Are cats nocturnal? Owners may have noticed that their cats are less active during the day, but that doesn’t mean they only come alive at night.
Cats are actually not nocturnal, but rather crepuscular, which means that they are active at dawn and dusk.
Speaking to Newsweek, veterinarian Dr. Michelle Meyer, President-Elect of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), that many cats often think of them as nocturnal and many behaviors make them appear that way.
She said, “Many cats often wake their humans from deep sleep at least once a night, which raises many questions about whether cats are nocturnal creatures.
But cats are “actually considered to be crepuscular, which means that their main activity times are dawn and dusk,” said Meyer.
The US National Park Service (NPS) states that dawn and dusk are the cooler times of the day and “the half-light helps animals avoid predators while still seeing food”.
A kitten is hiding in a cardboard box. Wildcats, domesticated cats that are afraid of humans, are known to be nocturnal.
sebastianosecondi / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Some cats are nocturnal
Speaking to Newsweek, a spokesman for the International Cat Association (TICA) said that although domestic cats are crepuscular, wild cats are known to be “purely nocturnal”.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) states that wildcats are domesticated cats who are afraid of people because “they are self-sufficient from an early age” and have never learned to socialize and trust people.
The TICA spokesman said, “Wildcats roaming the neighborhood in the middle of the night give people the idea that cats are generally nocturnal animals.”
Meyer told Newsweek that some cats might be active at night, especially if they are kittens. She said health exemptions can also prevent cats from behaving “in their normal way” and not every cat does what it “should” do.
The TICA spokesman emphasized that although cats are creatures of habit, they can adapt their behavior efficiently for survival, as animals have the ability to adapt to certain food intake conditions.
The spokesman added: “A lot has changed since domestication. Most cats are now raised in an environment where they will not hunt for their food.
“Instead, they try to live in harmony with their owners by adapting to people’s circadian rhythms. There is no clear answer when it comes to cat behavior, ”the spokesman told Newsweek.
A Maine Coon cat pictured on grass at night. Feral cats are afraid of humans “because they take care of themselves from an early age,” says PETA.
Author / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Why are cats more active at dusk?
AAFP experts stated that cats are naturally “wired” to be more active at dusk.
The veterinarian Dr. AAFP’s Cathy Lund told Newsweek that cats have retained many of the biological traits of their wild ancestors, which she sees “awake and hunting at the most opportune times”.
“Carnivores are much more attuned to sleep than prey, and cats are unique in their ability to switch from deep sleep to wakefulness without the drowsiness we humans are so familiar with. In fact, cats can fall asleep so well that they have been used as models of REM sleep in early sleep research studies, “Lund said.
Meyer said Newsweek cats are “biologically wired” like a predator’s, which means they like to hunt and hunt in the later hours and nap during the day to rest later for “hectic activities”.
This means that cats often pounce on things (be they humans or other pets) during twilight and have bursts of energy / play sessions over furniture or their people (which is more common in young kittens). They often nibble on their owners’ ears or toes in bed, run over them while they sleep, and scream as they wander around the house, which is especially true for older cats, Meyer explained.
She said the typical behavior pattern of crepuscular animals is characterized by “short periods of bursts of energy that are mitigated by longer periods of rest”.
This allows for “optimal balance when hunting for prey,” which according to Meyer means just enough light for the predator to see its prey, but not enough light for the prey to see.
Speaking to Newsweek, Teresa Keiger, a licensed all-breed judge with the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), described as the largest registry of pedigree cats, said “developed a lining on the fundus (the tapetum lucidum) that increases” the amount of light that penetrates the cat’s eye by reflecting it (think of the original night vision goggles) that allows them to hunt successfully in low light. “
The TICA spokesman told Newsweek that cat eyes are “efficiently adjustable” for both high and low light conditions.
While cats do not have night vision and their eyes cannot function in complete darkness, “their eyes contain eight times more rod cells than the human eyes”. This means cats can see eight times better in the dark than humans, the spokesman said.
Another factor that shaped the crepuscular nature of cats was that their prey is also active at dusk.
Speaking to Newsweek, Dr. Sarah Ellis, director of cat representation at International Cat Care, a UK-based charity, said cats are most active at dawn and dusk because these are “periods when their prey is also active”.
She explained that “cat eyes are adapted to work really well in low light,” which enables them to “hunt effectively when their prey is most active”.
Keiger noted, “Think about what a cat eats in the wild. Birds, rabbits, etc. – all of which are most active at sunrise and sunset. So this behavior is firmly anchored in a cat’s physiology.”
A cat pictured at sunset. Cats are active during twilight, such as sunset and sunrise.
Daria Kulkova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
A cat’s nightly routine
The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) states that twilight hunting behavior is still rooted in domesticated cats, although there is no need to hunt for food.
The veterinarian Dr. Kira Ramdas, the AAFP’s executive director, told Newsweek that in the wee hours of the morning, when cats are most active, “can attack your feet, which is normal predatory hunting behavior that is instinctive for cats.
“When your cat goes outside, it is at night when it could show active hunting behavior. Fights are more common at night because cats are more active and competition for food or partners can arise, ”explained Ramdas.
Cats that stay indoors sleep for a good part of the night, often with their owners, and can groom themselves at night as well, Ramdas said.
Keiger told Newsweek that cats typically wake up from their afternoon nap and become more active around sunrise and sunset. They stalk the food bowl, examine things around the house, and engage in hunting and play activities.
“They may be a bit active late at night, but usually they follow the sleep patterns of their owners and snuggle together for the evening until it gets light again,” says Keiger.
A cat trying to catch a butterfly flying over a meadow on a sunny day. Cats are more active at sunset and sunrise.
Nataba / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Why do cats sleep a lot?
Cats sleep around 16 hours a day, while some older cats can snooze for up to 20 hours a day, the TICA spokesman told Newsweek.
Similar to their crepuscular nature, cats’ extended sleep phases can also be traced back to their beginnings, Keiger told Newsweek. “Their bodies are remarkable energy-saving machines, and unless there is a good reason to be awake during the day, they are not going to use up the energy.
“If there is no reason to be awake, they will stay outside until it gets dark outside,” she said.
AAFP board director Ramdas said cats would nap when “it is more beneficial for them to rest,” that is, when there is no prey or human attention. They are more likely to take naps after meals.
AAFP’s Lund told Newsweek, “There are always some individual differences in sleep patterns, but cats usually follow the crepuscular cycle. Older cats tend to sleep more, so they may not be as active during these transitional periods, but younger cats, especially kittens, can literally be up all night. “
Can you teach cats to sleep at night?
Ramdas said Newsweek cats can “absolutely” be made to sleep in the evening by playing with them during the day to keep them awake. They can also be fed larger meals (like canned food with added water to increase satiety) at dusk or in the evening to encourage sleepiness during the night, advised the AAFP board director.
International Cat Care’s Ellis also recommended feeding cats small amounts, and often, even at night, using timed feeders to encourage them to sleep.
Ellis told Newsweek that most domestic cats really don’t have access to the outdoors. For those who have it, access is often controlled by their owners. Therefore, in many cases, the cats are kept indoors at night.
So Ellis explained, “Some cats can tailor their sleep cycles to those of their owners by being more active when their owners are out and feeding, playing and sleeping with them when their owners are sleeping.
“Not all of them do this successfully, however, and making sure they have overnight activities to keep them entertained can help keep the home harmonious,” she said.
Ramdas advised keeping the blinds open if possible so that your cat “can watch the dawn outside for entertainment”.
Lund of the AAFP said playing with your cats before bed helps tire them out and encourages them to sleep through the night. But she cautioned, “It’s always important not to keep your cat busy if she is disturbing your sleep by asking for attention. This is a safe formula to encourage your cat to keep asking for attention.”
Ramdas said that many cat owners find that their cat goes to sleep with them but wakes them up hours before they wake up, often around 4 a.m.
“No attention is better than negative attention to avoid this unattractive behavior,” said Ramdas. Those who cannot do this should try closing their bedroom door at night or moving the cat to another part of the house where vocalizations can be ignored, the AAFP board director told Newsweek.
Meyer said it is important to remember that nocturnal activities are very natural behavior for cats so punishment should be avoided.
A kitten sleeping on a fluffy white blanket. According to The International Cat Association, cats sleep about 16 hours a day.
gurinaleksandr / iStock / Getty Images Plus