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6 Reasons Why Your Cat Wakes You Up at Night

A cat who doesn't sleep when you do can be a nightmare. We can help.

 |  Jan 4th 2013  |   64 Contributions


When was the last time you got a good night’s sleep? If kitty is the culprit, some troubleshooting is in order. Here are the top six reasons your cat is waking you up at night. 

"Ah yes, I see the humans are preparing for bed! HEEHEEHEE!" Cat on hunt by Shutterstock.com

Note that this article addresses repeat offenders. If your typically quiet cat suddenly pounces or meows relentlessly one night, investigate: She could be ill, or warning you of a problem. 

1. Illness

Some medical conditions inhibit a good night’s sleep. Even a mild ailment such as a toothache can make a feline restless.  

“Be particularly suspicious if this is a new behavior, especially in an older cat,” warns Cindi Cox, DVM at the MSPCA-Angell adoption center in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Some of the more common culprits for sudden onsets of yowling are arthritis, hyperthyroidism, and high blood pressure, all of which can be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian.  

Start with a call to your vet if your cat is repeatedly exhibiting unusual behavior at night. Getting her on the road to recovery may mean you’ll both be sleeping soundly again.

"How can you sleep while I'm in pain, mama?" Sick young girl in red scarf lying in bed with a cat by Shutterstock.com

2. Boredom

If your cat is alone a lot, she’s probably resting during the day, leaving her energized to play all night. Look into ways to amuse her while you’re out. “Toys, window perches, and innovative feeding methods, such as foraging toys or hiding small amounts of food throughout the house, can help,” says Cox.   

Interactive play with her human family is also important. Get her moving around with a laser toy, dangle a wand while you watch TV, or toss a ball around before you leave for work. Keep her toys fresh by rotating them or bringing home something new. 

Tucker her out for the day with a longer playtime in the evening, at least an hour before lights out so she has time to unwind. 

"Sleep-twitching toes are cat toys, right?" Feet under blanket and cat cuddling by Shutterstock.com

3. Habit

Perhaps when she was a kitten or a new cat, you responded to her wake-up calls by giving a cuddle or freshening her water. Unfortunately, you taught her that you’re receptive to midnight visitors.

Habits can be reversed, so even if you got off on the wrong foot, you can reclaim your evening. Next time she pounces at an unacceptable hour, roll over and stay put. After several nights of your boring reaction, she’ll lose interest.

"Day 10: Human no longer responding to claw stimulation. Guess I will go to sleep too." Young girl and kitten sleeping by Shutterstock.com

4. Immediate gratification

Do you sleepily dish up the cat food mere minutes after rising? If so, she may be waking you to invoke the feeding process. “Go about your morning activities for a while before feeding or lavishing attention on the cat,” suggests Cox. 

Fend off her hunger by giving her a healthy snack before bedtime, such as a high-protein treat. Or ask your vet about dividing her daily food into smaller meals, spread throughout the day, to help her feel more satisfied.

If your cat is finicky for fresh water, indulge her with a self-filling water dispenser.

"Okay, if you won't feed me, I'll just lie down right here." Boy sleeping with cat by Shutterstock.com

5. Lighting

What’s dark to the human eye isn’t so dark to the feline. “Cats see better in the dark due to having more light-sensitive receptors in their eyes, and small amounts of light may be quite disruptive,” Cox explains. 

If you leave a nightlight on, sleep with the TV flickering, or have streetlights shining into your room, that may be just the right light for fun. Minimize light in the sleeping area or try room-darkening blinds to discourage activity. 

On the other hand, if your cat is a senior citizen, her failing vision may be making it difficult to see at all, causing her restlessness. A soft light can help.

Adjust your lighting, giving each change about a week to take effect, to see what works best for your situation.

Follow these tips and this, too, could be the scene at your house. A woman and two cats relaxing on bed by Shutterstock.com

6. Harsh reactions

Just like children, some cats will act up for attention -- even if that attention is you grumpily telling her to get lost. “Any attention, even negative, could paradoxically reinforce [the cat’s] attention-seeking behavior,” says Cox. 

In addition to perpetuating the problem, your harsh reaction can be damaging to her trust in you, and in humans in general. Tough as it may be, keep quiet during her escapades. She’s more likely to learn a lesson from your silence than from your annoyed antics. 

No one likes to be roused from sleep. Assess the situation to discover the problem. With a few corrective measures, you’ll both be on the same sleep schedule. 

Have you ever had a cat who was frisky at night? How did you deal with the problem? Let us know in the comments!

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