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Are Cats Nocturnal?

If you're used to noisy nightly adventures, you likely assumed that cats are nocturnal. Yes they do spend a good portion of their day sleeping and are active in the evening, but can't aren't truly nocturnal. Have you ever heard of crepuscular animals? We explain the difference and explain how to adjust your home for you feline's nightly activities.

Tara Maurer holding cat smiling

Last Updated: October 3, 2023 | 6 min read

Cat near the night window

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You’re in bed, about to drift off to sleep, when suddenly there’s a crash in the other room. You bolt upright, imagining the worst. After getting out of bed, you switch on the light and walk down the hallway to find the source of the noise. Standing there, looking as innocent as can be, is your cat.

They blink at you, flick the tip of their tail, and dart down the hall to continue their night of fun. We know our felines are active at night, but are they truly nocturnal?

We’ll tell you everything you need to know about your cat’s sleeping habits and how to adjust your home for their nightly activities.

Animal Activity Around The Clock

Throughout the animal kingdom, animals have different periods of activity. The time partitioning animal display during this cycle is classified into four groups:

  • Diurnal: Active during the day and asleep at night. Examples include humans, raptors, squirrels, lizards, turtles, most birds, and butterflies.
  •  Crepuscular: Active at dawn and dusk. Subdivisions of crepuscular animals are matutinal (active in the morning) and vespertine (active at sunset). Examples include rabbits, deer, mice, rats, beavers, hummingbirds, rattlesnakes, mosquitos, bees (matutinal), and moths (vespertine).
  •  Nocturnal: Asleep during the day and active at night. Nocturnal animals include foxes, nighthawks, porcupines, badgers, skunks, bats, raccoons, and most owls.
  •  Cathemeral: Animals with no discernible pattern of waking and sleeping. These animals include bobcats, cougars, coyotes, mountain goats, black bears, and frogs.

Some animals, like humans, take advantage of daylight hours; however, according to National Geographic, about 70 percent of mammals sleep during the day and are active at night. An animal’s wakefulness depends on various factors, including temperature, light levels, humidity, prey activity, and predator avoidance.

Animals can adjust their behavior based on their habitat. For example, a diurnal animal may become crepuscular during part of the year to avoid extreme heat. In the case of housecats, your furry friend may alter their natural activity and rest periods to match the schedule of their companion human better.

Cats: Crepuscular vs Cathemeral

While some animals are easily placed into one activity class, experts debate where to put the housecat. Despite their evening activities, housecats are not nocturnal.

Many experts say the housecat is crepuscular—most active during twilight, at dusk and dawn. This makes sense. Many cats are active in the morning and sleep the day away, only getting the zoomies after sunset.

In the wild, cats are crepuscular. However, domestic cats have adapted to their owners’ schedules and may be more active when their owners are awake.

You may have noticed that your cat isn’t sleeping all day or all night. Instead, they might take short naps throughout the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle, with periods of activity during the daytime and nighttime hours. For this reason, other experts argue that housecats are cathemeral—able to switch back and forth between periods of activity and rest. One study observed that cats were just as likely to be awake during the day as at night and that their activity pattern depended on their age, sex, and whether they were indoor or outdoor felines.

I found that my cats became more active during the day after I began working from home. I noticed they would sleep all day when I started working from home. Now, they tend to follow me around and spend more time playing and requesting pets. I never hear them at night, and they only start meowing once my alarm goes off.

Whether your cat is crepuscular or cathemeral, it’s essential to provide them with plenty of opportunities for play and exercise. Scratching posts, robotic toys, and puzzle feeders are all great ways to keep your cat entertained while you are away.

Preparing For Bedtime

Young woman with her cat using smartphone in bed in her cozy bedroom at night

While some of us are lucky enough to have cats that generously agree to adjust to our schedules, others aren’t so fortunate. You’ll need to practice a few bedtime preparations to ensure you get plenty of quality sleep.

Plan For End-Of-Day Playtime

Just before you go to bed, lead your cat in a fifteen-minute interactive play session. Interactive play requires you to participate in a game with your cat. This type of play encourages plenty of movement and is also a great way to bond with your kitty and correct behavioral problems.

The key is getting them moving and releasing built-up energy before bedtime.

Here are some interactive play ideas:

  • Blow catnip bubbles. Many cats experience a euphoric sensation after inhaling catnip. If catnip affects your cat, they will experience an active or passive response. Research indicates that 2/3 of cats respond to catnip. Of these cats, 20 percent display an active response, which includes rolling over, hyperactivity, and vocalizations, while 80 percent show a passive response and will become relaxed and incredibly calm after eating or sniffing catnip. The effects of catnip last for around 10 minutes. These bubbles by Meowijuana blend catnip and honeysuckle, both of which can give your cat the zoomies and release energy before bedtime. Just blow the bubbles and let your cat run after them.
  •  Wave a wand toy. Fishing-pole-type toys allow you greater control to create preylike movements that your cat will love. Wand toys are a great way to get your cats running, jumping, pouncing, and chasing. My all-time favorite wand toy is Da Bird by GoCat. This fishing pole-style toy has a swivel device at the end of the string where the feathers connect. As you move the wand, the feathers spin around, simulating the look and sound of a bird. My cats go crazy for it.
  •  Use other teaser toys. Like wand toys, teasers encourage your cat to hunt their “prey” for mental and physical stimulation. Try covering various prey types, including snakes, mice, and insects. My cats love the original Cat Dancer toy, made of spring steel wire and rolled cardboard. As the 35,000 reviews on Amazon suggest, cats go crazy for it.
  •  Try a laser toy. Try a laser toy for an interactive toy that requires minimal movement from the owner. You can sit down while pointing the laser all around the room. At the end of laser play, you’ll want to end the game with an actual interactive toy so that your cat gets the sensation of capturing their prey. This will leave your cat feeling happy and confident.
  •  Play fetch. If your cat can play fetch, incorporate this activity into their nighttime routine.

As with any interactive toy, the key is to keep the toy out of your cat’s reach. This is a make-believe hunt, so you want to love the toy away from your cat to trigger their prey drive. Don’t just dangle the toy in front of them. Have the toy run for cover, moving into hiding places. Eventually, let your cat catch the toy and then gradually get it away.

You’ll want a warm-up, an all-out activity, and a cool-down where they capture and “kill” the prey.

Feed Your Cat On A Schedule

Rather than free-feeding your cat, divide meal times so your kitty’s final portion will be given right before bedtime. After releasing the pent-up energy during playtime, follow with the day’s last meal. This late meal will hopefully make your kitty feel relaxed and sleepy.

Use Puzzle Feeders Or Special Toys In The Evening

For extra rowdy cats, use puzzle feeders or other toys in the evening. Activity toys and puzzle feeders are a great way to keep your cat busy when you’re headed to bed. Place the toys around your home, away from your bedroom, to reduce noise. Keep these toys stored during the day so it’s a special treat for your cat in the evening.

Leave The Curtains Open

Keep the curtains open and place a window hammock or cat tree in the window so your cat can explore the nightly activity of the neighborhood. Think of it as your cat’s TV. They can watch birds and insects, monitor the street, and keep track of evening happenings.

Shut Your Bedroom Door

Keep your cat out of the bedroom to ensure you’re getting quality, uninterrupted sleep. Be consistent with your nighttime routine so your cat understands that your bedroom isn’t a play area.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are Cats More Active At Night?

If your cat started as a stray or spends significant time outside, they are more likely to be active at night. This activity is expected due to their instinct to hunt. A cat’s prey is more active in the evening, so they’ve adapted to be active then.

Why Is My Indoor Cat Displaying Nocturnal Behavior?

While it’s a cat’s instinct to hunt during twilight hours, many other factors increase your cat’s nocturnal behavior, including boredom, hunger, health conditions, and old age. Create a bedtime routine with playtime and meals to combat boredom and hunger. If your cat hates being alone, review our tips for supporting an anxious or lonely cat. Finally, consult with your veterinarian to rule out additional health problems.

Final Thoughts

While you may feel that getting up will stop your cat’s nocturnal behaviors, the best thing you can do is ignore this behavior as much as possible. Any attention will be seen as a reward, and your feline will learn to stay awake for attention or food. Are you curious about other feline sleeping habits? Learn why kitties twitch in their sleep or sleep with their face covered.

Kittens eating from feeding bowl on the floor

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