Getting enough sleep can be challenging enough on its own, which is why it can be so frustrating and confusing when our cats decide the middle of the night is the perfect time to sit on our heads, poke us, attack our toes, or just meow loudly in our faces until we wake up. Why can't they just let us sleep? Why are they even awake?
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Here are a few reasons your cat might be waking you up in the middle of the night, or the wee hours of the morning.
Your cat has a different sleep schedule than you do
Cats are naturally crepuscular animals (which means they are awake and active between dawn and sunrise). In the wild, cats will rest during the day and hunt during the night and wee hours of the morning. This "schedule" of sorts was developed in crepuscular animals to avoid predators during the day. If you notice your cat sleeping most of the day, and playing or hunting at night, this is most likely the reason. Since your cat is eager to burn off their hunting energy, they might decide to get their favorite playmate (you) in on the fun!
Creatures of habit
Not only are your cats nighttime creatures, but they are truly creatures of habit. Observe your cat: do you notice they tend to nap at a certain time, and know exactly when it's dinner time? It's because they have a set schedule, and sometimes that can be hard to break. If you give them breakfast first thing when you wake up, they might wake you up at the same time every morning (or sooner) because they know it's breakfast time.
In some cases, your cat might be sick
If your cat recently began waking you up when they haven't in the past, this could be an indication that they are sick or physically uncomfortable. Waking you up in the middle of the night with friskiness, crying or other sickly behavior could be a symptom of toothache, arthritis, hyperthyroidism, or high blood pressure. If you suspect that your cat might be sick, take them to your vet so they can diagnose your cat and suggest helpful ways to deal with your midnight feline.
How to stop your cat from waking you up in the middle of the night
If you suspect your cat might be sick or not feeling well, call the vet to schedule an appintment immediately. If not, here's what to do:
First, make sure to keep your cat active during the day, so they are tired out at night. Play with them throughout the day for at least two 15-minute sessions, and provide toys they can play with during the day to keep them stimulated. If you notice they still get frisky at night, try to schedule an hour long play session with them right before bed. Use toys that tend to get them running and leaping. This will help tire them out enough before bed to get them to sleep through the night.
If your cat has gotten used to demanding food from you in the morning, make sure you do not reward this behavior. The best way to communicate that waking you up in the middle of the night is not going to be tolerated is to ignore them. Even responding by pushing them away or saying "no" gives them the attention they are seeking and they know that if they continue to poke you and meow at you that they are waking you up. Your cat might continue this behavior with more gusto because it was previously rewarded (also known as an extinction burst). However, if you persist in not rewarding this bad behavior, it should eventually stop. If you are able to shut them outside of your bedroom, that is ideal because it won't give them direct contact with you.
Keeping your cat active during the day, as well as not rewarding annoying behaviors like waking you up in the middle of the night, should work well in the fight against wake-up calls at inhumane hours of the morning.