Does your cat keep you awake?

I know myself that there are times when I’m not sure if I have a cat or a heard of Wildebeest in my living room at night. My neighbours may wonder too! A teenagers party may be quieter, (although most cats don’t need music to have fun.)

Domesticated pet cats and our sleep

Our pet cats are a domestic species of small carnivorous mammal, likely the African wildcat, it is the only domesticated species in the family Felidae and is often referred to as the domestic cat to distinguish it from the wild members of the family.

Do pets affect our sleep?

Perhaps not unsurprisingly given that it is estimated that there are approximately 7.9 million cats and 5.9 million dogs in Canada. Approximately 35% of Canadian households have a dog, while 38% have a cat – so let’s talk about cats.

Cat’s natural sleep habits – does that affect cat owner’s sleep?

Cats are naturally, “crepuscular” , meaning that they are most active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk, when in the wild they would hunt. They have very good eyesight which lends them to this success. Consequently, they tend to ‘lay low’ in the darker night-time and light day-time hours.

When do cats sleep and does that affect cat owner’s sleep?

Cats do seem to sleep a lot, but when they’re awake, they certainly seem to make up for lost time, playing, running and all kinds of acrobatics that man can only dream of doing. Cats just do it for fun! They look cute and we love to have them lie sleepily on our laps, but what about the other side of their sleep pattern?

Do cats actually sleep at all?!

A cat “pretending” to sleep!

There are times when I’m not sure if they do!

Do I have a cat or a heard of Wildebeest in my living room at night. My neighbours may wonder too! A teenagers party may be quieter, (although most cats don’t need music to have fun.)

How long do cats sleep and does that affect cat owner’s sleep?

While cats sleep an average of 12-15 hours per day, they can sleep as much as 20 hours within a 24-hour period. In general, cats do the majority of their sleeping during the day while we’re awake, which is why we only seem to see them sleeping!

Domestication has shifted our pet cats’ natural activity patterns to be more diurnal (animals that are active during the day and then sleep at night), but most cats still tend to wake at least twice during the night. The good news is that just like young humans, cats can learn to let their owners sleep in peace.

Cats and nocturnal activity does that affect cat owner’s sleep?

The periods of (sometimes very noisy) activity often happen during the night – when you need the noise the least. If your cat attempts to wake you after you’ve gone to bed, they may simply want to play, eat or enjoy your company. Just like with new babies, young cats especially under one year of age can wear their owners down from sleep deprivation!

Exclude any medical problems first

If your cat restlessly wanders around your house at night meowing or crying, he may be suffering from an underlying medical problem that causes pain or discomfort, so exclude the possibility of underlying medical problems first.

If you think this may be the case, take your cat to the vet to rule out potential medical issues. This is especially the case if you notice that they meow excessively during the day as well as at night which is not a “’normal’ behaviour.

Should I get a VET visit too?

As you most likely know, there has been a lot of interest in sniffer dogs – its not just drugs, they can sniff out disease too. Investigations are ongoing with COVID but its already known (and in operation) that certain trained dogs can identify diabetes and certain cancers among other diseases.

Pets achieve an affinity about which surprisingly little is known – unless you have a pet and then most people know. I’ve known cats paw at someone’s face while asleep in response to disorders in breathing during the night . Obstructive sleep apnea is an undiagnosed epidemic (80% undiagnosed) – with between 12-20% of the adult population affected. Children too suffer.

I’m not suggesting that you use this approach to test if you have any health issues but just be aware of the possibility – if in doubt ask your doctor – just don’t say that your cat told you!

What can I do if my cat won’t let me sleep?


Playing with your cat

Add a few orderly interactive play sessions with your cat during the evening. As is so frequently the case with sleep issues, from training babies and children through pets and indeed with us, this allows order and pattern to be learned. Sleep has a learned component.

Try using toys that can mimic the movement of mice and birds, such as toys that dangle and wiggle. Don’t go crazy and chase them round the house, so not too intense and not immediately before bedtime.

Games with ping-pong balls, soft balls and furry mice toys are great for cats who like to fetch. Play until your cat seems tired.

Feeding times for your cat

Your cat can be fed their main meal right before bedtime. Cats tend to sleep to digest after a big meal.

If your cat continues to wake you during the night for food, you could purchase a timed feeder that you can fill and set to dispense once or twice during the night.

If your cat’s hungry, he’ll learn to wait by the feeder rather than bother you while you’re sleeping. Make sure you reduce meal sizes so that your cat doesn’t gain weight.

Keep your cat mentally active

Incorporate a variety of enrichment activities to keep your cat busy during daylight hours. The more active your cat is during the day, the more likely that he’ll sleep at night. Much of what is true for us, is true for our mammalian pets!

Social engagement for your cat

So, if your cat is social with other cats, consider adding a second cat to your family. If the two cats are compatible, they’ll probably play with each other and leave you alone at night. However, romping cats can make quite a racket, which might disturb your sleep just as much as one cat trying to wake you, so there always the dark side to this arrangement!

Owner safety and protection

We all know that cats can sometimes go a little crazy, it’s part of what makes cats cats. Playful cats sometimes unintentionally injure their sleeping owners. For instance, your cat might notice your eyes moving under your lids as you sleep and swat at your face in play.

If your cat tries to play with you or wake you while you’re sleeping, you might need to shut him out of your bedroom at night. This is especially true of babies and children, keep their doors closed for safety. It will make for better sleep training for them too.

Activity discouragement

If your cat cries and scratches at the door, you can discourage him by placing something in front of the door that he won’t want to step on, such as vinyl carpet runner placed upside-down to expose the knobby parts, double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil or a Scat Mat™ (available at most pet supply stores or through online pet supply sites).

Alternatively, you can set a deterrent outside your door – try hanging your hair blow dryer off the bedroom doorknob or placing your vacuum cleaner five or six feet away from the door, most cats don’t like vacuum cleaners!

Plug the dryer or vacuum into a remote switch and when your cat wakes you by meowing outside your door, you can hit a button on the remote to turn on the appliance. Your startled cat probably won’t return to your door after that – this provides a kind and humane learned response to keep you both sane.

Just say “No” to drugs

Thanks to ‘Scientific American’ for the image from – How Does Catnip Work Its Magic on Cats?

Just like taking “social drugs” before bedtime is not conducive to sleep (and that includes a “night cap”) don’t give your cat, “catnip” before you plan on them sleeping – they won’t.

What you’d be advised NOT TO DO.

Unless you suspect that your cat is waking you up because he’s hurt or sick, don’t get out of bed and attend to him.

If you get up and feed your cat, play with him or even interact with him, you will have inadvertently rewarded him for waking you. Pets like rewards!

As a result, they’ll try harder and harder to wake you each subsequent night.

Even getting out of bed to scold your cat won’t work well, because negative attention from you may be better than no attention at all. Cats have a deafness of convenience!

Remember, teach your cat kindly but effectively to let you sleep.

Both you and your cat need to sleep to maintain physical and mental health and your best quality of life.

Divide day and night for you and your pet, do for them what you’d do for you and (I know you’re not going to like this) but generally, unless you’ve done it successfully for years, sleep apart so you can both sleep well.

Consider child and baby safety, cats can smother babies with love but also their faces.

As a last resort, there is help through books or Certified Applied Animal Behaviourist (CAAB or ACAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviourist (Dip ACVB).

Above all, have fun, enjoy your cat and remember, they’re family.

Stephen Bray 2020

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