Circadian Cat Rhythms
Dear Pet Column,
I love my cat. What I don’t love is my cat pouncing on my head at 2 in the morning. Please help…
Dear Groggy, yes it is true, cats pick some inconvenient times to display their love for you (or a midnight snack). So if you want to achieve a normal biological circadian rhythm rather than a feline-illogical circadian nightmare you have two choices: get a day job and become nocturnal or give your nocturnal cat a day job to encourage being awake during the day (diurnal) and sleeping at night.
First remember the cat’s ancestor, the African wildcat, is mostly nocturnal. Domestication shifted activity patterns more toward daylight but most cats still tend to wake at least twice during the night. The good news is that cats can learn to let their owners sleep in peace.
Of course we always want to rule out medial problems first – particularly if this is a sudden change in your cat’s evening activity. If your cat restlessly wanders around your house at night meowing or crying, he may be suffering from an underlying medical problem causing pain or discomfort that you would want your vet to rule out - especially if the agitation continues during the day.
If your cat is medically fine (and you feel is still just plotting to annoy you) try the following:
- Schedule interactive play sessions with your cat during the evening with toys and soft balls, etc. to tire him out.
- Feed your cat a main meal just before bedtime. Cats tend to sleep after a big meal. If your cat continues to wake you during the night for food, purchase a timed feeder that you can set to dispense once or twice during the night (reduce meal sizes so that your cat doesn’t get chubbers). Your cat should learn to wait by the feeder rather than on your head.
- Incorporate a variety of enrichment activities to keep your cat busy during daylight hours. Cardboard boxes and paper bags in varied places and interchanged on different days of the week can encourage daytime activity for cats.
- Consider adding a second cat (***Pick me! Pick meeeeee!!!) to your family. If the two cats are compatible, they’ll probably play with each other and leave you alone at night (if not then you’ll have two cats waking you at night…).
- Shut your cat out of your bedroom at night. If he cries and scratches at the door place something in front of the door he won’t want to step on (vinyl carpet runner placed upside-down to expose the knobby parts, double-sided sticky tape or aluminum foil, etc.).
- Overly persistent cats with overly sleep deprived parents may require “The Booby Trap” – a blow dryer dangling off the bedroom door knob, a vacuum cleaner in front of the door, etc. Plug it into a remote switch (available at most hardware stores) and when the meowing ensues hit the button to turn on the appliance. Repeat as needed until the behavior is extinguished.
- If all of the above fails: eventually you will adjust to a soft purring body on your head and find comfort in it…or be too tired to care… and sleep soundly.