Myth Buster: Are Cats Truly Nocturnal?

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By Pet Expert Team
Updated: 5/6/20242-4 minutes
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Cats bring so much joy from the very first moment they walk into our lives. But they also bring with them plenty of bizarre habits and mind-boggling behaviors. We’re still scratching our heads at their intense fear of cucumbers, and we’ve barely got one or two working theories about cats’ adorable love for cardboard boxes

But when night-time comes, we realize there’s even more to discover about the mysterious feline in the family. As humans and other pets get ready to wind down for the evening, cats are often on their own schedule, roaming around the house looking for cuddles, snacks and playmates. Could this spurt of activity at night mean that cats are nocturnal? And how could this impact our lives with them? Keep reading to learn more about this strange feline behavior.

Are Cats Nocturnal Animals?

Cats are not nocturnal animals; they’re crepuscular. This means that they are most active at dawn and dusk and get their rest during the day.

Why Do We Think Cats Are Nocturnal?

Many cats snooze throughout the day and reserve the small hours for all the fun kitty stuff like playing or nagging their favorite humans for attention in the middle of their sleep. So, it’s natural to think your cat is a nocturnal creature. But when we look closer at the hours when their activity peaks, it’s usually early mornings and evenings where we see the highest levels of activity.

If Cats Aren’t Nocturnal Animals, Why Do They Sleep Most of the Day?

Your cat’s sleeping schedule, as strange as it may seem to us, is a well-designed feature honed by evolution that would have helped their wild ancestors to become successful hunters. For these ancestors, hunting their prey at dawn and dusk was the most efficient way to get food because (as they could see in dimmer light) the low light levels made it easier for them to sneak up on their prey. They would then use the daylight hours to recharge their batteries, ready for the next hunting spree when darkness would set in again.

Of course, our dear felines are not the wild creatures their ancestors used to be, but they’ve maintained the same sleep schedule. The good news is that many domesticated cats have learned to adjust their routine to better match their human family’s waking hours. But if you’re still struggling to get some shut-eye with all the feline activity going on, there are a few things you can do for a better night’s sleep.

Is Your Cat Awake at Night? Top Tips to Manage Life With Our Crepuscular Feline Friends 

Cats might not be nocturnal animals, but they still make our lives interesting with their crepuscular schedule. Here is how to manage a cat that wants to keep you awake all the time.

Play Together Before Bedtime

Use up all your cat’s energy by playing their favorite games together just before going to bed. A good cat play session could include anything from chasing toys and food games to interactive play on your tablet or smartphone (although be aware that sharp claws and phone screens often aren’t a great mix…). And some cats won’t say no to a good game of fetch either. The goal is to let them enjoy plenty of activity during the day, so they are able to settle down later on, and won’t come looking for you when you’re asleep. 

Don’t Pay Attention to Their Behavior

Does your cat wake you up early in the morning? One way to potentially stop this behavior is by not paying attention to it. Our first instinct is to either tell the cat off or succumb to their efforts and get out of bed, often giving them food to quiet them down. 

But by constantly ignoring the cat’s pleas for attention or food, it may teach them that there’s no point in continuing with this behavior, and they will hopefully decide to give it up for more interesting adventures that don’t involve waking their owner up. 

Offer Your Cat a Meal Before Bedtime

Another good trick that might help to prevent your cat’s crepuscular activities is feeding them before going to bed. A full belly means a lot of the body’s energy will be diverted towards the digestion process, leaving little extra for any of their night-time mischievous behavior. And making sure your cat is full before you go to bed means they will be less likely to wake you up asking for food while you’re sleeping. 

Don’t Let Your Cat in the Bedroom

One of the easiest ways to keep your cat from disturbing your sleep is by prohibiting their access to your room during the night. You won’t even wonder if your cat is nocturnal anymore. Simply put your pet in a different part of the house at bedtime. Make sure they’ve got access to food, water and toys (as well as a litter box if they are shut indoors) so there’s less incentive to come barging in your room while you sleep. 

For more expert tips on cat behavior, explore our other cat behavior articles. 

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