How To Get A Cat To Sleep At Night

cat sleeping

Does your cat have an annoying habit of waking you up at night by stepping on your face, pawing at your head, sliding under the covers, meowing, or howling? This can be a real problem. Sleep deprivation caused by pets has both physical and mental effects lasting for weeks or even months.

In this article, you’ll learn how to get your cat to sleep at night so that you, too, can get a good night’s sleep.

To understand why our cats do what they do, we have to look back at their ancestry.

The ancestors of our house cats (the North African wildcat) preferred to live solitary lives, were nocturnal or crepuscular hunters. These behavioural traits are retained by many pet cats today, affecting their sleeping and activity habits.

Today’s housecat is crepuscular, meaning that they are most active in the hours right before the sun rises and just after it’s dipped under the horizon each evening.

That means that it’s perfectly normal for your cat to wake you up early in the morning or skitter around the house in the evening—click here to learn more about cat zoomies—but you can work with your cat to establish a sleep cycle that works for both of you.

Before You Start Training Your Cat To Sleep Through The Night, Rule Out Any Medical Conditions

While cats are naturally most active in the evenings and early mornings, some cats also have trouble sleeping at night due to emotional or physical problems.

Infection, disease, and pain can modify normal patterns of sleep and activity in cats. Rule out any medical issues by taking your cat to the vet for a comprehensive health check.

Reasons Your Cat May Have Trouble Sleeping At Night

Why cats may have poor sleeping habits

While it is normal for cats to be most active in the early morning and evening, cats may have trouble sleeping at night due to health or stress issues.

There could be several causes for changes in your individual cat’s sleep schedule. Let’s go over a few of the reasons why your cat might wake you up at night.

1. Chronic Stress

Like medical causes, chronic stress can produce a range of non-specific signs, including poor sleep. In addition to having sleep issues, stressed cats may also vocalize excessively, appear restless, or overgroom. This type of stress is common among multi-cat homes, which often force unrelated individuals to compete for limited resources.

2. Boredom 

An indoor lifestyle of confinement and dullness with no environmental enrichment can predispose cats to sleep all day and seek their owner’s attention at night.

3. Restlessness/Insomnia

Many cats experience restlessness at night-time despite their love and need for lengthy sleep. These cats usually roam around the house in the middle of the night, play with toys, toilet paper, knock items off of shelves, and try to elicit a response from the owner while they’re asleep.

This behaviour is usually attributed to your cat’s nocturnal or crepuscular nature, but it’s not always healthy. Sleeplessness can extend to daytime restiveness. If your cat exhibits a sleep disorder, a lengthy behavioural consultation and examination by a veterinarian is essential.

4. Environmental Changes 

Cats are territorial and their acute sense of smell is a primary means by which they value their surroundings. Relocation to a new home can trigger emotional distress, loss of appetite, and sleeplessness in some cats due to the perception of a new environmental security threat.

5. Cognitive Dysfunction in Older Cats

Age-related deterioration in brain function can result in behavioural changes, such as confusion, poor memory, and altered sleep patterns. The sleep/wake cycle signs include frequent waking during the night, increased siestas during daylight hours, and increased night vocalisation. It is estimated to affect more than 50% of cats over the age of 15 years.

How To Get Your Cat To Sleep At Night?

How to get a cat to sleep at night

Fortunately, you can use a variety of methods to encourage your cat to sleep according to a schedule that benefits both you and them.

Once you’ve established the cause of your cat’s nocturnal activity, you’ll want to take steps to help them sleep at night. Your particular approach will depend on your cat’s unique situation, but the following tips will help to get you on the right track.

1. Create A Cat-Friendly Home Environment

Design an enhanced and stimulating indoor environment that will increase activity, decrease mental monotony, and prevent behaviour problems. Enriched surroundings should provide opportunities for climbing, playtime, exploration, and problem-solving without owner involvement.

A healthy, stimulating environment should include scratching posts, cat trees, toys, and places to hide.

2. Provide Appropriate Bedding For Your Cat

Unlike dogs, cats do not like to nap at ground level, even if offered comfortable beds in baskets on the floor. They like to embrace hideaways and occupy nooks as places for concealing themselves for uninterrupted rest.

Your cat should have varied bedding areas around the house but away from the litter box, food, and water. For anxious/fearful cats, provide additional hiding opportunities with igloo-type beds or those with high sides.

A cat-safe heated bed or pad may be required when temperature regulation is diminished as the cat ages or during illness/recovery.

Read More: Top 5 Cat Beds Reviewed 

If your cat insists on sleeping in your bedroom, place a cuddler, blanket, or your scented shirt close to your bed.

3. Respect The Importance Of The Cat’s Sense Of Smell And Pheromones

Cats use a variety of olfactory and chemical (pheromones) signals to both communicate with other cats and evaluate their environment.

Use a feline synthetic pheromone product such as Feliway in rooms where your cat spends most of their time and when moving to a new environment. This can help to increase their sense of security.

Avoid cleaning areas that have been facially marked by your cat, provide lots of horizontal or vertical scratching objects and scatter dried catnip as an attractant.

4. Establish a sanctuary room and set of routines from the first day your kitten joins the family.

Most cat owners feel that kittens need to be near them at night, especially the first time they arrive. This can set an adverse pattern for nocturnal games, excitement, and no sleep whatsoever!

Cats are inherently active at dawn and dusk, despite that your kitten can learn to adjust its sleeping habit to fit in with your lifestyle. There is nothing harsh in putting a kitten to bed in a cosy, warm and secure environment until you wake up in the morning, as long as the room contains essential basic needs including a comfy bed to ensure a restful night.

Calico cat sleeping

Providing a dedicated space for your cat to rest may encourage healthier sleeping habits.

5. Interactive playtime and hunting games should be part of your daily routine, particularly before bedtime.

Appropriate play should mimic predatory behaviour sequencing and involve:

  • Staring
  • Stalking
  • Chasing prey
  • Chittering
  • Pouncing
  • Prey in the mouth
  • Prey manipulation
  • Killing bite

Cat toys such as DaBird or Cat Catcher are most tactual and exhilarating. Set up a weekly enrichment schedule that contains novelty items and experiences to help your cat be calmer and avoid midnight zoomies or spurts of energy at inappropriate times.

6. Don’t Be Your Only Cat’s Source Of Food!

Hide food in various places around the house or nearby new objects so your cat can ‘hunt’ for their food. Use Doc & Phoebe’s Indoor Hunting Cat Feeder to increase the difficulty of seeking food and enhance investigative abilities.

Create homemade food puzzles from egg cartons, toilet paper rolls or cardboard boxes. Cat treat dispensing balls with a hole that distributes dry food is an alternative challenge comes nightfall.

Along with puzzle feeders, toss food all around the house to promote foraging opportunities whilst building problem-solving skills.

Make use of technology such as timed automated feeders to spread your cats feed over the day and dispense food early morning while you’re asleep.

7. Cat Enclosures

Provide outdoor access if possible, by procuring or building a purpose-built outside enclosure or offer access via secured garden to eliminate misplaced play or predatory attention seeking response for assertive cats.

Discover a step by step DIY instructions of how to build a cat enclosure attached to an existing structure here

8. Clicker Training

Clicker training particularly for an indoor cat will give something exciting to do besides eat as well as catnap and make the cat more interested in you. You may even see a side of your cat that you have not seen before which will similarly impress relatives and friends. Primarily it will make significant changes in your cat’s attitude and daily habits reducing the need for continual attention.

9. Hire A Cat Minder

If you are working long hours and your cat is kept indoors, hire a cat minder few days per week to spend time with your furry companion playing games, learning new tricks, along with going for adventuresome leash cat walks.

Arrange home visits based on your cat’s circadian rhythm, most cats are crepuscular (especially those with free outdoor access), however some cats are diurnal (ours for example). Companion cats can adapt their activity patterns to the presence and owner’s lifestyle during daylight.

10. Train Your Cat To Be Quiet

If your cat inclines to caterwaul (loud, howling noise), it’s possible that at some stage your cat has learned that if it vocalises, you will provide food or attention. This type of caterwauling is a learned behaviour. You will need to train your cat by ignoring the behaviour when it takes place by offering rewards when the cat is quiet (it may take a little time and lots of patience).

11. Cat Massage

Cats who like being handled and stroked will benefit from a relaxing therapeutic massage prior to bedtime to help them ease and doze into the night.

why do cats sleep so much

Conclusion

Cats often adjust their activity patterns to the presence of humans; however, some individuals will exhibit nocturnal activity which is problematic for owners.

Cat parents will have to figure out what natural or social needs are not being met, address the problem, or accept the reality that their cat’s biological clock will not line up with them and accommodate to the cat’s preference.

If your cat’s sleep problem is too much to handle and you have tried everything, contact a Cat Behaviorist or an Applied Animal Behaviorist in your area.

Bibliography

  1. Allen, M. (n.d.). Common Cat Sleep Disorders. Retrieved October 09, 2020, from Pet Carerx.com: https://www.petcarerx.com/article/common-cat-sleep-disorders/893
  2. Animal, P. (n.d.). Mood Food. Australia: Natural Pet Health. Retrieved October 10, 2020
  3. Animale, C. S. (2019). Feliway Optimum. (CEVA, Compiler) France. Retrieved October 14, 2020
  4. Caney, S. M. (August, 2019). Routine blood and urine panels: what’s to be gained? 5(Issue 8). (I. C. Care, Compiler) UK: Feline Focus. Retrieved October 12, 2020
  5. Care, I. C. (2018, October 14). Helping your new Cat or Kitten settle in. Retrieved October 12, 2020, from ICatCare:
  6. Clinic, M. (2014, June 03). Are your pets disturbing your sleep? You’re not alone, Mayo Clinic study finds. Retrieved October 09, 2020, from Mayo Clinic: https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/are-your-pets-disturbing-your-sleep-youre-not-alone-mayo-clinic-study-finds/
  7. Cohen, A. (n.d.). The Dawn Patrol. Retrieved October 15, 2020, from Humane Society:
  8. Fraser, A. F. (2012). Feline Behaviour and Welfare. (S. Hulbert, Ed.) CAB International. Retrieved October 08, 2020
  9. Heath, I. R. (2016). Feline Behavioral Health and Welfare. St Louis, MO: Elsevier. Retrieved October 15, 2020
  10. Linda A Toth, P. B. (2013, April). Animal Models of Sleep Disorders. Comparative Medicine, 63(2): 91–104. Retrieved October 10, 2020, from
  11. Ryan, L. (March, 2020). Feeding cats for the future: an opportunity for creativity. 6(Issue 3). UK: International Cat Care. Retrieved October 15, 2020

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I stop my cat from waking me up at 4am?

Instinctively cats are active at dawn plus dusk specially during spring and summer when its main prey of small creatures are active in addition there’s extended daylight hours. The 4am wakeup call is the time most humans have their deepest sleep but the time your cat is most likely to seek attention.

To stop your cat from pouncing on you while you are fast asleep, keep your cat stimulated during the day and avoid over-stimulation before bedtime.

Avoid getting up to feed or play with your cat since it may reinforce the behaviour. An automatic cat feeder or a sanctuary room may be the solution in your household.

Why won't my cats sleep at night?

Many external and internal environmental factors can influence sleep in cats while changes in sleep behaviour can indicate illness, pain, or distress in a cat.

What can I give my cat to sleep?

Valerian herb has been used by humans as a treatment for insomnia, it has a similar effect on felines helping them relax and sleep better.

Melatonin is a hormone supplement used to treat a range of conditions. It is commonly used for sleep and behavioural disorders in humans, cats, and dogs. In dogs it is also used for treatment of hair disorders like alopecia and for separation anxiety. In cats it can be utilized for sleep deprivation, cognitive dysfunction, mood stabilisation and to supress the heat cycle.

The ASPCA compiled a list of sleep aids that may be beneficial for your cat.

Consult your natural vet or animal health practitioner prior to administration of ANY supplements, herbs, or medication for correct dosage as well as in case of contraindications.

Melina Grin

About Melina Grin

Melina’s love of animals began in childhood, when she would care for sick or stray dogs and cats while dreaming of becoming a Vet. While working in the Veterinary field she found a distinct interest and passion in Small Animal Rehabilitation and Feline Behaviour. Melina is the proud director of Pet Nurture in Sydney, Australia (Unique Mobile Animal Wellness Centre specialising in Cats). Melina is currently studying to become a qualified Veterinary Nurse with a view to progressing to Animal Behaviour Therapy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *