cartoon drawing of mischievous cat who won’t let owner sleep

Your cat won’t let you sleep? – Why it’s happening and 9 remedies from cat owners

By Jason Wooden, PhD and Jonathon Trost | August 23, 2022

Cats are naturally more active at night while humans are wired to sleep when it’s dark.  The reasons a cat won’t you let sleep include boredom, hunger, insufficient play, stress, and underlying health issues.  Fortunately, there are plenty of remedies you can try to support your need for sleep and your cat’s needs.

Oh, how I love thee: the many ways a cat may keep you from sleeping

Bundle of love by day, sleep wrecker by night…

With more than 300 million cats owned by people around world, it’s safe to say you’re not the only one struggling with a cat who won’t let you sleep.

Allergies, of course, are high on the list of issues that can wreck a cat owner’s sleep.  After all, 20 percent of pet owners fight allergy symptoms because of a cat or dog.

However, that’s a topic for another day.  (If this is something you’re dealing with, I’ve listed 15 cat allergy remedies.)

I’m assuming you’re here for other reasons like being awakened in the middle of night because a furry friend is licking and pawing your face…

Jumping and pouncing on toys gleefully…

Or just meowing incessantly to get your attention…

If any of this sounds familiar, welcome to the club.

As much as we love our pets, losing out on sleep is not the best thing for you or your cat.

Besides feeling miserable and dragging throughout the day, sleep-deprived people don’t think as clearly, don’t cope as well, and perform more poorly at school or work.  They’re also more at risk for a myriad of health issues, anxiety, and depression.

And they’re moodier which can make you grouchy towards your furry friend and others.

Lastly, ruining your sleep is one thing, but what if a cat is waking up a roommate, housemate, or neighbor?

(Yes, there are stories out there of cats entering a neighbor’s house.)

Obviously, we need to address your need for a good night’s sleep and your cat’s needs.

Let’s take an honest look at what’s going on and what you can do about it.

Why your cat is up at night and messing with your sleep

Okay, there’s a reason your cat won’t let you sleep.  Unless you have Cujo the cat, they’re really not out to get you.

For starters, there’s a HUGE disconnect since cats are naturally more active at night.  Like their cousins in the wild, their natural habit is to sleep during the day so they can go on the prowl at night for prey and other things.

That’s just how they’re wired.

And we’re wired to sleep when the sun goes down.

 

Among the other reasons your cat is up at night AND messing with your sleep are:

Boredom

Luna the cat is bored and wants to play.  Can I just get a little bit of attention?  This can be especially true if your cat is left alone a lot while you’re away.

Not enough exercise and playtime

Exercise is important for the health and wellness of cats. Experts recommend that they get multiple exercise play periods during the day.  If your cat is not getting enough during your waking hours, it’ll show later at night.

Hungry or thirsty

It’s pretty obvious why a cat won’t let you sleep when this happens.  Even if they fall asleep, they may wake up to feed.

Stressed or anxious

Like other pets, a cat can become stressed and anxious if there’s a change.  It could be a new environment, household member, or something going on with you.

In heat

Unsprayed female cats can go through cycles where they’re receptive to intercourse and reproduction.  They may yowl during the day AND night.

There’s a health issue…

Things going on with your cat’s body can rear their head at night causing them to be more needy.  On the list are pain, glandular issues like thyroid disease, and various other chronic illnesses.

Old age

Like humans, it’s normal for sleeping patterns and needs to change as cats age.  They’re also more likely to experience health issues at night as they get older.

Is your cat is stressed?

Signs may include:

  • Pauses in breathing while asleep
  • Choking, gasping, or snorting sounds
  • Loud snoring, although not all people who snore have sleep apnea
  • Dry mouth or sore throat
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Waking up frequently to urinate
  • Morning headaches
  • Fatigue during the day
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Attention, memory, or learning problems

Source: Cats.org.uk

What to try if your cat won’t let you sleep: remedies from cat owners

Now, that we’ve talked about why they’re doing it, let’s take a look at your options.

The good news is that lots of ideas have been shared in various online forums about what to do if a cat won’t let you sleep.

For convenience, we have summarized some of the top suggestions from cat owners for common issues.  (Links to the full discussion threads are listed at the end of the article.)

 

Depending on your situation and specific issues, your options are to:

photo of lady plugging her ears

1) Don’t reward the behavior

Sometimes, it’s because the owners let them. If the cat just wants attention or food at 3am and the owner gives in just to shut them up… Guess who will be meowing the next night, because it worked before? (Source: Quora)

I steadfastly refuse to budge, even it means I’m lying awake for an hour ignoring the cat bugging me. They learn within a few days and stop trying to wake me when I’m sleeping. The only time they wake me up now is when something is really wrong (a prowler in the yard) or when I’m talking in my sleep from a nightmare. (Source: Quora)

If my cat is moaning around for no discernible reason (aka most of the time) I will steadfastly ignore. Giving any kind of attention, even if it’s anger/punishment based is giving him EXACTLY what he wants. (Source: Reddit)

I usually let them sleep with me but if he’s going crazy and being bad like this, I will get up and walk outside my bedroom then once they’ve followed, immediately walk back in and close the door. Put in some earplugs, and IGNORE. You really have to check yourself, because I realized every time I would “punish him” I was really just giving him exactly what he wanted — my attention. (Source: Reddit)

Anyway, try simply not getting up and ignoring her when she tries to wake you up. She knows jumping on you will work because it has before but once she learns that it won’t work, she will likely stop trying. (Source: Reddit)

Learn more:
Cat Behavior Changes That Might Mean Something’s Wrong (The Spruce Pets)
Correcting Unwanted Cat Behavior (MSPCA–Angell)
Cat Behavior Problems and Training Tips (aspcapetinsurance.com)

photo of someone writing the word routine which is worth changing if a cat won’t let you sleep

2) Change your routine

If you want an undisturbed sleep, change your routine: I feed mine at lunch time or mid afternoon and put some granules down just before bed time. (Source: Reddit)

photo of someone playing with cat who won’t let them sleep

3) Give them plenty of playtime and exercise before bed

I wear them out during waking hours with play, and numerous interactions. I also give them an environment where they can entertain themselves, like stuff to climb, windows to sit in and bird watch, safe outdoor time, etc. (Source: Quora)

I wear them out during waking hours with play, and numerous interactions. (Source: Quora)

I play with my cat right before bed. She loves to play, and I indulge her hard right before I want to sleep. (Source: Reddit)

Also, play with him! The best night time routine for cats is to play with them, then feed them, then they will groom themselves and relax. (Source: Reddit)

Learn more:
How to Exercise Your Cats Through Play (PetMD)
10 Cat Exercises Your Pet Will Enjoy (EverydayHealth)

photo of cat eating

4) Make sure their fed (and have water) before going to bed

I feed my cats a few times per day and make sure they have food and water before I go to bed. (Source: Quora)

I feed mine at lunch time or mid afternoon and put some granules down just before bed time. (Source: Quora)

Before bed time, appeal to his hunt-eat-sleep cycle. Start with 20 minutes of vigorous play…Get a fishing pole toy and drag it along the floor or couch with random speed and movement. Now give him a nice big can of stinky wet food. His body will interpret that as him eating the prey he just “caught” while playing. Once he’s done eating he’ll want to sleep. (Source: Quora)

photo of open door to bedroom

5) Keep them out of the room

I have a cat like this too and have yet to find the solution. Definitely have to keep him out of the room when I need a good sleep, because he plays with everything. (Source: Reddit)

You could try closing the door and buying noise concealing earbuds to sleep. (Source: Reddit)

She still cries and scratches, just less. So what I did further is a bought a plastic door guard for pets on amazon. It’s slick and she doesn’t like the way it feels on her paws, so she stops scratching. (Source: Reddit)

photo of cat who won’t let owner sleep having fun in play area

6) Set up a stimulating area away from the bedroom with the essentials

Is there a room that you can put the cat into at night, along with her litter box and her bed (or a cushion that she can use as a bed, if you haven’t already gotten her one)? Another bedroom, a bathroom, a garage, or something like that. (Source: Stack Exchange)

I also give them an environment where they can entertain themselves, like stuff to climb, windows to sit in and bird watch, safe outdoor time, etc. (Source: Quora)

photo of timer

7) Timed feeding during the night

I bought a timed feeder and set it to feed her at 3:00 AM and then again at 5:00 AM. She stopped messing with me after that… (Source: Reddit)

Cats are more active in the early and late hours so you’re just gonna have to adjust or sleep through them, auto feeder and interactive toys might keep cat busy whilst you sleep. (Source: Reddit)

8) Try distractions and tricks

I have a pet camera downstairs on the other side of the house. It buys me about 15 minutes of light sleep when I turn on the microphone. I don’t say anything, but they hear it go on. They bolt to the camera and try to figure the sounds out for awhile. (Source: Reddit)

Cats are more active in the early and late hours so you’re just gonna have to adjust or sleep through them, auto feeder and interactive toys might keep cat busy whilst you sleep. (Source: Reddit)

A couple months ago I bought a thundershirt and it made all the difference. Now if he comes to visit me in bed, he just snuggles against me and let’s me sleep. (Source: Reddit)

I had to get a motion sensor controlled air puffer to put by my door. My cats like to literally shake the door. If we let them in they walk on us scratch walls jump from the top of the closet door onto the bed etc. With the air puffer they don’t even attempt to come near the door. Works like a charm! (Source: Reddit)

Get him a bed and train him to use it, whenever he lays in it, treat and praise him (this is where a click of a pen or a box clicker comes in handy, click and then treat!), he will quickly learn that that is the best place to be! (Source: Reddit)

cartoon drawing of vet with animals who can help if a cat won’t let you sleep

9) See a vet

I have to add that you should certainly get him some bloodwork at the vet, as certain medical conditions can cause this behavior – especially if he’s on the older side. (Source: Reddit)

I took her to the vet earlier and he found that she had inflamed anal glands. (Source: Reddit)

Some signs your cat may be sick:

  • unexplained weight loss or gain
  • litter box problems
  • diarrhea and vomiting
  • increased or unusual vocalizations
  • excessive thirst
  • loss or increase in appetite or thirst
  • lethargy or slowness to get up
  • swelling in any area of the body
  • bad breath
  • discharge from the eyes, ears, or nose
  • coughing, sneezing, difficulty breathing, wheezing
  • skin problems
  • personality changes
  • limping, circling, trouble jumping or walking
  • over or under grooming
  • foul odors
  • shying away
  • wincing
  • panting or breathing with the mouth open
  • hiding

Source:  American Association of Pet Parents

More remedies:

photo of two cats laying together

10) Get another cat

A second cat may provide companionship and serve as a playmate while you’re asleep.

Learn more:
Adding a second cat to your household (Animal Humane Society)

cartoon drawing of lady sleeping in dark because cat won't let her sleep

11) Keep your bedroom dark

Keeping your bedroom as dark as possible may help prevent pouncing and biting.

Top online discussion threads:

(1) My cat won’t let me sleep and I am going insane (Reddit)
https://www.reddit.com/r/CatAdvice/comments/82q4ts/my_cat_wont_let_me_sleep_and_i_am_going_insane/

(2) Why do cats wake their owners up at 3 am? (Quora)
https://www.quora.com/Why-do-cats-wake-their-owners-up-at-3-am

(3) What can I do if my cat won’t let me sleep? (Quora)
https://www.quora.com/What-can-I-do-if-my-cat-wont-let-me-sleep

(4) Help! My cat won’t let me sleep past 7am! (Reddit)
https://www.reddit.com/r/CatAdvice/comments/a5k62i/help_my_cat_wont_let_me_sleep_past_7am/

(5) My cat won’t let me sleep, I’ve tried almost everything. (Reddit)
https://www.reddit.com/r/cats/comments/avu56s/my_cat_wont_let_me_sleep_ive_tried_almost/

(6) My cat won’t let me sleep at night (Reddit)
https://www.reddit.com/r/CatTraining/comments/9j9g5d/my_cat_wont_let_me_sleep_at_night/

Sources:

1. 15 Cat Statistics All Pet Lovers Should Know in 2022. PetKeen.com

2. Dog and Cat Allergies: Current State of Diagnostic Approaches and Challenges, Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2018 Mar; 10(2):97–105.

3. How Much Exercise Do Indoor Cats Need?, Pet Basics

4. Why won’t my cat sleep? Three reasons why they can’t nod off, 2021, Pets Radar

5. What to Expect When Your Cat Is in Heat, 2022, The Spruce Pets

6. How To Stop A Cat In Heat From Meowing And Yowling, Senior Cat Wellness

7. Nighttime activity in Cats, 2021, Pets.webmd.com

8. How to Stop Your Cat From Waking You Up at Night, 2021, The Spruce Pets

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