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Are Cats Nocturnal? (Or Do They Just Enjoy Midnight Zoomies?)

Posted in: Cat Care - Last Updated: January 29, 2024 - Author: Dexter Jones
Posted in Cat Care 
Last Updated: October 24, 2022  
Author:  Dexter Jones

One of the most commonly thrown-around myths, when it comes to house cats and other felines, is that they are nocturnal creatures similar to that owls and bats. 

Do they need much sleep and why does their nocturnal activity or night-time behavior seem to go a bit crazy?  

I think most of us pet parents have all experienced the kitty 'zoomies' at 3 am! 

are cats nocturnal

And it's a pretty longstanding pervasive myth that isn't helped all that much by many cat owners noticing their furry friend romping around in the middle of the night! 

Kitties do indeed spend good portions of the night being active, but that's only part of the story. Like any myth, certain aspects are true and legitimate, however many of these truths are either misunderstood or misinterpreted. 

The truth is that, while cats do often find themselves up in the later part of the day, it's not because they're nocturnal, rather, it's because they're crepuscular.

What Is Crepuscular?

Like many wild animals, the feline species is filled with many complexities, a cat's sleeping schedule being chief among them. In this case, crepuscular animals are animals that hunt primarily during dusk and dawn timeframes. 

This translates to spending the majority of their time active around the late evening hours and early morning.

Cats and other felines have developed this crepuscular nighttime activity tendency as an evolutionary trait to best maximize their hunting prospects while also greatly minimizing their exposure to different predators that may in turn hunt them. 

It is because of this that many people are under the impression that their cat, that was awake when they went to sleep and still awake when they first woke up, is nocturnal and had been awake that entire time. 

In reality, there was a fair amount of time between them going to sleep and waking up when their cat woke up, had its playtime, went back to sleep, and woke up again.

The reason this is such a strange concept for humans is that, not only are they diurnal (awake primarily in the day and asleep at night) but humans generally in one large setting while cats are known to space their sleep out throughout the day.

are cats nocturnal animals

Are There Any Cats That Are Nocturnal?

In most cases, cats largely follow the crepuscular sleep pattern. However, it's also true that some cats may appear to be up longer throughout the twilight hours than during the day. 

Kittens, for example, tend to spend more time awake and active during the nighttime hours compared to the day due to them growing and developing as they mature. 

Similarly, cats who have owners that work later in the day or have more nocturnal lifestyles will generally notice that their pets will progressively adapt to that method of sleeping, spending more time awake at night with their owners even if they'd normally be asleep.

All in all, while there are many foundational points about cats, it's also true that each cat is different and that there is no 100% established rule that every cat will abide by.

Domesticated Cats Vs Wild Cats

When it comes to sleep habits and a cat's sleeping schedule, while there are certainly going to be some slight differences between the two breeds, the truth is that both wild and domestic cats sleep in primarily the same way. 

This is just as true for your domesticated tabby as it is for the feral stray as well as the wild bobcat or lion.

Big cats, in particular, are known for hunting almost exclusively during the nighttime hours. Interestingly, some animals do slightly fall away from this.

Tigers, as an example, are generally regarded as exclusively nocturnal animals, a far cry from animals like the lion, which similarly follows the crepuscular sleep schedule.

What are Catnaps?

So, if it's true that cats are largely crepuscular animals, and spend the bulk of their time awake at dusk until dawn, why is it also true that you're likely to see your cat active in the middle of the day or well into the night? 

The reason for this is the infamous catnaps.

As mentioned earlier, humans are largely diurnal animals. 

This means that we often put all of our sleep into one big 8-hour clump to get it over with all at once. 

This isn't the same with cats. For them, instead, they will split their sleep time into small amounts in the daytime hours either in light catnaps or short deep rests.

The reason for this is that, because of the nature of their hunting practices, cats need to expend large amounts of energy along short bursts of super intense activity. 

The way for them to regain and conserve this energy is through said catnaps, where they will immediately burn through this energy when hunting.

cats nocturnal

This is also a clear sign that cats aren't nocturnal, as just as humans spend large portions of the night sleeping while operating primarily in the day, nocturnal animals similarly sleep for long stretches in the day before being active entirely during the night.

Ways To Train Your Cat To Sleep At Night

Medication is not necessary to have your cat sleep at night the way you would, depending on some pets, it can be very stressful to have a cat running around and making noise while you're trying to sleep. 

In those instances, you may want to respect their biological instincts, but you also don't want to sacrifice your sleep to do so.

Luckily, though you won't be able to do it fully, it is possible to train your cat to spend more of its sleeping time at night rather than sporadically throughout the day.

Step 1. Make Sure They're Busy During The Day

The first thing you have to realize is that your cat isn't staying up because it's playtime

Many of them, are simply following their biological drives of resting more during daytime hours before spending time at night to be active. 

To better offset this issue, consider keeping your cat active during the day. 

This process will suitably exhaust them enough so that, when the nighttime rolls around, they'll be more than ready to head to sleep along with you.

Step 2. Keep A Consistent Schedule

You also want to make sure your cat has as consistent a sleep schedule as possible. It's certainly fine if one or two days you spend a few hours past your bedtime, but cats are social creatures to a degree. 

This means that they will primarily take their cue from you on when to be awake and when to sleep. 

If you're awake at late hours more often than not, this will likely confuse them into believing they should be awake around those times as well.

Step 3. Interactive Toys

This isn't to spoil them. It's surprisingly difficult to spoil a cat. The truth is that cats need something to play with. 

Not only does a quality active and enrichment toy work great to keep them engaged at night (and not disturbing you), but it also is a great bonding experience if the two of you can play together. 

Interactive toys are also a great way to exhaust a cat during the day so that they are far more likely to sleep more at night.

Step 4. Feeding Schedule 

Just as you want to make sure that you're sleeping at the same times, you want to make sure you're feeding them at the same time as well. 

Cats are very interesting in that, if they are expecting and conditioned to eat at a certain time, they will expect to eat at that time. 

As such, if they are hungry at night, and have not eaten before bed, they are likely going to be up much later than you want, and making a lot of noise to boot!

Step 5. Cat Beds

This is one of those secret benefits that you don't realize works until you try it. Cats, like the rest of us, love a personal place that they can call their own. Just as well, they also love a super comfortable place. 

If you notice that your cat is spending a lot of time out and about at various times of the night, it may be because they don't have a place to sleep that is designated. 

Giving them a nice and cozy cat bed is a perfect tool to ensure they know where to sleep when it's time to sleep.

are cats nocturnal or diurnal

Are Cats Nocturnal: Summary

If you're worried about your cat's irregular activity patterns, understand that it isn't anything to be stressed over. 

Provided they are still happy, healthy, and vibrant when they are awake, you shouldn't be too preoccupied with when they are and aren't awake. 

And if you do notice that they are causing a bit of a ruckus while you're trying to sleep, consider honing their schedule in a bit and ensuring that they have all the tools available so that they can sleep at a good time for you both so that their feline nature and your sleep schedule can peacefully coexist.

Any serious worries, please take them to the veterinarian.

And good luck with the twilight zoomies! 

About the author

Dexter Jones has been a solid member of the ‘Mad Cat Dad’ club since time began! Dexter has been a keen cat writer for many years and lives in Croatia. He lives with his two tabby cats, Milly & Marly, who also flew in from the UK to start their new Adriatic island life together.