Are Cats Nocturnal?

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Introduction

Have you ever noticed how your cat spends most of the day sleeping, but as soon as your head hits the pillow each night, your kitty decides it's the perfect time to play, explore, and generally get up to mischief?

The nighttime antics of our furry friends are enough to drive many pet parents up the wall. Whether your cat is an after-dark yowler, thinks a sleeping human makes a great play toy, or regularly gets a full-blown case of the midnight crazies, it's enough to destroy any plans for a peaceful night's sleep.

So is there a reason why our kitties are so fond of after-dark adventures? Are cats nocturnal? The answer is no, cats actually aren't nocturnal — keep reading to find out why.

Signs Your Cat Could Be Nocturnal

You've had a long day and you can't wait to crawl into bed and go to sleep. But just as you start to drift off, or maybe even in the middle of the night when you're in a deep sleep, your cat is wide awake and full of beans. Sound familiar?

There are many different telltale signs that indicate your cat loves a bit of nocturnal naughtiness. One of the common signs is strange noises in the night, whether it's the pitter-patter of paws and claws, the sound of something being scratched, or the jarring noise of your kitty knocking something heavy or breakable off a shelf.

But while some cats are relatively sedate with their nighttime adventuring, that's not always the case. If you've ever woken to the sound of your feline friend sprinting, leaping, and racing around corners with what can only be described as frenetic friskiness, you'll be very familiar with the unique phenomenon that is the midnight crazies.

Then, of course, there are those cats that love nothing more than involving their humans in their nocturnal antics. Some might meow incessantly at your bedroom door, paw at your face until you wake up, or just generally do whatever they can to ensure that you're wide awake and giving them your full attention.

No matter which approach your cat takes, their nighttime adventures are usually inconvenient and disruptive, not to mention often downright frustrating.

Body Language

You're probably too bleary-eyed and disorientated to get a close look at your cat's body language when they wake you up in the middle of the night.

But once you wipe the sleep from your eyes and gradually come to your senses, one of the first things you'll notice is that your kitty is wide awake and alert. You may notice bright and curious eyes, ears up, and a forward posture that leaves you in no doubt that they're ready for action at a moment's notice.

It's also important to pay close attention to what your pet's tail is doing. For example, a swishing tail could indicate that your kitty is stalking some sort of prey, whether that's a fluffy toy or something else entirely. Rapid tail thumping can be a sign of play hunting, while a tail in an upward position is usually a sign of greeting. Cat tail language is complicated and nuanced, so check out our handy guide for more information.

  • Alert
  • Jumping up
  • Pacing
  • Twitching whiskers
  • Stalking
  • Tail up
  • Ears up

Other Signs

There are also a couple of other signs that could indicate your cat enjoys plenty of nocturnal activity. One of those is if they spend most of the day sleeping. When you spend all night roaming the house and getting up to mischief, you obviously need to catch up on some sleep at some stage. So if your kitty seems like they're catching some ZZZZs all day long, there's a good chance they're not sleeping the night through.

Of course, for some of the other common signs of kitty nocturnal activity, you only need to look in the mirror. Are your eyes bleary and bloodshot? Are there big bags under them? Do you stumble around the house in a daze like you're the walking dead? These are sure-fire signs that you've had a bad night's sleep, and we all know that your four-legged family member is to blame.

  • Sleeping during the day
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability (for pet parents)
  • Bags under eyes (for pet parents)

Are Cats Nocturnal? The Scientific Answer

So, do your cat's high activity levels at nighttime mean that they're nocturnal? Technically, the answer is no.

Unlike those truly nocturnal animals that sleep all day and only come out at night, cats are actually crepuscular, which means they're at their most active at dawn and dusk. This all has to do with their wild cat ancestors that do most of their hunting early in the morning and in the last hours of daylight. These instincts have been passed down to our domesticated house cats, so don't be surprised if your kitty seems sleepy and lazy through the middle of the day and much more active closer to darkness.

Cats sleep for around 12 to 16 hours each day, and can get up to 20 hours of shut-eye per day in some cases. However, cats don't usually get all their sleep in one big block like humans do, so it's perfectly natural for them to be awake at times during the night.

However, there are other factors at play that can also increase your cat's desire or need to be active at night. For example, think about your cat's daytime routine for a minute. If they spend most of their day home alone just snoozing in the sun, they can come to see nighttime as playtime — and as their best chance to spend lots of quality time with you.

In other cases, your cat might not get enough activity during the day to tire them out at night. Or if you feed them a long time before hitting the hay, they might wake up in the early hours of the morning with a grumbling tummy eager for its next meal.

In short, there are lots of different reasons why our cats can be highly active after dark. The key is working out why your feline friend is naughty at night and taking steps to minimize the disruption to your own sleep patterns.

Training Your Cat to be Less Active at Night

OK, so your cat isn't actually nocturnal — good luck telling them that! While it's perfectly natural for our kitties to be awake at times during the night, there are some after-dark behaviors you'll definitely want to discourage.

Happily, there are lots of simple steps you can take to ensure that your cat doesn't keep waking you up night, after night, after night. These include:

  • Giving them something to do in the day. Ensure that your cat has plenty of ways to entertain and amuse themselves throughout the day. Enriching their environment with things like puzzle toys and climbing equipment will help ensure that your cat is tired and happy come nighttime.

  • Tiring them out before bed. It's also a good idea to make playtime with your cat a part of your nightly routine. This will help ensure that your feline sleeps soundly, and will also help the two of you form a stronger bond.

  • Feeding your cat before bedtime. If your cat often wakes you up in the early hours of the morning demanding food, try feeding them closer to bedtime to ensure that they stay fuller for longer throughout the night. Check that they're getting enough food during the day so that they don't need to resort to midnight snacks.

  • Stopping nighttime noises. If your cat is particularly vocal at night, there could be several reasons why, including simply to get your attention. However, spaying a female can stop her yowling after dark, while nighttime meowing in older cats could be a sign of cognitive dysfunction syndrome and should be checked out by your vet.

  • Never rewarding undesirable behavior. Take care to ensure that you never reinforce your cat's naughty nighttime behavior by rewarding it, intentionally or not. If your cat wakes you up in the night demanding attention or food, don't give it to them.

  • Keeping them out of your bedroom. Finally, if your kitty's midnight disturbances are too much to bear, you might have to set them up to sleep in another room of your home.

If you can follow these simple steps, you can help ensure that your cat's nocturnal activities don't stop you from getting a good night's sleep.