Does your cat wake you up at night? Does he or she meow loudly seeking your attention? Or maybe Kitty jumps on your bed and bats your face with a curious paw? You're not alone. Many owners come to this site with a similar complaint, asking how they can keep Kitty from waking them up at night. Sleep deprivation is hard to deal with, but do not despair. This is actually a behavior problem that's easy to solve!
Before we begin, a word of caution.
This article deals with behavioral problems in healthy cats. Almost always, the issue with cats that wake up their owners at night time is entirely behavioral. However, sometimes that's not the case. Kitty could be feeling poorly during night time. With some cats, a change in nighttime behavior can be the first sign of deteriorating eyesight or even dementia.
How can you tell the difference? If vocal nighttime behavior is a new thing for your cat, especially if he or she is a senior kitty, you should talk to your vet. Do not attempt to "correct" the behavior before ruling out medical problems.
Read more about When Physical Problems Turn into Behavior Problems .
Why do cats wake us up at night?
Assuming that your cat is healthy, it's time to try and figure out what the behavioral motivations are.
In a typical scenario, the cat spends most of the day sleeping. Cats do need more sleep than humans do, about 16 hours a day, but you can't expect them to sleep for 24 hours a day. A cat that has spent the entire day sleeping will be up and about at night.
Now what? That cat is bored. It wants your company and it wants some form of stimulation to keep boredom at bay.
What's a bored cat to do? Let's try and look at this from your cat's perspective:
Can you see what happened?
By responding to your cat's calls, you have trained her or him to continue with this kind of behavior. If you feed the cat - just to make sure he or she is not miserably hungry - then you have reinforced the behavior even further.
If we want to change the pattern (and we do!) we have to address two issues here -
1. Solve the boredom problem, and
2. Break the pattern of rewarding Kitty for waking you up at night time.
The good news? It's entirely doable! Compared to some behavior problems, this one is relatively easy to fix!
It's going to take two phases. First, we'll have to deal with Kitty's boredom. We need to eliminate (or decrease) her/his need for your company at night time. Then - and only then - we'll have to work on how you stop giving Kitty that nighttime reward. It's going to take some discipline on your part, but we're going to show you just how that can be done. It won't take long. Most cats figure out the change in a few days and stop trying to wake up a tired owner.
How to deal with boredom in cats - general guidelines
There are many ways to keep an indoors-only cat properly stimulated. Kitty doesn't have to spend the entire day asleep! With a few tips and tricks you can help your cat become more active during the day. It's good for Kitty - physically and mentally. Some things you could do -
Add cat shelves and cat trees that will encourage your cat to jump, climb and exercise.
Provide enticing cat toys which should be given out in rotation so your cat doesn't tire of them.
Put a perch by a window, preferably with a bird feeder placed not too far away.
Play cat movies/TV while you're away.
You can find more ideas in these articles -
How to set up an anti-boredom evening routine
If you want to enjoy a good night's sleep, you simply must set up an anti-boredom evening routine. It's how you make sure Kitty gets all the entertainment she or he needs at the hours when you are ok with being awake. This routine should take you about 15 minutes every evening.
The stages of your new anti-boredom routine include -
1. Play with your cat for at least 10-15 minutes using a rod-like cat toy.
This is not just playtime. This is therapy for your cat. You have to do this correctly to achieve the full benefits, so please take a few minutes to read this article -
2. Once the play session is over, feed your cat. This wraps up what essentially was a simulation of a hunting session, leaving Kitty relaxed and happy.
Not very complicated, is it? With enough daytime stimulation, capped with an evening playtime routine, you have successfully ensured your cat can spend the night without waking you up! Once we've taken care of fulfilling the needs, it's time to break what is now nothing more than an annoying habit.
How to break the habit of waking you up at night
Re-training cats is far easier than some people think. Once the cat's needs have been met, all it takes is consistency on the part of the owner.
In this case, the cat's needs have been met with our new enriched environment and anti-boredom evening routine. Time to address the key to behavioral change: Your own nighttime behavior. For the first few nights your cat is likely to keep trying to wake you up again. That's ok. It won't take more than a few nights to change that habit.
What happens on the first night?
So, you've played with Kitty for 15 minutes, following the playtime guidelines. Time to say goodnight and go to sleep. Just as you're about to fall asleep, you can hear it again... that demanding meow. What do you do now?
And by nothing we mean zero response.
Do not answer. Do not curse. Do not mutter. Do not talk to your spouse about it, not even in a whispering tone (cats have excellent hearing!). Do not show any indication that you are even awake. As far as Kitty is concerned, you are fast asleep. If your cat is in the room with you, keep your eyes shut and ignore her or him completely. No matter how long it takes - do not respond. This cannot be stressed enough. The worst thing you could do at this point is "hold it" for a long time and then break down and respond. That will only teach Kitty to nag for longer. Remember - your cat has had enough fun and games. He or she is not hungry. Kitty is just used to getting a response from you, that's all.
Your cat will quiet down eventually. And if she or he is trying to wake you up again the following night, keep practicing zero response. It's going to take a shorter while this time for Kitty to stop meowing. Without a response from you, there is nothing to reinforce the behavior, and within a few days, it should simply disappear.
Voila! You have your nights back!
Bonus tip: How to stop your cat from waking you up for a feeding at the break of dawn?
If you're the kind of person who doesn't mind getting up at 5AM then there's nothing wrong with feeding your cat while you're getting your coffee. However, you should not get up just to feed a cat. Decide on when is the best hour for you to get out of bed. It can be 7AM or 9AM - whatever works for your schedule. Just make a decision and stick to it.
Your cat will be perfectly ok going without food for 10-12 hours at a time. Feed enough before bedtime (and after playing with your cat for at least 15 minutes) and set your alarm clock to the hour you want to get up at. If your cat demands attention before the alarm sounds, practice the "zero attention" technique. Have faith! Kitty will adjust and learn to patiently wait for the sound of the alarm.
As always, if you have any questions or need help with specific advice, post about it in the cat behavior forum. If you want to share your own tips about how to regain a peaceful night's sleep, by all means, post a comment to this article!