How to Get a Cat to Sleep at Night

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My human’s cats have, for the most part, shared her sleeping schedule. But from what I gather, most humans have a harder time getting their cats to sleep through the night.

But first, let’s look at what exactly your cat is doing. Is your cat busy playing or getting into trouble while you’re trying to sleep? Or are they waking you up early for food or attention? Or are they just wandering around aimlessly and vocalizing mournfully? I’ll address the last issue first since it may not be something that’s behavior motivated.

When to See Your Veterinarian

If your cat is vocalizing loudly at night and they’re older, it could be a medical issue. Cats might do this because they are losing their hearing, or because they are developing dementia. If this is new behavior that has recently developed, take your cat to the vet for a checkup. Your veterinarian will have suggestions and possibly medication to help.

Another reason your cat may be vocalizing at night — and I hope this isn’t the case — is because she is in heat. Female cats in heat are relentless about wanting to get out of the house so they can mate. Their hormones are raging, and the behavior associated with that includes yowling. If this is your cat, please schedule a spay appointment with your vet, or a low cost spay and neuter clinic as soon as you can.

If the reason your cat is keeping you up at night does not involve medical conditions or hormones, I have some suggestions that will help.

A Cat’s Normal Sleep Schedule

Cats naturally do not share human sleep schedules. While they are often mistakenly thought to be nocturnal creatures, they are really crepuscular. This means they are most active at dawn and at dusk. These are popular times for cats to have the zoomies, and why they may be trying to get you up at the crack of dawn. If waking you up has become a routine for them, you will have to give them a new routine.

When your cat is active in the middle of the night, it means that they are not using up enough energy during the day. If they’ve established a schedule of sleeping all day and playing all night, you need to find ways to modify that schedule.

My suggestions will be helpful for both instances, but some are better at addressing one than the other.

Ways to Create a New Sleep Schedule for Your Cat

  1. Do not free feed your cats, or at least take away their food early in the evening.
    You’d think that leaving food out all night would keep a cat from bothering you, but that isn’t necessarily the case. If your cat has access to food while you’re sleeping, it also means they are awake — eating, playing, exploring, or whatever else they want to do that doesn’t involve sleeping.

    Getting your cat to eat at scheduled times during the day helps to regulate their schedule, and arrange it closer to your own. It’s also healthier for them because they are less likely to overeat. If you really need to leave food out for your cat during the day, then remove it after dinner time and don’t give them a meal until breakfast the next day.

    The biggest barrier to doing this (for the humans, at least) is the adjustment time. If your cat is used to chowing down during the night, you may hear complaints for quite a while until they realize that’s just the way things are now. So you humans will have to suffer through this until they get used to it. One way to shorten the adjustment time — and to make it more effective — is my next suggestion, which should be used the same time as this one.
     

  2. Create a new bedtime routine.
    When it’s time for bed, give your cat some treats. Snacks at bedtime is a fun ritual, especially if you create a whole routine around getting the treats and handing them out. If your cat hasn’t been very active during the day, or if they’re just generally energetic, have some playtime with them before the treats. That way they satisfy their hunting instinct and reap the rewards too.

    When I say make this a routine, make it really clear when it’s over too. Put the treats (and toys) away when you are done, and don’t get them out again, even if they want more. Because if your cat thinks they can weasel more out of you, they will. It’s just kitty nature. Cats can sense a softie and take advantage. Sticking to a routine once it’s established is important when you’re modifying a cat’s schedule.
     

  3. Make sure your cat gets enough activity during the day.
    If your cat is up doing things in the middle of the night, chances are they are not getting in enough activity during the day. Make sure to schedule regular playtimes or other activities such as training sessions, or maybe taking them outside on a harness and leash. Make sure your cat gets enough visual stimulation during the day too — windows to bird watch, for example. The whole point is to give them a reason to do something during the day instead of snoozing.

    Something that doesn’t work: waking up your cat from a sound slumber (you wouldn’t like that either!). And if you have a kitten or a young, very active cat, they may just have way too much energy, and you will have to wait for them to age out of this life stage.
     

  4. Don’t feed your cat first thing in the morning.
    In fact, make feeding your cat one of the last parts of your morning routine. If the first thing you do when you stumble out of bed is head for the cat food, your cat can’t resist trying to get you up even earlier. (There’s that crepuscular tendency sneaking in!) Feeding them first thing establishes a relationship between you getting up and them getting fed. You break that relationship by doing other things when you get up, and then feeding them later on in your morning routines.

Yes, as always, you will have to suffer through an adjustment period. But hang in there, and one day you’ll discover your cat has gotten used to the new way. Don’t weaken or you will undo the work you’ve already put in.

While Your Cat is Adjusting to the New Schedule…

These tactics will go a long way to rearrange your cat’s sleeping schedule. But, like I’ve already said, it takes a while make it a regular routine. What can you do during the changeover? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Remove all cat toys from your bedroom.
    Your bedroom should be for sleeping, and that’s it. Not playing. A lot of people successfully have the treat routine at bedside. But doing it outside of the bedroom is a better idea. Remove the whole idea of food and toys from your sleeping area.
     
  2. Only leave out soft, non-noisy toys.
    If you have crinkle balls, toys with bells, or other cat toys that make noise, put them somewhere out of your cat’s reach. If your cat only has soft toys to play with at night, at least they won’t be making as much noise.
     
  3. Create a dedicated play room or area for your cat — as far away from the bedroom as possible.
    Creating a special place for your cat to have their fun, far away from your bedroom, gives you multiple benefits. You’ve put together something that will strengthen your bond with your cat, and you’ve lessened the noise that will reach you.
     
  4. Interact with your cat frequently during the day, but make it clear that they won’t get any attention once you’ve gone to bed.
    It’s easy to get distracted and not pay enough attention to your cat. And they will try to get your attention any way they can. When you’re in bed, clearly you are not busy doing something. So it seems like a convenient time to hang out, at least to them. So make sure you are spending quality time with your cat during the day, so they won’t be as needy during the night.

I hope these suggestions have given you some ideas! Changing your cat’s habitual sleeping schedule doesn’t happen overnight. But with consistency, love, and attention, I know you can do it!

Have you found ways to adjust your cat’s sleeping schedule? Let me know in the comments.

Here are some other helpful tips that will strengthen your relationship with your cat:

How to Get a Cat to Sleep at Night

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