity so that she's tired enough to sleep at night, there are additional steps you can take to keep her from disrupting your sleep:

  • Provide a warm, cozy cat bed in a spare room.
  • Most cats love heated cat cups and will find them to be a welcome alternative to sleeping in your bed.
  • Change her feeding habits
  • There are two changes you can make to her feeding schedule that can help keep your cat quiet at night: One is to feed her the largest meal of the day just before bedtime to increase lethargy and encourage sleep. Second, if your schedule permits, shift her breakfast time to later in the morning, so that she expects her food later.
  • If your cat insists that she's starving at 4 a.m. and won't survive until morning without some Fancy Feast, consider using an automatic feeder that will dispense small meals at programmed intervals.
  • Keep her away from the bedroom door.
  • If your cat awakens you by pounding on or scratching at your bedroom door, set an electronic pet mat, sticky tape, or an upside-down carpet runner on the floor outside your bedroom door.

Never Give In

It's important that you ignore your cat's nighttime behaviors. If you don't, she'll think that her behavior is being rewarded, which reinforces and perpetuates the behavior.

Get some good earplugs and keep your bedroom door closed. Once she learns you won't be jumping up every time she wakes you up, she'll give up trying. Even though cats are hardwired to be active during the night, it is possible to increase the amount of time they sleep and decrease their nocturnal activity.

It's certainly worth a try: a good night's sleep for Fluffy will translate into a good night's sleep for you.

Photo: Yasuhiro

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