When your cat meows, pads, or claws at you to wake you up it can get quite frustrating. Especially if they’re making a habit of doing it most nights, if not every night. Many cat owners around the world often run into this problem at some point in their cat’s life. But why do cats wake their owners in the dead of night and prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep? And what can be done to prevent it from happening in the future? Here, we’ve put together an in-depth guide explaining the somewhat frustrating behavior, along with some suggestions as to what you can do to prevent it from happening moving forwards.
Why Does My Cat Wake Me Up at Night?
The first thing to remember with cats is that they are naturally nocturnal creatures, hence why you see them sleeping so much in the day and why they like to bang around the house in the middle of the night. It’s a natural instinct that enables them to hide in the shows and hunt more easily – the usual nocturnal activity of a predator. This also means they are far more alert whilst you are resting and more likely to feel the need to keep watch to ensure your safety whilst you’re in such a vulnerable state.
There are several main reasons why your cat might feel the need to wake you during the night, including:
Boredom or Loneliness
If they spend a lot of the day alone, they may well be bored of waiting to play with you and grow impatient. This is particularly common with kittens and young domestic cats looking to initiate a play session. Cats can grow very attached to their owners and may get lonely when left alone for long periods of time. Though, for owners with two cats or more, this is less likely to be the reason as they are able to entertain one another.
Lack of Mental Stimulation
As opposed to boredom, lack of stimulation generally results in a lot of excess energy. If your cat hasn’t exercised its mind enough throughout the day, it may still be feeling extremely alert when you head off to bed and be looking for ways to wear itself out.
Hungry or Thirsty
Much like most animals, kittens and grown cats alike can get snacky in the middle of the night. It is also possible for pet owners to simply forget to feed their little feline friend one night. Something they will not let you live down. It is far more likely they with bother you during the night until you get out of bed and give them some more cat food or refill their water bowl.
Opposite Sleep Schedule
Some cats just grow up to have the opposite sleep schedule to their sleeping owners. As a result, they will go about their usual business in the middle of the night paying no mind to how that might affect you. Your cat’s sleeping schedule can be heavily impacted by its day-to-day routine. It is more common for cats to pick up nocturnal behavior if they spend all day sleeping whilst their owners are out at work.
Dirty Litter Box
Cats are extremely hygienic creatures that spend a lot of their time preening themselves. It, therefore, stands to reason that they do not like having a dirty litter box. In the wild cats will bury their poop and never return to it. However, an indoor cat with a litter box is forced to relieve itself in the same space. If their box is too dirty for their liking or has been disturbed or up-ended somehow, they will likely come to you to get it sorted out.
Cat behavior is also often influenced by their physical health, much like with humans. If your cat is acting out of sorts, meaning waking you at night or early morning, acting restless, or showing visible signs of discomfort, there could be a sign of an underlying medical problem that they are trying to bring your attention to. Healthy cats are generally more consistent in their behavior, and so if you have had your cat for a while you will likely spot if they start with any unusual behavior.
How do I Stop My Cat From Waking Me at Night?
Address each of the problems individually and watch to see if there is any change. This can be a long-winded process, but rewarding if you’re able to fix the problem.
Provide Additional Entertainment
For these types of problems, you need to step up your game in terms of the entertainment you provide. This could be through environmental enrichment in the form of climbing frames, tunnels, a scratching post, or cat trees, effectively creating a cat-friendly space that requires a lot more movement. Most cats like to have multiple surfaces to hop between as they very rarely spend their time at ground level in the wild.
You could also look to provide better playtime activities such as chasing toys, puzzle toys, and teasers. Or this could be in the form of direct interaction with them (which generally has the better effect). Interactive play is important not only for their social development but for challenging them mentally and physically, as they have no way of knowing how you’re going to move or where you’re going to go. Cats are intelligent creatures and can be capable of predicting pre-set chase toys.
Or, if you’re thinking of extending your little family, you may want to consider a second cat. They’re perfect for keeping one another entertained whilst you’re away!
Consider an Automatic Feeder
If your feline friend is making a habit of getting snacky during the night, you may need to put your cat’s schedule to a later time slot in which they get fed later in the evening. Alternatively, it may be worth considering purchasing an automatic cat feeder which can be pre-set to provide them with a meal during the night if needs be. Though you will still have to make sure their water bowl is full before disappearing off to bed each night. Also, be mindful that wet food and canned food are not really appropriate for an auto feeder unless it specifically states that it is designed for such use.
Keep Them More Active in the Day
This doesn’t only mean getting additional toys and activities for them to enjoy, but you may want to make playing with your cat part of your morning routine so that they know that the morning is when it is time to start the day. This can help to adjust their internal clock to recognize the correct beginning of the day. Though this can take some time to have an effect as a body clock can’t be changed in a day. Additionally, you may want to set your alarm clock for this one so that you start your day at the same time every day.
Get a Secure Litter Tray
It could be that your cat’s tray is getting disturbed because it is either unstable or too small. Some cats like to mount the side of their litter tray as they do their business. This can result in it getting knocked over. You may want to look at purchasing an enclosed litter tray to avoid this type of thing happening. Though make sure you are still cleaning it as regularly as you would an open tray. Out of sight does not mean out of mind and could lead to significant behavioral problems in the future, as well as a heightened risk of sickness to both you and your cat.
Take Them to The Vet
If you have been able to rule out all other possibilities as to why your annoying cat is bothering you during the night, then you must consider the chance that it is due to sickness or some other underlying problem. Older cats in particular are prone to developing health issues that can affect their sleeping patterns. It’s better to take them to the vet immediately and get them checked out for peace of mind.
Your cat waking you in the night might be irritating, and exhausting, but it's not always inherently bad. If they are waking you for a medical reason, then yes, it could be bad if you don't get them some veterinary help. However, if they're simply waking you because they're bored, you just need to find a way to entertain them better in your absence.
Sure. Many owners find that allowing their cat the room to roam as they sleep, whilst keeping the bedroom door closed helps to keep the kitty more easily occupied. In turn, the owner is able to get a full night's sleep and the cat is more likely to fall asleep of its own accord after playing for a while.
You'll want to stick with toys that don't make a lot of noise whilst you're trying to sleep. These can include toy mice, cat shelves, a cat tree, a cat tunnel, scratching posts. You could even use an automatic treat dispenser to keep their attention in another room.
If you can't stop waking up to the sound of your cat moving around in the house, it may be worth investing in a good pair of ear plugs. If you know your cat is healthy and safe, earplugs would be the best thing to mask those awkward sounds. Keeping your cat active in the daytime can also help to minimize the amount of moving around they do during the night.