Getting a Cat to Sleep at Night: Practical Tips

The domestic cat is a nocturnal animal that often has trouble sleeping at night - find out how to remedy this here!
Getting a Cat to Sleep at Night: Practical Tips
Cesar Paul Gonzalez Gonzalez

Written and verified by the biologist Cesar Paul Gonzalez Gonzalez.

Last update: 13 July, 2023

The domestic cat is quite prone to become more active during the night, so it’s normal for its owners to have trouble getting a cat to sleep at night. In fact, this behavior is a vestige of their feral behavior. However, it’s possible to reduce it or prevent it altogether if certain guidelines and recommendations are followed.

Just like humans, domestic felines also need to satisfy their sleep needs. To this end, it’s essential that they keep their napping schedule in “balance”, as their rest, well-being and health depend on it. Do you want to know how to help your cat sleep at night? Read on!

Cats are nocturnal animals

Domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) are actually a domesticated lineage of the wild cat (Felis silvestris). For this reason, it’s normal that they still exhibit certain “wild” behavior patterns that are common or frequent in their ancestor.

According to the Animal Diversity portal, wild cats are characterized by crepuscular or nocturnal habits, due to the fact that darkness facilitates their hunting. As a result of the needs of the species, both lineages – domestic and wild – developed adaptations that improve their perception in dimly lit environments, such as:

  • Tapetum lucidum: A tissue that lines the back of the eye. It has the ability to “reflect” light, to improve light perception. This adaptation is what causes cats’ eyes to glow in the dark.
  • Multifocal lenses: This refers to modifications in the eyes that allow them to have simultaneous focusing on distant and near objects.
  • Predominance of rods over cones (photoreceptor cells): Rods and cones are sensitive cells in the eyes that detect environmental illumination and colors, respectively. Cats take advantage of the predominance of rods over cones to see better in low-light environments; however, in return, they have poor color vision.
A cat lying down.
Because of their predatory nature, cats’ eyes allow them to perceive movement in the dark. Credit: Master1305/Freepik.

Is it good for cats not to sleep at night?

In view of the above, it’s normal to wonder whether it’s better for domestic cats to be active at night, as everything seems to indicate that they are better adapted to nocturnal habits. However, this is far from ideal for them. Especially since they don’t need to hunt on their own and don’t live in a wild environment.

Domestication has succeeded in eliminating certain traits and behaviors of the cat’s wild ancestors. Thanks to this, and to coexistence with humans, domestic felines have managed to adapt to a daytime life without harming their health. A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior mentions that the activity patterns of domestic cats change according to their care and activities.

If guardians interact with their pets during the day, they tend to maintain a diurnal pattern.

The ability of cats to modify their schedule suggests that they no longer have the need to be nocturnal when in the care of humans. Although their body has several adaptations to darkness, this doesn’t prevent them from having a daytime life.

Tips for getting a cat to sleep at night

Not all cats tend to stay awake during the night, but it is a more common problem than you might think. Because of this, there are several useful strategies to help regulate their sleep cycles to get them to synchronize with those of humans. The following tips can help quite a bit during the process.

1. Establish schedules and habits

The cat loves to form habits, so you can take advantage of this to get them used to sleeping at night. To do this, you need to establish a schedule that includes almost every event of the day, such as mealtimes, playtime or brushing time, and stick to it as best you can.

This new schedule should group together most of the activities during the day, with the goal of getting your cat used to a daytime pattern of living.

Of course, this recommendation requires a lot of commitment and doesn’t take effect immediately, but it is perhaps the best way to get your cat to fall asleep quickly at night.

2. Avoid scolding, hitting or yelling

It’s important to emphasize that no negative response such as scolding, hitting or yelling is justified. Far from helping the cat, it only causes stress and could lead to aggressive behavior.

Remember that positive conditioning is one of the best tools to educate pets, as mentioned in an article published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

3. Don’t force the cat to stay awake during the day

Contrary to popular belief, the sleep cycle in cats is polycyclic, that is, it’s composed of several “naps” that last about 100 minutes. In total, they’re usually considered to sleep about 16 hours, but not continuously – in short breaks distributed throughout the day.

Because cats rely heavily on “naps” to rest, simply keeping them awake during the day won’t cause them to sleep better at night. On the contrary, they’ll feel tired and won’t be able to sleep longer than their naps usually last.

Most likely, the cat will still wake up in the middle of the night as usual, only now tired, annoyed, and even aggressive.

During the first few days, you won’t notice any major effects other than the change in behavior. However, the “sleep debt” will also affect their long-term health and well-being.

4. Give them quality time during the day

Lack of attention or little interaction with their owners is one of the most common reasons why cats can’t sleep at night. Lacking the stimulation they need during the day, they will seek to take up part of the nighttime schedule to demand affection from their family.

To remedy this, it’s crucial that owners commit to playing and interacting more with their cats during the day, so that at night they can focus on sleeping. In addition, you should avoid encouraging nocturnal behaviors, so as long as they aren’t at risk; it’s best to ignore their meowing and demands at inappropriate hours.

5. Make them listen to relaxing music before going to sleep

In the same way as in humans, relaxing music can reduce stress levels in domestic cats. For this reason, it can be an excellent tool if you want your cat to sleep at night without any problems.

According to a study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery , some classical music tracks have been shown to soothe domestic felines somewhat. However, this is only an alternative means of calming them, as it doesn’t ensure that the cat will fall asleep quickly at night.

A cat on a piano.
Music can help a cat relax and fall asleep better. Credit: Norbert Oriskó/Pixabay.

6. Offer food before bedtime

According to The Mobile Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, cats tend to feel drowsy after a large meal. For this reason, they recommend giving them their last meal of the day a few minutes before bedtime. This practice can serve as an incentive to give up their nighttime schedule.

7. Go for a check-up with a veterinarian

Sometimes, cats are unable to sleep at night because they have a condition that prevents them from getting to sleep. The organization Cats Protection specifies that changes in the feline sleep cycle can point to the presence of painful conditions, such as arthritis.

In addition, if the cat is healthy and still can’t sleep at night, the veterinarian can also prescribe the use of drugs or relaxing pheromones. It should be noted that this is at the discretion of the professional and depends very much on the clinical findings.

The importance of cats sleeping at night

Although it may seem difficult, it is possible to teach a cat to sleep at night. Sleepless nights are detrimental to both, so it’s best to correct this as soon as possible, to avoid problems in the future.

It’s clear that achieving this goal requires a lot of patience and commitment. In addition, a cat’s hyperactivity shouldn’t lead to constant fights or annoyances, which could harm your relationship with your pet.

As you can see, the simple fact that cats don’t sleep at night can cause different conflicts at home. While it’s true that in most cases it isn’t an issue of imminent risk, it’s always better to choose to harmonize the interaction between the family.

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The contents of My Animals are written for informational purposes. They can't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.