Are Felines Nocturnal? What You Don't Know About Their Sleeping Habits


Jul. 5 2023, Published 4:36 p.m. ET

Cats can be lovable and playful household companions, adding joy to your everyday life. But house cats can also keep you awake at night with their antics! If you have an overly vocal feline awakening you at inopportune times when you're trying to sleep, you may have blamed it on cats being nocturnal. But are cats nocturnal, or is there a different explanation?

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Your cats may wake you up early in the morning or just as you begin to fall asleep at night. But that doesn't mean they're nocturnal creatures. Keep reading for everything you need to know about whether cats are nocturnal and where the common misconception stems.

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Are cats nocturnal?

It's a common response for cat owners to believe their cats are nocturnal, and that's why they keep odd hours. However, nocturnal is not the correct term for domestic cats. There are three terms for the time of day when an animal is the most active: nocturnal, diurnal, and crepuscular.

No, cats are not nocturnal, although that's a popular misconception. As explains, cats are crepuscular, not nocturnal. Although you might not see a huge difference between the two terms, it's interesting to note. Here's what the three terms related to animals signify:

  • nocturnal: most active at night
  • diurnal: most active during the day
  • crepuscular: most active during twilight hours (dawn and dusk)
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Although some cats might appear to be most active during the nighttime hours, that's not a universal trait of cats. Unlike animals that are actually nocturnal, such as the kiwi bird or the owl, cats aren't nocturnal at all.

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Cats are actually crepuscular.

Cats are crepuscular animals, meaning they are naturally wired to be at their most active during twilight. So during those hours just before you'd go to bed and the early morning or dawn hours, your cat may be inclined to meow, nudge, or otherwise try to engage with you.

As notes, "crepuscular" originates from the Latin word "twilight." Crepuscular animals can take advantage of those low-light hours between day and night for hunting and finding water. Being crepuscular benefits some animals because visibility becomes more challenging to predators in the wild, and the temperatures are cooler.

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If your cat wakes you up, try these strategies.

One reason many of us say, mistakenly, that cats are nocturnal is that they may wake us up at night. Your cat might meow or paw at the door or jump onto the bed at various intervals throughout the night, making you think it's nocturnal. However, there are some steps you can take to train your cat not to do this.

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Your cat's middle-of-the-night activities may be because you reinforce their behavior, not because they're truly nocturnal. Animal Humane Society suggests that cat owners try some damage-control tactics to discourage cats from being overly active during the night.

Most importantly, do not reward your cat's nighttime behavior. Instead of playing with them, chasing them out of your room, or feeding them when they make noise, you need to ignore them (though it's easier said than done).

To tire them out, you can also play with your cats throughout the day, especially close to bedtime. Using a food-dispensing toy can be helpful if you're away during the day.

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