6 Ways to Change Cat's Sleep Cycle
It’s the middle of the night, and you hear your cat darting from place to place, knocking things over, scratching at the couch, or pawing at the door. Or they’re meowing loudly for your attention at 2am and coming up on the bed to paw at your head. Sound familiar? These are the telltale signs of cats being a out of sync with your life, and it’s not getting any better, and it’s not making you any happier.
Everyone knows that cats are nocturnal creatures, which is great for them, but if it’s causing disruptions in our circadian rhythms, then some changes need to be made. But how? It’s easy to think about a young child needing help getting into a daily routine in order to function better, but people forget that pets need similar guidance to adjust to a new lifestyle. So, if you’re tired of not getting enough sleep or if you’re feeling subjected to your cat’s every whim, then take a look at our 6 tips to get your cat into a daily rhythm and to move them from being nocturnal to diurnal!
1. Ignore them (especially at night!)
Treat cats like children in this respect. If they’re doing something that they shouldn’t be doing in order to gain attention or food, ignore them. It’s the equivalent of whining in a child. If you reward it, you’ll be struggling to gain back ground and power for a long time to come. If your cat is bugging you in the middle of the night with its loud and annoying meows, ignore it. If you give into it even once, it will only lengthen the amount of time you’ll be kept awake at night. So, it’ll be tough for a little while, but just ignore the behavior. Rewards include things like giving them food, petting them, playing with them, etc. Before you go to sleep, make sure your cat has all of its basic needs such as water, food, access to the litter box, etc. and then that’s it. There’s no reason they would need to wake you up except if they’re trying to score more food or more attention. So, bite the bullet and let their midnight pleas go unanswered.
2. Provide rewards (at the right time)
Cats are not like dogs in terms of behavior management. They don’t really respond the same way to negative reinforcement. Rewards and reminders are the way to adjust a cat’s behavior. And, don’t be fooled. Even if your cat is older, they can still learn proper behavior and can adjust their rhythm to fit yours. Similar to a child, schedule rewards at times that work for you. In the morning, provide rewards of love and attention and feeding time. That can be part of the daily routine after a long night of separation. They’ll realize that their night of loneliness will end, and they will get what they want when you wake up! Also, be sure to provide a nice reward time before bed, so that they’re satiated and ready to rest for the night and leave you to rest too! But, if you’re a busy person and your cat is constantly lacking in attention, then that could be a reason for them bothering you at annoying hours. So, by spending more time with them at hours that are convenient for you, they won’t need to beg for it as much at other times.
3. Tire them out
Just like children, cats (especially younger ones) have a lot of energy! And, if you notice them running around at night a lot or bugging you at the wrong times, they still have a lot of pent up energy they need to get out. (Many cats go through the “mad hour”, which is very normal, especially for indoor cats. So, keep that in mind!) If the cat is a solely indoor cat, this can be an even bigger issue since they don’t have the outside stimulus to keep them entertained during the day. Try to make your cat’s daytime full of exciting activities, so that they can get tired and want to rest at night, therefore adjusting their nocturnal lifestyle to fit yours. A cat’s natural instinct is to hunt, catch, kill, and eat, so remember that as you play with your cat or try to provide entertainment options for them. To get them into a rhythm, play at mealtimes mostly. When you play, make it a challenge for them to catch the toy you’re playing with. Then, when they catch it, reward them with their meal. If they play outside of mealtimes, give them a little snack as their reward for catching their “prey”. This will help create a natural circadian rhythm for them and keep you sleeping soundly in the evening as they’re getting their “killing” done during the day and they won’t keep “hunting” at night.
4. Keep the schedule and ritual consistent (and feed before bedtime!)
The more consistent you are with everything, the more likely you are to get into a smooth daily rhythm with your cat. If you just feed them whenever, then they may try to meow or bug you to get food at times when you’re busy or are trying to sleep. So, feed them at the same time everyday to get the routine going. The feeding amount and frequency all depends on your cat breed, size, age, health, etc., so check with your vet. But, definitely feed before bedtime. Similar to humans, cats will want to rest after they eat. Especially if they’ve just had an epic playtime before dinner including hunt, catch, kill! Some cats will just graze casually throughout the day and aren’t so food-focused, so this won’t be as much of an issue. But, if you have a food lover, then that schedule needs to be as consistent as possible and added as part of the routine. For other things like playing or snacks, keep those consistent too, just so everything is fitting into your life and schedule and not getting in the way of your sleep or your other busy times.
5. Consider a second cat
Let’s say you’ve tried everything, but you’re still having trouble with your cat going crazy at the wrong times or bothering you when you’re trying to rest or get work done. Imagine the loneliness a cat might feel during the day if their owner is at work or too busy to spend time with them, and they can’t go outside. If you and your cat are open to it, consider getting a second cat as your first cat’s playmate. Then, when they get a little wild, they can play with each other, and expend their energy. They can stimulate each other, and it won’t be all on you to get your cat’s energy out before bedtime or entertain them during the day. It may make the rhythm transition a lot easier and add a lot of peace to your home in the evening.
6. Think about turning your cat into an outside cat
We know this isn’t always a feasible option, but if it is possible for you, then do it! This will help alleviate a whole host of issues that you may have been experiencing with your cat. Let’s say your cat has been scratching up your furniture and not using the scratching posts. Outside, there’s a whole world of things to scratch without it being a problem! Then they can get the scratching out of their system and leave your furniture alone. Let’s say they keep bothering you for extra food during the day. Now, when they go outside, it’s on them to go find a snack to eat. And it’s just the kind of food they like! Also, the outside world is full of stimuli for your cat to stay entertained. This is especially helpful if you don’t have the time or the space to play hunt, catch, and kill games with your cat. Even if you do have the time or the space in your house to do this, it’s still not the real deal. Outside, your cat can still be the predator vs. the prey, and it will help them get out their energy, go with their natural instincts, and tire them out, so they’ll rest quietly during the night. And, if nothing else works to shift their circadian rhythm, then, you can put them outside at night, so that they sleep during the day at your house and go through their natural hunting instincts at night, and you can sleep soundly!
Cats are loveable creatures, but they can sometimes make you want to pull your hair out if they’re completely opposing your daily rhythm and keeping you up at night! So, use these tips to adjust your cat’s nocturnal lifestyle to a diurnal one. Surely there will still be times when you need to ignore their attention-seeking behavior or remind them of the rules, but adjusting your cat’s rhythm will make your life a whole lot easier, and it will better the relationship between you and your cat. Start the journey towards sleeping better!
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