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Kitty, Let Me Sleep!

You're fast asleep, enjoying a dream that involves warm sun and sandy beaches, when your cat jumps on your chest and meows in your ear. A bleary-eyed glance at the clock reveals that the time is 2 a.m. Why has your cat decided that now is the perfect time to wake you up? And how can you make sure he doesn't do the same thing tomorrow night?

Why Is Your Cat Waking You Up?

Before you take any action at all, consider your cat's current environment. Have you recently changed your routine, affecting the normal rhythm of the household? For example, has a new baby joined the family, or has an older child moved out to live at college? Are you working longer hours outside the home? Feeding him at a different time? Have you added a new pet to the household? These factors may upset a cat's sense of predictability, and impact the regular interaction he expects from you.

If your normally cooperative feline bedmate suddenly changes his nighttime behavior, it may be a sign of illness. Take him to your vet as soon as possible for a thorough exam to rule out any medical conditions.

If your cat is left home alone all day with nothing to do and no one to play with, he will spend his time sleeping. Then, when you’re home and not occupied with household tasks or asleep for the night, your bored cat will look to you for entertainment. And who can blame him? Here’s what happens when he wakes you up.

  • He creates a bit of excitement. After all, you may react in a variety of entertaining ways--yelling, throwing pillows, or flailing around.
  • He receives social interaction. You may try to encourage your cat to go back to sleep by petting him or otherwise engaging with him.
  • He gets to eat. In your desperation to go back to sleep, you may resort to feeding your cat--which he will perceive as a big WIN! However, such a reaction motivates the cat to wake you up again the next night, because, "Hey! More food!"

Get a Good Night's Sleep

If your cat's behavior is the result in a change in the overall household routine, you may find that he reverts to his regular sleep schedule and lets you get a good night's sleep as he adjusts to the new normal. You can help encourage this by ignoring his attempts to wake you up.

Encouraging a good nighttime routine can start as soon as you bring home a new cat or kitten. Pam Johnson-Bennett, a certified cat behavior consultant, recommends meeting 3 of your feline companion's 4 basic needs by doing these things before bedtime.

  • Hunting: Play with your cat or kitten using interactive toys, satisfying her instinct to hunt.
  • Eating: Feed your pet a small amount of her daily allotment of food shortly before bedtime.
  • Grooming: Gently brush or comb your feline friend to help her relax and unwind.

Meeting those needs leads naturally to a cat's fourth need: sleeping. Having spent quality time with you engaged in playtime, followed by a tasty snack and a relaxing grooming session, your cat is primed to settle down for the night.

Ignorance Can (Eventually) Lead to Bliss

If the pre-bedtime routine outlined above does not work, and your cat continues to wake you up in the middle of the night, the next step may prove to be the most difficult: Ignore your cat and his midnight antics. Do not get up to feed him or play with him. Keep in mind that he will likely continue his efforts to wake you and may even increase his level of effort. Resist the urge to give in, as this will only reinforce his behavior. Try one of these methods to help you sleep through the shenanigans.

  • Use ear plugs.
  • Place a large square fan in the doorway facing out to discourage him from entering your room.
  • Set an automatic feeder to release food at certain times and let you continue sleeping.

Johnson-Bennett notes that your cat's nocturnal behavior may get worse for a week or two before it gets better. This is because cats may increase behaviors that have worked in the past to achieve the result they want. Even if you play with your cat before bedtime every night, he may wake you up for a few days or weeks in a row until the new routine sinks in. Just give it time and stay consistent.

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