At first, you’re startled. Then you’re annoyed. You were deep into your REM sleep and your cat is working on cutting time off his mile run. Or maybe your cat has dedicated tonight’s workout to couch jumping. Whatever it is — and no matter how much you love your cat — the 2 a.m. exercise routine can put a strain on the best relationship.
But before you let resentment set in, it’s important to know that your cat’s strange little quirk of burning the midnight oil doesn’t have to be a given for living with cats. Causes for this nighttime hyperactivity are plenty. Today, we’re going to explore some of them — and some ways to manage it so you and kitty can get the shut-eye you need.
Naturally nocturnal… or crepuscular?
The relatives of our domesticated house cats are those big, wild cats — who are mostly nocturnal hunters. However, there’s a good amount of disagreement as to whether house cats are actually nocturnal (most active at night) or crepuscular (most active around morning/evening twilight).
Either way, some studies suggest that basic lifestyle factors, like the size of your house and whether or not your cat goes outside, can be a bigger influence on your cat’s active hours than you might guess. (Check out other reasons why indoor life is better for your cat.) In fact, authors of a 2013 article from the Journal of Veterinary Behavior note “the high influence of human presence and care on the amount of activity and daily rhythm in cats.”
In other words, there’s hope for us cat moms who want to put an end to the 2 a.m. track runs and toy deadlifting competitions at 3 a.m.
Understanding the causes of the midnight cat madness
A number of factors can lead to increased or decreased kitty crazies at night, but the first step to understanding them should always be a checkup. “Howling and hyperactivity at night could be hyperthyroidism, a common endocrine disease which makes your cat feel restless and ravenously hungry,” writes PetCoach veterinarian Dana Koch. For more common cat behaviors explained, read Dr. Koch’s full article here.
If everything checks out well medically, then the kitty crazy causes are probably behavioral and could be kicked off by:
- Changes to the environment: A recent move or a new addition to the household may contribute.
- How accustomed your cat is to your schedule: Do you have a new job or are you going to bed earlier?
- Whether your cat is allowed outside: The study above found that cats allowed outside were more likely to be active at night.
- Boredom: Your cat could be finding her own ways to entertain herself if there’s not enough to keep her busy.
- Hunger: More common at the early hours of the day, kitty might not have had enough dinner the night before to keep her sated until morning.
Understanding the reason for your cat’s hyperactivity will help you determine the best solution. So make sure to carefully observe your kitty and check with your vet to determine if it’s health-related or behavioral in nature.
5 ways to deal with 2 a.m. exercising
1. Tire out your cat. Deterring nighttime exercising can often be solved by simply playing with your cat in the evening and throughout the day. Try adding several 15-minute play sessions to your morning, afternoon and evening routine. Laser pointers, scratching posts and toys can help your cat burn off their extra energy, helping them to just go to sleep. Plus the interaction will help you two bond.
2. Feed the biggest meal before bed, and for cases of anxiety, ask your veterinarian about a calming diet. A pre-bedtime meal can help your cat relax and digest at night (think about how you feel on Thanksgiving). It can also have the added benefit of helping stave off begging for food until a bit later in the morning. Pet nutrition companies now offer calming diets and treats — something to consider if you and your vet believe the activity might be caused by anxiety.
3. Make the bedroom a cat-free zone at night. Shut your bedroom door and let kitty reign in the living room. That way he can play while you still get your sleep.
4. Designate a nighttime play-safe area. Having a special location away from potential harm and damage to your belongings (and your cat, of course!) can have a good impact on your sleep. This can be a special area that your cat only has access to in the evening and is filled with exciting, fun things to keep him entertained. My cat’s favorite? A self-use treat ball that they play with in the other room — far away from my bed.
5. Motion-censored water or odor sprayer to keep cats out of the bedroom. If you’ve gone the way of keeping your cat out of the bedroom at night, be aware that some cats will take this poorly. (They want to be with you!) However, if you find it important to have the cat-free zone at night and kitty objects, consider installing a motion-censored sprayer that will keep your cat away from your bedroom door at night. PetCoach veterinarian Destini Holloway reminds us, “Once you deter the habit, [it] typically takes 2 to 3 months of training, sometimes less, then the device is no longer needed because you have officially trained your cat!” These few months of training could save you hours of rest.