Are Cats Nocturnal? Why Your Cat Is An Asshole At Night

Have you noticed that your cat is more active and playful during the night, climbing on furniture, running amuck, and generally being a jerk? This can be extremely annoying and make it hard to get a good night’s sleep.

But why is your cat being such an asshole at night? Is it because cats are nocturnal?

Cats are not nocturnal, but they are crepuscular meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. This pattern of wakefulness, along with their excellent night vision and keen sense of hearing, is an evolutionary adaptation to take advantage of twilight conditions to hunt and to avoid predators. 

If you’re tired of being woken up in the middle of the night by your cat’s antics or simply want to learn more about its behavior, then this article is for you. Read on to learn more about your cat’s nighttime naughtiness and tips on how to help your cat sleep at night.

Are Cats Nocturnal?

Nocturnal animals are awake at night and sleep during the day. They have adapted to the dark and have special senses that let them find food or move around in the dark.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines nocturnal as: “Of, relating to, or occurring in the night; active at night; specifically: adapted to or characterized by activity during the night and especially the hours of darkness” (source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nocturnal).

Thus, by definition, cats are not nocturnal. While they may occasionally wake up and wreak havoc at different times of the night, if you pay close attention you will notice that they are actually at their most active at dusk and dawn.

Cats are Crepuscular, Not Nocturnal

The behavior of being most active during twilight hours (dusk and dawn) is called “crepuscular”. Cats have several adaptations that make them especially well-suited for crepuscular behavior.

Cats have incredible vision, even in low light conditions, thanks to a reflective layer behind their retina called the tapetum lucidum. This allows cats to see clearly in lower light levels than humans can – up to six times better!

Cats also have excellent hearing, so they can easily identify potential prey and predators when light is dim. All these senses come into play when cats are out hunting and playing at night.

orange tabby sleeping on a green blanket

Why Are Cats More Active At Night?

So why does your cat tend to be more active at night?

Like the evolution of their excellent night vision and hearing, this behavior is an evolutionary adaptation designed to take advantage of low-light conditions. Being crepuscular, or active during the hours of dawn and dusk, can provide several advantages for animals.

Crepuscular animals like cats benefit from reduced visibility during twilight hours as the sun is at a low angle and creates long shadows, making it harder for predators to spot their prey. This makes it easier for cats to avoid other predators that would hunt them.

Being active during dawn and dusk allows animals to access food resources that may not be available during the day or night. Some small animals like mice are more active during these times, so it’s to the cat’s benefit to be most active at these times as well.

Finally, being active during the cooler hours of the day can also help animals survive by avoiding the heat of the midday sun. This is particularly beneficial for animals who live in hot climates.

Cats have evolved to have tools that make them well-suited to hunting in low-light conditions, such as their acute vision. They have a well-developed tapetum lucidum, which is a reflective layer behind their retina that helps them see better in the dark.

They also have highly sensitive whiskers, which help them navigate in the dark, and a keen sense of smell that can help them locate prey even when it’s not visible.

While cats may be active during the night as well, this is often due to factors such as boredom or a lack of stimulation during the day.

Cat Sleeping Behavior

In general, cats tend to sleep for 12-16 hours per day, with the majority of their sleep occurring in short naps. These naps can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the cat’s age, activity level, and environment.

Cats are also known for their ability to quickly fall into a deep sleep. During this deep sleep, cats may appear to be completely relaxed, but can still be easily awakened by sudden noises or movements. This is because their sense of hearing and smell remain “on” even while they are sleeping.

Interestingly, cats’ sleep patterns can be affected by their environment and their relationship with their owners.

For example, cats who live in homes with lots of activity and noise may be more likely to sleep during the day and be active at night when the home is quiet. Additionally, cats who have a strong bond with their owners may adjust their sleep patterns to be more in sync with their owners’ schedules.

What Do Cats Do At Night?

At night, what cats get up to is influenced by their personalities and environment. While they typically sleep during the deepest part of the night, they may not sleep the whole night through.

Some of the typical behaviors that cats exhibit during nighttime include:

  • Hunting: Cats are natural predators. Outdoor cats often take advantage of the low light and relative safety of twilight to hunt for small prey. Indoor cats will also engage in this behavior when they can – spiders beware!
  • Exploring: Cats are curious creatures and may spend their time exploring their surroundings. They may roam around the house or yard, checking out new smells and sights. Outdoor cats will stray farther afield, searching out new territory to explore.
  • Playing: Some cats are more active at night than during the day and may engage in playtime during the nighttime hours. This could involve chasing toys, climbing on furniture, and chasing and play-fighting with other cats in the household.
  • Sleeping: Despite their reputation for being active at night, many cats do still sleep during nighttime hours. However, they may be more likely to take short naps rather than sleep for extended periods.
brown tabby cat excited to be playing

How To Manage Your Cat’s Nighttime Activity

You can’t change the fact that your cat is crepuscular. Its very nature dictates that it will be more active during the night. However, there are steps you can take to ensure your cat’s nighttime activity doesn’t become a nuisance.

If you’re looking to reduce your cat’s nighttime activity, there are a few things you can try:

  1. Playtime during the day: Make sure your cat is getting enough physical and mental stimulation during the day. This will help tire them out and encourage them to sleep more at night. Encouraging your cat to vigorously play between supper and bedtime will help tire them out, which will help them be ready to sleep sooner rather than later.
  2. Feeding schedule: All animals sleep better on a full stomach. Try feeding your cat their last meal of the day just before bedtime. This can help them feel fuller and more content, encouraging them to sleep through the night.
  3. Sleeping area: Make sure your cat has a comfortable, cozy sleeping area that is quiet and dark. This will help them feel more relaxed and encourage them to sleep more soundly.
  4. Bedtime routine: Establish a bedtime routine with your cat to help them wind down before sleep. This could include a gentle grooming session or some quiet snuggling time.

I have also noticed that light seems to factor into the nighttime activity levels of my own two cats.

If I leave any light on in the house during the night, their playing and running around the house will extend for several hours past my bedtime.

However, if all the lights are turned off and the house is completely dark, they usually settle down soon after I go to bed.

This likely reflects the fact that cats, while having good night vision, cannot actually see in total dark.

If you’re having trouble getting your cat to settle down at night, try reducing the amount of light in the house and see if this helps.

Create A Cat-Free Sleep Environment

If you have a cat allergy or want undisrupted sleep, it is important to create an environment where cats are not allowed in during sleeping hours.

If you aren’t able to modify your cat’s sleep-awake-play schedule to match your own sleep needs, then consider making your bed a cat-free sleep environment.

Here are some tips for keeping your cat out of your bed or bedroom. Your chances of success will vary depending on your cat’s stubbornness and your own willpower (I’ll be the first to admit, my cats win most of our arguments).

two kittens playing

Close your bedroom door

The simplest way to keep your cat out of your bedroom is to close the door. You can try using a white noise machine or earplugs to block out the sound if your cat scratches at the door or meows loudly.

You can also try placing a deterrent in front of your closed door, such as tin foil or a deterrent mat on the floor, or a fan blowing air across the front of the door.

Use a cat deterrent

You can use cat deterrents to keep your cat away from specific areas of your house, such as your bedroom.

One type of cat deterrent is motion-activated sprays. These devices detect motion and release a burst of air, sound, or scent to startle the cat and discourage it from approaching the area.

Another type of cat deterrent is alarms. These alarms emit a loud noise that scares the cat away from the area. They are useful for outdoor spaces or gardens, where you don’t want cats to dig or scratch. You probably don’t want to use a noisy alarm in your bedroom though!

You can also use natural cat deterrents, such as citrus fruits. Simply place some orange or lemon peel in those areas as cats usually dislike this scent.

Please keep in mind that cat deterrents must not be utilized for causing harm or injury to cats. They should only be employed as a mild technique for redirecting cats away from particular areas.

Create a comfortable sleeping area for your cat

To prevent your cat from sleeping in your bed, you can offer them a comfortable sleeping spot of their own, such as a cozy cat bed, crate, or designated sleeping area in a different room.

I have two heated cat beds in my house that both get frequent use. Both of my cats would much rather spend their nights sleeping in these beds than in my bed!

silhouette of a cat sitting on a tree limb in front of a full moon

Provide plenty of entertainment

Cats are less likely to bother you at night if they have plenty of toys and entertainment to keep them occupied. Consider providing your cat with puzzle toys, scratchers, or interactive playthings to keep them busy.

Ensure that your cat has sufficient toys to keep them occupied throughout the night. Interactive toys like puzzle feeders can keep them busy and entertained while you sleep. You can also provide scratching posts or cat trees for them to climb on, which can help satisfy their natural instincts.

You can also try creating a specific play zone in a separate room where your cat can freely play, jump, and run without disturbing you. Provide plenty of toys, cat furniture, and scratching posts to keep them busy. If they are being confined to this room, make sure that they also have comfortable bedding and access to fresh water and a litter box.

In Summary

So there you have it: cats are not nocturnal, but instead are crepuscular and tend to be more active during the periods of twilight at dawn and dusk. This behavior is a result of an evolutionary adaptation that helps them utilize the low light and safer conditions during those times.

If your cat is keeping you up at night, there are several strategies you can use to try and keep them out of your bedroom. These include closing the door, using a cat deterrent, providing a comfortable sleeping area for your cat, and giving them plenty of entertainment to keep them busy while you sleep.

With some patience and perseverance, these strategies should help keep your cat out of your bedroom so you can get a peaceful night’s sleep. Good luck!

grey cat sleeping with its head on its paws

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins, DVM, PhD

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.

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