Ghostwritten for www.catological.com

As anyone who has ever been owned by a cat can tell you, cats sleep a lot. After all, the word “catnap” was created especially for them.

Cats do seem to lie around a lot. But are they really sleeping all of that time? Are they just “chilling,” or are they storing energy during the day so they can tear up the house after dark?

And do indoor cats have different sleep patterns than outdoor cats?

We did some research to find out if cats truly are nocturnal. Our conclusion? The answer is, not really.

Cats Aren’t Nocturnal Animals?

Not exactly. Cats are hard-wired to be more nocturnal (most active at night), than diurnal (most active in the daytime). But they are more accurately described as “crepuscular,” meaning their most active time occurs at dusk—or twilight—and dawn, just before the sun rises.

There is a good biological reason for this pattern. If we look at the domestic cat’s big cat relatives, we find that a crepuscular hunting pattern is beneficial to them.

It allows them to sleep during the heat of the day to conserve their resources. It also allows them to hunt at a time of day where there is less competition for food.

So Why Are Domestic Cats Crepuscular?

Like most animals, domestic cats are both prey and predator. Their preferred prey—birds and mice—are most active at dawn and dusk.

Their primary predators are large birds. During the crepuscular periods of the day, birds have poorer vision than at other times.

Cats, on the other hand, have eyes that are perfectly adapted to hunting during times of day with less light, and they use this to their advantage. They are able to hunt effectively while also being less visible to those that hunt them.

In the home, many cat owners can attest to the fact that their cats have an energy surge in the early evenings, when they will play more and generally zoom around the house.

But this isn’t true of all house cats.

Don’t All Crepuscular Cats Have the Same Sleep Pattern?

Yes and no. They do if they’re living in the wild, but not necessarily if they live indoors. You may not see it in your own cat for a couple of reasons.

Cats sleep anywhere from 12 to 16 hours a day. This is more than most mammals, and there’s an interesting reason for that, according to Rubin Naiman, PhD, for the Huffington Post. He says that house cats sleep so much simply because they can.

Sleep is dangerous in the animal kingdom. It makes most creatures vulnerable in an environment where they all have to watch their backs constantly. The big cats in the wild, however, are lucky enough to have few predators, so they feel secure about curling up at any time and having a snooze.

This is why you see lions and tigers in the wild sleeping out in the open savannah when few other animals do. And why your domestic cat can sleep just about anywhere. There’s still a lot of big cat instinct in our house cats.

So unless your cat is noisy at night, this ability to sleep whenever she wants to can make it hard to know exactly when your cat is most active.

And as we’ll see, living with your family can also affect your cat’s sleeping patterns.

While the basic nature of the cat is to be crepuscular, you may not see it in your own cat.

My Cat is Diurnal. Is That Normal?

Yes, for some cats. While living with humans, cats have less work to do. When cats are born in the wild, their mothers teach them how to hunt in the first eight weeks of their lives. House cats raised indoors don’t get this training.

While house cats still have their instinctive hunting drive, it’s much less intense than those born in the wild (and far less skilled). Because they have humans providing for them, they don’t need to spend much time working. So they sleep more.

Because they don’t need to worry about hunting for themselves, being active during that crepuscular period isn’t as critical to them. So you may very well have a cat that has adapted to be more diurnal. 

So Cats Adapt Their Sleep Habits When Living with Humans?

Yes. A 2014 study found that house cats kept mostly indoors were more active during daylight. But cats who were outdoors for longer periods of time, including nighttime hours, were more active at night.

The cats given less time indoors also were significantly less active in general than the outdoor group. The study’s results show that cats who live indoors with humans can adapt their sleep patterns.

It depends on the family’s routines, whether your kitty is an indoor or outdoor cat, and individual difference.

Can I Train My Cat to Sleep More at Night?

Yes, says Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM. Cats’ sleep-wake patterns are not set in stone. She has some great suggestions to helping your cat transition from a more-nocturnal pattern to a primarily diurnal one.

  • As cats tend to be nocturnal because that’s when their prey is most available and easiest to catch, try giving your cat hunting experiences during the day. Feed him only twice a day. Fill a treat ball or food puzzle with his usual ration of kibble so that he has to work to get the food out. Having to work for his food may satisfy his hunting instincts and allow him to sleep more at night.
  • Find other things to provide exercise for her during the day. Try quiet interactive toys like spring toys or a Cat Dancer or even a paper bag.
  • Try a DVD designed for cats. One example is Feline Folics, a 60-minute video depicting moving fish, birds, rodents, bugs, and more. Many cat owners swear by this type of video for keeping their fur babies engrossed and stimulated.

To keep your cat’s interest in these toys, don’t have them readily available. Instead, bring one or two out randomly throughout the day so she doesn’t get bored with them.

Dr. Yin also suggests training your cat to sleep in her crate during the night. But be prepared to wear earplugs for the first few nights!

See Dr. Yin’s web site for more great suggestions.

Try Withholding Attention

The Animal Humane Society (AHS) also offers tips on how to change your cat to a daytime schedule. They suggest never paying attention to your cat when he wakes you, as he will see this as a reward. (Even negative reactions such as yelling at him get him the attention he’s looking for.)

If your cat wakes you to be fed earlier in the morning than you’d like, ignoring her might be the solution. Shut your bedroom door and pay no attention to her until you’re ready to get up. She should get the message eventually.

They also recommend feeding your cat his largest meal of the day in the evening. He’s more likely to sleep if his belly is full.

A gentle brushing before bed may also help your cat to sleep better at night.

While all of these suggestions may help, don’t expect to change your cat’s schedule completely. The seven- to eight-hour stretch that we sleep is not natural for them. They tend to sleep in short bursts alternating with periods of activity.

But they can be trained to reduce their activity in the hours when you sleep, especially in those crepuscular periods.

You may even want to consider adopting a second cat. Having a playmate could keep your cat entertained enough during the night that he won’t need to demand your attention.

Will It Harm My Cat to Change Her Sleep Schedule?

Our research did not turn up any indication that training your cat to be less active at night will cause her any harm. As long as her needs are met, she’s likely to be flexible and to have no negative effects.

However, while a gradual change to a diurnal routine won’t harm your cat, it’s important to know that it’s not natural for a cat to have sudden changes in sleep habits. If you notice your cat being less active during the night without your intervention, it could be a reaction to illness. If you notice any other unusual symptoms, you should call your vet.

Conclusion

The most complete answer to the question of whether housecats are diurnal, nocturnal, or crepuscular is that, while in theory they are crepuscular, in practice it’s not so clear. Because living with humans has caused them to adapt their natural behaviors, domestic cats can have any of these sleep patterns, or even a combination of them.

The majority, though, can be categorized as crepuscular, which could be good news or bad news, depending on your circumstances.

Cats being cats, of course, none of these tips will work without their permission. If your cat isn’t on board, then you may have only one option.

Consider working the night shift.

RESOURCES

Naiman, Ruben. “Here and Meow: What Cats Can Teach Us About Sleep.”  https://www.huffpost.com/entry/cats-and-sleep_b_3891010

Piccione, Giuseppe, et al.  “Daily Rhythm of Total Activity Pattern in Domestic Cats.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior. Volume 8, Issue 4, July–August 2013, pages 189-194. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2012.09.004.

Animal Humane Society. “Cat keeping you awake? How to manage night activity.” https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/behavior/cat-keeping-you-awake-how-manage-night-activity

Yin, Sophia, DVM, MS. Cattledog Publishing. “Nocturnal Cats.” https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/nocturnal-cats/

Coates, Jennifer, DVM. The Daily Vet. https://www.petmd.com/blogs/fullyvetted/2013/jan/cats-can-learn-to-sleep-at-night-29777.

Ghose, Tia. Live Science. “Feline Vision: How Cats See the World.” https://www.livescience.com/40459-what-do-cats-see.html.

Sleep.org. Sleep habits of cats. https://www.sleep.org/articles/cats-sleep-habits-2/.