Cats - Masters of Sleep Disruption!

Hey Doc, Why does my cat wake me up at 3 or 4 AM?

This is a very common question from cat owners. 

The answer is really quite simple - it's what cats were designed to do.  By nature they are a crepuscular animal and no, that doesn't have to do with their muscles ;)     This means they are most active during twilight or the transition time between night and day and day and night.   Cats are not the only animals with that claim to fame - deer and rabbits also join them in that title.  

Humans on the other hand are diurnal in nature (most of us anyway) - being most active during daylight hours.  

So we humans have taken an animal who is most active at dawn and dusk, brought them into live in our homes and then expect them to assume our diurnal pattern of activity.  Is it any wonder that some of them do not conform? 

But don't despair that you will never be able to sleep through the night again without having your friend walk across your face or drop their favourite toy by your head at 3 AM.  

It is possible to discourage this behaviour, but it is really hard to do because you will have to control your natural reaction, which is just that - don't react.  

If you interact with your cat, whether it is to tell them to go away, to throw something across the room to distract them or heaven forbid you get up and feed them, you have just rewarded that behaviour you despise and encouraged them to do it again... and again... and again with ever increasing persistence.  

So from the time you bring a new feline friend into your home there are several key things to remember:

Intense play before bedtime can help to wear them out - even if only for a few minutes.

Do not react if they wake you up at night. Do not talk to them, play with them, feed them or swear at them.  As hard as it is, try to pretend you are still asleep.  If your cat is very determined then you may have to close him/her out of your room.  This may lead to them banging on the door, putting their paw under the door and rattling it back and forth, yowling at the door, scratching at the door, etc.  If you want to break the cycle or pattern you will have to ignore this and it can take time.  Weeks even.  But if you are able to persevere, evenutally, your feline friend will learn that their human is no fun at that time of night and will leave you alone.