Train Your Cat To Sleep Through The Night
Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Cats have an adorable ability to do exactly as they please while simultaneously thriving on routine. They appear to be self sufficient yet they rub up against us and need our attention for pets, treats or second breakfast. They know how to work the system to get what they want. They’re like teenagers who want freedom but also want money for the movies.
Cats are survivalists and wild at heart. So how can we tame the beast within to sleep when we do? Afterall, it shouldn’t be that hard. They sleep 16-20 hours a day. Certainly they can sleep when we sleep. But then why is this often not the case? You may be familiar. Your cat goes to sleep around the time you do and then at 3:00 am or 4:00 am they decide it’s time to get up. Maybe they paw at the door, meow, run around, jump on you, give you love bites or eat your hair. They don’t really take no for an answer. They’re ready to party and you’re invited!
A CAT'S NATURAL SLEEPING HABITS
To put a little science in the mix, cats are crepuscular animals which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. Their vision is best at this time and the animals they hunt are also awake, so it makes sense. If your cat wakes you up everyday at 6:00 am wide eyed and ready to party, then that’s pretty normal. But if they’re waking you up at 3:00 am or 4:00 am, something else might be going on. You can train your cat to let you sleep a little later than 6:00 am but unless you’re leaving out a bowl of kibble (I don’t recommend this), you’re probably not going to be able to sleep undisturbed until 10:00 am. If your cat lets you sleep until 10:00 am, consider yourself very lucky! If you suspect there could be something else going on, take your cat to the veterinarian. There may be a medical reason that your cat is waking up during the night.
CHANGING YOUR PERSPECTIVE
When it comes to cat care, I always try to think of it from a cat’s perspective. Then I take reality into consideration, like the fact that both Rich and I work full time. This is the case for many people so you can probably relate. Too often we try to make things “easier for us” instead of “better for our cats”. When we start by making it “better for our cats” it will often become “easier for us”. Solving issues generally happens when we change our perspective. Because cats can be such mysterious creatures, looking at it from their point of view is key.
Mikita sleeps with us every night. For him, there is no door to paw at when he wants us to get up. He’s able to paw, pounce and chew on my hair, if we don’t get up when he’s ready. Cats associate sounds with certain things that will happen. For many people, the alarm clock is a signal to their cat that it’s time to get up and eat! If you’re like me and hit snooze, your cat will likely paw at you until you get up. Mikita will remind me that the alarm went off and if I don’t get up, he’ll leave me alone for a few minutes before he starts increasing his reminders.
WE WORKED WITH MIKITA
Every once in a while Mikita wants to party at 4:00 am but for the most part, he sleeps until our 6:15 am, weekday alarm. We trained Mikita to sleep when we sleep, but it took consistent efforts. We’ve made a lot of progress since adopting him in December 2014. It isn’t just any one thing. Making several changes should lead to a full night's sleep. Consistency and persistence is key because changes don’t typically happen without some dedication. Let's dive in!
Free feeding goes against a cat's natural eating habits. The fix? Establish mealtimes. Portion those meals and put away the leftovers if they don't finish within 20 minutes. You may have to work up to that by giving your cat several small meals a day at first with the goal of 2-4 meals a day. Read more about establishing mealtimes in THE TRANSITION GUIDE. Cats are not meant to graze. We may think they like snacking all the time but the truth is, they end up eating out of boredom, just because it's there. Some cats do well with two meals a day. Some enjoy having an extra snack or two. Try serving up a late night snack. If that doesn’t work, shift dinner an hour. Get creative. You may have to adjust several things before finding the perfect balance. Regardless, get into a good routine. When a cat knows what to expect, they are far less likely to wake you up in the middle of the night.
ENRICHING YOUR HOME
Take a look around your home. What kind of enrichment do you have? Toys, scratching posts, cat tree, shelves, perches, areas to climb, accessible windows? Is your cat actually using these items? Enrichment only works if your cat is engaging in their space. Make sure you’re providing plenty of places for your cat to explore. Vertical space is very important. This can be cat furniture or even just your own furniture that is accessible for your cat to jump on. If they’re not using the items you’ve provided them, there could be some reasons why.
They think the item you bought for them isn’t for them. It’s not appealing. For example, I’ve learned that most cats like to have the option to stretch tall when scratching a post. If their post isn’t tall enough or the material isn’t appealing, the couch might seem like a more appropriate option to them. We use The Ultimate Scratching Post. Mikita loves it!
They may not have been properly introduced to their furniture and other items. Yes, I formally introduce our cat, Mikita to all new items. I often have to re-introduce him to them if for some reason he stopped using them. Reinforcing your cat’s good behavior by giving treats on or near scratching posts and perches will create positive association. It’s one way they “get to know” their items.
Another possible reason your cat isn’t using his furniture is because it’s in the wrong location. Maybe their scratching post is somewhere out of the way and... boring. Notice your cats morning habits. Mikita loves to go to the windows. We’ve worked to make it inviting for Mikita by providing a window perch, a bench, a cat tree and a basket with a couple stuffed animals. Mikita likes to “make biscuits” there. More on that later.
My point is, pay attention to the areas in your house that your cat likes to be. Make those areas even more “cat friendly”. Add a little at a time and don’t forget to introduce new scratching posts and other cat furniture with the help of treats, toys and catnip. A surprise treat or new catnip toy for him to discover will be exciting! If it’s not working in one place, move it to another area. Remember, your cats world is your home. The walls around him are all he has. He needs to be able to entertain himself at times. You’re probably his best friend. Make sure his world is exciting for him!
HUNT WITH YOUR CAT
Domestic cats haven’t lost their ability or drive to hunt. Hunting with your cat is a great way to satisfy their stalker and hunter needs. It’s also a great way to wear them out so that they have a better chance of sleeping through the night. In addition to giving your cat attention, they need playtime. In the evening, 20-30 minutes of playtime with your cat before bed and a little before dinner can be enough to exhaust them. If your cat is a kitten, they’ll obviously need more playtime! When we get home from work, Mikita wants to be held. He also likes to hang out on shoulders, give head boops, scratch his post and run down the hallway and launch onto his window seat or cat tree. He’s been alone all day. We make sure to give him some attention when we get home, before we prepare his dinner. Most days we also do “treat time”. I like to have him “sit”, “give a paw” etc. Rich prefers to send Mikita on a scavenger hunt for treats. We keep it interesting by also using treat puzzles.
After dinner we bring out some toys, often including his cat tube. The moment it hits the floor, he flies through the tube. For many, it works better to have heavy playtime right before dinner. We don’t play with every toy everyday. We like to put most toys away during the day and take them out in the evening. We rotate them so he doesn’t get bored. Wand style toys are great for “prey like” pouncing. Be patient. It may take a few minutes for your cat to engage. But once he does, he’ll have so much fun catching it! If your evening routine consists of some playtime with a variety of toys, it’s definitely part of the puzzle when hoping for a full night’s sleep.
WHAT WAS THAT BASKET ALL ABOUT?
Remember that basket of stuffed animals we keep by the window I mentioned? Well, I say this because every cat seems to have their own quirks. It’s our job to indulge them. We noticed early on that Mikita likes to make biscuits, which quickly turns into well… humping. So I had the thought of giving him a stuffed animal, Sparky. At first Mikita just wanted to attack Sparky and roll around on the floor with him but he soon realized that Sparky could offer so much more. We put Sparky in a basket along with another stuffed animal, Musher. I’m not sure why I’m giving you their names. Anyway, Mikita loves his “basket of furriends.” He goes in there almost daily. When it’s quiet and we’re wondering where he is, it’s one of the first places we look. Sometimes he’ll spend 10-15 minutes in there "making biscuits"!
FOOD IS FUEL
Consider what you are feeding. When a body is fueled by good, species appropriate food, it sleeps better, it runs more efficiently, it heals faster. Dry food for cats contains a lot of unnecessary carbs. Cats don’t actually need carbs at all. Dry food is inflammatory and difficult for them to process. Cats fed a high carb diet are often left feeling hungry within a few hours after they ate. Even most grain free food is packed with carbs. “Grain Free” is a marketing term used to convince consumers that a food is healthier for cats. A kibble with grain (ex. corn, wheat) or a “grain free” kibble (ex. lentils, pea protein), is still packed with carbohydrates. So, if you are leaving out a bowl of kibble for your cat, stop. Cats by nature do not graze. Meals should be quick and to the point. Hunt, kill, eat, groom, sleep. If you feel kibble is your only option, consider hiding a small treat puzzle for your cat to find instead of leaving the bowl out. The idea is to feed as much moisture rich animal protein as possible. Canned is good, raw is best. If you’re interested in improving your cats diet, whether you want to feed raw or just explore other options, visit the Transition Guide or the Nutrition FAQs.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Consistency is one of the most powerful ways we can achieve success. Mikita didn't sleep through the night when we first adopted him. But we spent time listening to his needs and did our best to address them. Every cat is different but most cats thrive on a routine. By enriching your home, establishing mealtimes, playing with them before bed, considering a late night snack and getting creative, your cat will be all tuckered out when it's time to turn off the lights. Within time, they'll hopefully allow you to sleep through the night. Good luck my furriends!