De-mystifying These 8 Unusual Nocturnal Behaviors In Cats

Published: 02/25/2021
Your cat’s antics bring so much joy, laughter, and entertainment into your life — but not when those antics take place at 3 AM. Unfortunately, if you’re a cat lover, you’ve likely experienced many interrupted nights of sleep thanks to the curious and sometimes downright bizarre nighttime behavior of your fur-baby.

But what’s the deal with cats getting up to mischief after dark? Why do they get a dose of the midnight crazies as soon as you turn out the light?

To find out, let’s take a closer look at 8 truly unusual nocturnal behaviors of cats and what causes them. With a bit of luck, you might just find the info you need to enjoy a better night’s sleep.

1. Wanting to play right before you go to sleep

It’s late, you’ve had a long day at work, and you’re ready to turn in for the night. But your cat has other ideas. Rather than let you slink off to bed, your kitty decides it’s time for some energetic play.

Depending on who you ask, cats are either nocturnal (active at night) or crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk). Either way, this means they like to spend plenty of time being active after dark. And if they spend a lot of time home alone during the day just lazing about the house, cats can come to recognize nighttime as playtime.

If your kitty loves pre-bedtime play, work a nice long play session into your nightly routine — just be sure to start it well before you’re starting to nod off. Providing toys and mental stimulation for your pet throughout the day will also help ensure a better night’s sleep.

2. Getting the midnight crazies

Dog lovers will be very familiar with the phenomenon known as “zoomies”, which is when your pup suddenly decides they have to run around. Right. Now. At top speed. And in every possible direction.

And while dogs have zoomies, cats have what are widely known as the midnight crazies. If you’ve been woken up in the middle of the night by your cat racing down the hallway or practicing to become a Ninja Warrior contestant, you know all about this unique cat behavior phenomenon.

What can you do to stop the midnight crazies? Giving your pet more exercise and play during the day will help, as will feeding them the largest meal of the day just before bedtime. Interactive food puzzles can provide much-needed mental stimulation, and refusing to indulge any attention-seeking behavior will help prevent it becoming a habit.

3. Midnight meowing

There’s nothing like a little peace and quiet to help you enjoy a rejuvenating sleep. But if your kitty decides the dead of the night is the best time to run through a few vocal exercises, sleep can sometimes seem a long way away.

There are plenty of reasons why cats meow at night. Your kitty could want some attention, they could be craving a midnight snack, or if they’re an unspayed female, they could be advertising for a mate. The solution will obviously depend on the cause of the problem — for example, ensuring that your cat has enough food during the day should stop them trawling for nighttime snacks, while spaying your female will stop her yowling.

However, it’s also worth noting that meowing at night can be a symptom of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in aging cats, so it may be worth getting them checked out by your vet if you’re worried about any underlying health issues. 

4. Wanting to play at 3 AM

Similar to the midnight crazies, some cats have a knack for waking up their pet parents at all hours of the night, adamant that it’s playtime. And as you slowly drag yourself back from the Land of Nod, you have to wonder, "Why on earth do you want to have a play now?"

And while some frisky feline behavior after dark can be put down to sleeping habits and the fact that cats are active at night, there’s also a chance that your cat might not be getting enough exercise during daylight hours.

If that’s the case, there are plenty of ways to help your kitty tire themselves out during the day. Climbing equipment, puzzle toys, and playtime with you can all help, while getting a second cat will also ensure that your kitty burns off excess energy throughout the day. 

5. Staying awake all night long

Are there some nights when it seems like your cat doesn’t get any sleep at all? If this is the case, you’ll need to book them in for a vet checkup to make sure there are no medical reasons for behavior.

If there aren’t, you may need to take several steps to try and gradually adjust your cat’s schedule so it aligns a little better with your own. Many of them are steps we’ve already covered in this article, like feeding them before bedtime and providing them with lots of play and exercise opportunities throughout the day. Enriching their environment by providing things like scratching posts and even outdoor enclosures can also keep them busy during the day, and hopefully more likely to sleep at night.

6. Sleeping in weird places

OK, so this weird behavior isn’t just limited to nighttime hours, but is one you might notice your cat doing at any hour of the day. Cats seem to love sleeping in the most unusual places — we’re talking in drawers, cabinets, boxes, and pretty much any tight space they can find — rather than in that comfy (and expensive) pet bed you’ve provided.

This is because they feel safe, secure, and comfortable in small places, and protected from predators. So if it’s snug, cozy, warm, and secluded, don’t be surprised if your cat tries to turn it into a bed. 

7. Watching you sleep

This is one of the creepier nocturnal cat behaviors you’re ever likely to encounter. Picture this: You’re in a deep sleep but something just doesn’t feel right. For some reason, the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up, your sense of unease palpable. As your fear starts to build, you slowly open your eyes and find your cat staring right at you. Intensely. 

No matter how much you love cats, it’s easy to be freaked out when you find your kitty watching you while you sleep. However, the most common explanation as to why your cat watches you sleep is because they share a strong bond with you, and they’re simply keeping an eye on you to make sure everything is fine.

Of course, there are other possible explanations; maybe your behavior while you sleep fascinates your kitty, or maybe they’re hungry or just plain bored. Whatever the case may be, there’s no need to worry — your cat isn’t plotting to murder you while you sleep!

8. Waking you up early

It’s 4:30 AM and your alarm isn’t due to go off for another hour. You’re settled in for 60 more minutes of blissful sleep when you hear an inquisitive meow and feel an insistent paw begging for attention. 

When this happens, it can be tempting to try to bargain with your cat: "How about if I give you breakfast now, you let me go back to sleep for an hour?" But while this approach can lead to short-term gain, it’ll also cause long-term pain. 

Once your cat knows they can wake you up for an early breakfast, expect them to try this tactic again and again. So don’t give in to your cat’s persistent wake-up attempts — they should eventually realize that you get up on your own schedule, not theirs.