Are Cats Nocturnal?

Are Cats Nocturnal?

by Scritch

Most of us assume cats are, for lack of a better term, “night owls.” Maybe you’ve seen cats wandering your neighborhood late at night, hunting for prey or even entertainment. Maybe the cat you brought home is bouncing off the walls at all hours of the night. There are many reasons to believe cats are nocturnal, but surprise! They technically aren’t. 

Cats are actually crepuscular, which means they tend to be most active during dusk and dawn hours. Those tend to be the times of day when a cat’s prey is most available, so their waking hours are an evolutionary trait. 

Cats, and the wild cats they descend from, are considered specialized hunters, which means they only hunt for prey a few hours a day. The rest of the day can be a pretty leisurely experience as cats sleep on average 16-20 hours per day (add that to the list of reasons to be jealous of your cat). 

Another reason cats tend to play during the evening hours is because of their exceptional vision. While they cannot see in total darkness, cats can still see with just 1/6 of the light we humans need to see. Cat eyes have a slight shiny green hue, which is known as the tapetum lucidum. The tapetum lucidum is a layer behind your cat’s retina that reflects the light entering the eye. This means cats can powerfully reflect a small amount of light in a room, such as from the streetlights outside or a nightlight, and use that light to see the space around them.

How to get your cat onto your schedule

While cats who live with humans can adopt their owner’s sleeping habits, or something close to them, they still might wake up a bit earlier than you prefer. Your cat can be taught to sleep when you’re asleep at night with a few simple steps.

1. Dinner time! 

Because cats are most active around feeding time, it’s important to schedule their dining habits to align with your preferred sleeping habits. Feed your cat their biggest meal of the day about thirty minutes before you want to go to sleep, so they can exhaust all their running, meowing and other antics. 

2. Don’t engage. 

No matter how adorable he might be, it’s important that you not engage in your cat’s pleas for attention at night if you’re trying to train him to sleep during that time. If your cat gets a response, he will keep it up and never learn. Even just yelling at him or pushing him off the bed will be interpreted as a response by your cat. 

3. Work off their energy during the day. 

Your cat does have a lot of energy though, especially if he’s young. Make sure you’re playing with him throughout the day. Prioritize playtime with toys or a laser pointer so your cat can work off some of that energy during waking hours and hopefully sleep more soundly throughout the night. 

Remember: if your cat does tend to sleep through the night and suddenly begins waking you up loudly at odd hours, it could be a sign of a health condition. Hyperthyroidism, for example, often causes cats to become much more active than normal. If your cat is making a lot of noise at night, it could also be because he’s in pain that makes it hard for him to sleep. Check with your vet to make sure your kitty is in good shape.

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