Are Cats Nocturnal? Not Quite—Here’s What You Need To Know

By: Wendy Rose GouldUpdated:

are cats nocturnal - cat awake at night
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Are Cats Nocturnal? Not Quite—Here’s What You Need To Know

While many cat parents assume cats are nocturnal animals, that’s not quite the case. But wait—then why do they keep us up at night? And why do they nap all day and suddenly come to life once the sun starts setting?

Keep reading to learn more about your cat's sleeping schedule, and what steps you can take to ensure everyone gets a good night’s sleep.

Are Cats Nocturnal Animals?

Our furry friends are not nocturnal, but “crepuscular,” which means they’re most active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk, just as the sun is setting or rising. This is altogether different from both nocturnal (day sleepers) and diurnal (night sleepers).

Why Are Cats Crepuscular?

Twilight activity in cats is an ingrained behavior from their feline predecessors, who relied on catching food during the dawn and dusk hours.

“This is when their favorite prey animals—like mice, rabbits, and possums—would be most active,” explains veterinarian Dr. Evelyn Kass, DVM. “Dawn and dusk would be their prime hunting time if they needed to catch prey to eat.”

They sleep or are restful the rest of the time to conserve energy and restore for the next hunt.

That’s why you might notice your cat tends to get the zoomies as you’re wrapping up dinner, or that they’re pretty active well before you’ve even had a chance to hit snooze on your alarm.

What Time Do Cats Normally Sleep?

Due to their crepuscular behavior, both outdoor and indoor cats tend to nap during the day, becoming active once the sun begins to set—the exact time of which can vary depending on where they live in the world and the time of year. Cats will also sleep at night once it’s very dark.

Wild cats tend to keep these sleeping habits more than domestic cats, since they rely on catching their food at dusk and dawn.

“A domestic cat’s normal sleep cycle includes some sleep at night, but since cats will also sleep when bored, many cats will sleep through the night with you,” Dr. Kass says. “Because frankly, you are pretty boring when you are sleeping.”

How Much Do Cats Sleep?

Cats are very good sleepers and need a good amount every day to function at their best.

  • Younger cats and kittens: up to 20 hours of sleep per day
  • Adult cats (ages 3-10): 13-16 hours of sleep per day
  • Senior cats (age 11+): up to 20 hours of sleep per day

“Sleep is not only essential, it is restorative and important for normal cognitive function; immune and hormonal health; healing; and repair,” says Dr. Kass.

What to Do If Your Cat Is Keeping You Up at Night

While this crepuscular sleeping schedule is useful for today’s wild cats who still need to catch their dinner and breakfast, it’s not exactly ideal for pet parents trying to catch some shut eye. Some domestic cats will learn to sleep with their owners at night, but others will remain interactive by meowing, trying to engage in play sessions or pawing at your bedroom door. (It's cute, but also not so great when you’ve got that early morning meeting.)

We’ve got some good news for those of you who are desperate for a good night’s sleep: You can shift your cat’s sleep patterns for a better cohabitation experience.

“While we all need sleep—some more than others—cats in a household can be stimulated to be awake at times when their humans are active or when they are fed, or when another pet plays with or annoys them,” Dr. Kass says.

Follow these steps to help shift your cat’s sleeping schedule to one that’s better for everyone:

Keep your cat stimulated during the day.

are cats nocturnal - cat playing with puzzle game

via chewy.com

One way to keep your cat mentally and physically stimulated during the day is with puzzles toys. Typically, these are puzzles that you hide pieces of kibble or treats in, and your cat has to figure out how to access the treat.

“Cat food puzzle toys are a great way to mimic some of their natural hunting behaviors, stimulate much needed brain activity and even burn off some energy,” Dr. Kass says.

Nina Ottosson Petstages Buggin' Out Puzzle & Play Cat Toy
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Cat Amazing Interactive Treat Maze & Puzzle Cat Toy
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OurPets Sushi Treat Dispensing Puzzle Dog & Cat Toy
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Play together just before bed.

are cats nocturnal - playtime with laser toy

iStock.com/lafar

Similarly, when you notice the sun setting, go in extra hard with some play time! Having them chase a teaser toy. Or play a game of laser tag. It's a great way to satisfy a cat’s hunting instinct so they can sleep well once you tuck into bed yourself.

Litterbox.com Rechargeable Laser Pointer Cat Toy
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Frisco Bird with Feathers Teaser Wand Cat Toy with Catnip, Blue
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Pixar Mike Wazowski & Sulley Teaser Cat Toy with Catnip
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Turn the lights off at night.

are cats nocturnal - cat rubbing against lamp

iStock.com/piranka

If the lights are on—even low light—this is an invitation to go adventuring around the house. Once the sun sets, keep the lights off in your home to invite your kitty to get some rest. (Unless you have a senior cat with vision loss who needs light to navigate their way around the home.)

Maintain a consistent feeding schedule.

are cats nocturnal - cat eating food

iStock.com/ChristopherBernard

Keeping a consistent meal schedule can help reset your cat’s active and sleep cycles. For example, give them breakfast and dinner at the same time you eat—or an hour after waking up and before going to bed—and try not to waver from the schedule.

Try a timed feeder.

are cats nocturnal - cat eating from timed feeder

via chewy.com

If your cat still wakes you up for food in the night or early morning hours, Dr. Kass recommends an automatic feeder that can be set to dispense food at the times your cat prefers.  This Automatic Two-Cat Feeder from Petlibro is easy to set up and program, plus it keeps your cat's food fresh and tasty.

Petlibro Granary Automatic Cat Feeder with Camera
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Petdiary Automatic Dog & Cat Feeder, White, Medium
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Frisco Automatic Cat & Dog Feeder, White, 13.5 Cup
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Whatever you do, Dr. Kass recommends against responding to unwanted behavior during nighttime hours. This tends to stimulate them, which causes the issue to persist.

The Takeaway

Knowing that cats are crepuscular animals is a fun bit of trivia you can bring up the next time the topic of cat behavior comes up! Meanwhile, keep your house cat happy and healthy by:

  • Making sure they’re getting enough cuddle time
  • Providing mental and physical stimulation
  • Having a routine feeding schedule

For further reading, check out these tips to ensure your cat is not sleeping too much during the day.

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By: Wendy Rose GouldUpdated:

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