Your cat won’t let you sleep? – Why it’s happening and 9 remedies from cat owners
By Jason Wooden, PhD and Jonathon Trost | Updated for 2023
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:
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.
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.
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
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:
1) Don’t reward the behavior
Sometimes they’re waking you up in the middle of the night because you let them. Some owners have found that if they steadfastly ignore their cat they learn within a few days to stop trying to wake you up.
2) Change your routine
Try mostly feeding your cat at lunch time or mid afternoon instead of just before bedtime.
3) Give them plenty of playtime and exercise before bed
Wear them out during the waking hours with plenty of play and interaction. Be sure to also give them an environment where they can entertain themselves with things to climb on, toys, and places to hang out!
4) Make sure their fed (and have water) before going to bed
Some cat owners find it helps if they feed their cats a few times per day. They also make sure there’s plenty of food and water available before going to bed.
5) Keep them out of the room
If your cat is super active at night and plays with everything, some owners claim that the only thing that helps is to keep them out of the room when you really need a good night of sleep.
A pair of earbuds might come in handy.
6) Set up a stimulating area away from the bedroom with the essentials
Try setting up a fun cat wonderland in a DIFFERENT room. Give them plenty of toys, stuff to climb, and places to hang out.
7) Timed feeding during the night
Go out and purchase a timed cat feeder and set it to dish out the goodies while you sleep. One owner found that setting it to feed at 3AM and 5AM did the trick.
8) Try distractions and tricks
I’ve already mentioned toys but there are other things you can add to your bag of tricks. You can try setting up a pet camera on the other side of the house, a cat ThunderShirt, or a motion sensor controlled air puffer.
9) See a vet
If all else fails, it’s worth a trip to the vet. There could be something going with your cat’s body that’s causing it to be restless or stay up at night.
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
- panting or breathing with the mouth open
Source: American Association of Pet Parents
11) Keep your bedroom dark
Keeping your bedroom as dark as possible may help prevent pouncing and biting.
Helpful online discussion threads for a cat that won’t let you sleep:
You may also be interested in:
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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