Are Cats Nocturnal? What Are Felines Sleep Habits

image of a kitty sleeping in a bed

Cartoons such as “Garfield” and “Simon’s Cat” have done gags based on a cat’s predilection to wake up their owners in the wee hours of the morning, often demanding food. Many more cartoons depict cats waking up the neighborhood by “singing” on a fence in the dead of night. (Garfield prefers to do stand-up comedy.)

How much of this is based on truth?

Are cats nocturnal or diurnal?

For the most part, the average well cared for house cat is actually crepuscular. This means she prefers to be active in the morning and twilight hours. A crepuscular cat will dutifully wake you up in the morning, wanting cuddles and breakfast, not necessarily in that order.

After a fond farewell as everyone in the house goes to work and/or school, the cat will then nap throughout the day, becoming active again when the people are home, ready to play and be fed again. Once the family settles down for the night, Kitty will take the cue to do the same.

There are exceptions to the rule. If the cat lives in a home where at least one person is home all day, the cat may decide to be diurnal to spend the day with their friend. If the cat lives with somebody who works from home and does their work at night and sleeps most of the day, the cat may become as nocturnal as her owner.

Feral cats are more or less nocturnal as that’s when their prey is running about and there are fewer people and cars to be obstacles.

When are cats most active?

Cats are most active when they have reason to be more active. They want to be where there’s food and people to play with. Otherwise, they’ll save their energy and find someplace to sleep. Feral cats aren’t as fond of people and may be nocturnal both to avoid them and to better search for food, be it mice, crickets or the trash can someone just put out.

Do cats have night vision?

image of cats eyes in a dark

While cats cannot see in complete darkness, they only need 1/6 of the light humans do in order to see. A cat’s eye is structured so that they can see better in low light conditions. The muscles of the cat’s iris surrounding the pupils are arranged in a manner to allow the eye to appear as a narrow, vertical slit in bright light.

While in dim light, the eye fully opens to allow maximum illumination. These features evolved as cats with better night vision made for more successful hunters.

Cats eyes don’t glow in the dark, they reflect light. Here’s how that mysterious glimmer that inspired the Cats logo happens. Right behind the cat’s retina is a reflective layer called the tapetum lucidum. Incoming light reflects off the tapetum lucidum and bounces off the cones. This makes better use of what little light there is and creates those glowing green orbs.

How To Change your cat’s Sleeping habits

image of a cat sleeping on her bed

Let’s say your new cat’s sleep schedule doesn’t mesh with yours. There is a way to help Kitty adjust. If your cat wakes you in the dead of night, the best response may be to do absolutely nothing. If your cat is not getting your attention in any way, she will stop trying to get it. Pay the most attention to your cat just a few hours before bedtime. Give her dinner and play with her until all her energy is burned off.

This will make her more inclined to sleep through the night. You can stimulate her to be awake during the day by leaving a sunny window open for her to look out of and giving her puzzle toys with hidden treats. Whatever you do, don’t punish a cat for something she can’t really help. If all else fails, you could give Kitty her own private room or kennel while you sleep. Just remember to take her out in the morning.

Tips For Getting More Sleep

image of a feline sleeping

Kitty might like being near you for naps, but for a big nightly sleep, she should have her own little cat bed. It should be warm, comfortable and away from your own room. Instead of feeding your cat first thing in the morning, wait until mid morning if you can. You may also want to look into automatic feeders so Kitty can get her own breakfast.

Keep breakfast a light meal and dinner fairly heavy to encourage her to sleep at night. Always remember that even a negative response to a cat’s behavior is giving them attention and stimulation. Don’t give her what she wants and Kitty will modify her behavior.

Conclusion

While cats are naturally adapted for nocturnal or at least very low light conditions, modern house cats have different needs from their wild relatives. The average house cat is most active in the morning and evenings, when the people are most likely to be at home and awake. Cats can see better than humans in low light conditions, but not in total darkness.

If necessary, a cat’s sleeping habits can be changed, though it may take effort and patience. Don’t be too harsh nor reward bad behavior and in time, Kitty’s sleep schedule will sync with yours.

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  • September 1, 2018
Mary Nielsen
 

A huge animal lover, born and raised around dogs, cats, chickens... Self-educated pet care nerd. Currently parent of three adopted cats and one small mutt. Animal adoption advocate. Loves a good book (about animals) and playing the piano.