Why Do Cats Wake Us Up At Night?

Cats are naturally active at night

Cats are crepuscular animals, which means they are most active during dusk and dawn hours. This is when many of their natural prey like rodents and birds are also most active. Cats have excellent night vision thanks to a reflective layer in their eyes that allows them to see well in low light conditions (Seattle Humane Society). Their natural instinct is to hunt and be active during twilight hours when their vision gives them an advantage.

This crepuscular nature explains why many house cats seem most energetic right around dawn and dusk. Even though they don’t have to hunt, their internal clock is telling them it’s time to be active according to WeAreAllAboutCats. So an indoor cat may transfer their natural urge to nighttime zooms, play, or waking up their owners in the middle of the night.

Cats want attention and playtime

Cats, especially kittens and younger cats, often wake their owners up in the middle of the night because they are looking for social interaction and playtime. Many cats get most of their play, exercise and attention from their owners during the day. So at night, when their owners are asleep, some cats miss that stimulation and interaction. As natural hunters, cats can get restless at night and seek out owners to pet, play and give them attention.

This nighttime wakeup call is especially common with kittens and younger cats under 3 years old. Kittens have lots of energy and curiosity, so they tend to seek more frequent play sessions and interaction than adult cats. If they get lonely or bored during the night, they may end up waking owners for playful activity and quality time.

Some ways to minimize this night waking for attention are to give cats more playtime and interaction during the evening hours before bed. This helps satisfy their need for stimulation and social time so they are less likely to wake owners up at night for it. Also be sure cats have access to toys they can play with on their own overnight.

Cats can get hungry at night

Cats typically require feeding 1-2 times per day, but may still feel hungry during the night, especially if on a once-daily feeding schedule in the mornings [1]. When cats get hungry overnight, they often seek out food or treats by waking up their owners. This is one of the most common reasons cats will meow, purr, or even paw at their owners during the night – they are looking for their next meal.

Cats that are fed only once per day typically do so in the mornings. While this schedule may be more convenient for owners, it leaves cats without food for hours overnight, leading to hunger that results in night wakings [2]. Cats have a quick metabolism and digestive tracts, meaning meals digest quickly. An evening meal or treat can help satisfy cats’ hunger overnight and lead to fewer disruptive wakings.

Litter Box Issues

Cats can be very particular about the cleanliness of their litter boxes. If the litter box contains waste or smells dirty, it can deter a cat from using it when needed. This is one of the most common reasons cats will wake up owners at night – they need access to a clean litter box. Depending on the cat’s preferences, the box may need scooping multiple times per day to avoid this issue.

Medical conditions like urinary tract infections can also send cats urgently running to their litter boxes, sometimes several times throughout the night. The discomfort and urgency leads the cat to meow insistently or scratch at the bed to wake up their owner for access. Checking with a vet to rule out medical causes is recommended if a cat is making excessive night time trips to the litter box. Providing easy access, such as keeping the box in or near the bedroom, can help minimize disruptive night time wake ups.

Anxiety or stress

Cats can become anxious or stressed by sudden changes in their environment or routine. Events like schedule changes, moves, or house guests can provoke anxiety in cats. Cats are creatures of habit and like consistency. Any disruption to their normal routine can heighten stress levels. Since cats are more active at night, they may act out restless behaviors if feeling anxious. According to Quora, it’s not uncommon for cats to wake up meowing and panicking if they are experiencing stress or anxiety, especially at night when everything is quiet.

Stressed cats may pace, vocalize, or act out in the middle of the night. They may seek attention or reassurance from their owner. Sometimes just having the owner wake up and pet them is enough to ease their anxiety. It’s important for cat owners to maintain consistent routines as much as possible and minimize disruptions to help avoid nighttime anxiety in cats.

Natural alerts

Cats have extraordinarily sensitive hearing and can detect high frequency sounds that humans cannot (cite src: 1). Their hearing range reaches up to 64kHz, whereas the human range only goes up to 20kHz. This means cats can hear noises like rodents scurrying in the walls or other animals outside that we would never notice. Their powerful sense of hearing alerts them to possible threats in and around the home that humans would remain oblivious to.

As natural predators, cats have strong survival instincts that compel them to notify their owners of any potential danger. When cats hear concerning noises in the night, their instincts tell them to wake up and alert us to the possible threat (cite src: 2). So even though we may not hear anything alarming, the cat is just following its innate drive to warn us of what it perceives as a risk to the household. Cats have lived as solitary hunters, so they are hardwired to be vigilant protectors even when curled up safely indoors.

Health issues

Some health problems in cats can lead to increased nighttime vocalization. Illnesses like hyperthyroidism can cause caterwauling and crying at night. Hyperthyroidism speeds up a cat’s metabolism, leading to restlessness, agitation, and vocalization especially at night. Treating the medical condition can help resolve the night crying.

Elderly cats are also prone to cognitive decline and feline dementia. This can cause increased meowing and disorientation at night. Cats with dementia may forget their litter box training or get confused about time of day. Veterinary treatment, adjusting schedules/routines, and medication can help manage dementia in aging cats.

How to minimize night wakings

One of the best ways to minimize night wakings is to play with your cat before bedtime to tire them out. Engage your cat in active play like chasing toys or playing fetch. This will help expend their energy so they are more likely to sleep through the night. Make sure to end the play session at least an hour before bed so your cat has time to calm down. You can also give them interactive food puzzles or toys right before bed to keep their mind engaged and stimulated.

Another helpful tactic is to use synthetic feline pheromones like Feliway. Pheromones can help relax cats and curb nighttime restlessness. Plug in the pheromone diffuser near your cat’s sleeping areas about 30 minutes before bed.[1] This may help your cat feel more settled at night. Just be patient, as it can take a few weeks for your cat to adjust to the pheromones.

When to see the vet

If your cat’s nighttime behavior is new, excessive, or paired with other concerning symptoms, it’s a good idea to schedule a veterinary exam. Sudden changes in behavior or activity levels can indicate an underlying medical issue that needs attention. Some signs to watch out for include:

  • Increased vocalization or crying at night
  • Changes in eating or litter box habits
  • Lethargy, weakness, or other signs of illness
  • Significant increase in night time activity or restlessness
  • Agitation, anxiety, or seeming like they can’t get comfortable

A vet visit can identify or rule out any health problems like arthritis, hyperthyroidism, cognitive dysfunction syndrome, gastrointestinal issues, pain, or other conditions that could be causing the disruptions at night. Treating underlying medical issues may help resolve unwanted nighttime behaviors. If your cat checks out healthy, then behavioral or environmental factors are likely at play.

It’s important not to ignore major changes in your cat’s sleep patterns or activity levels. Sudden changes can be a red flag for medical problems that need veterinary attention. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to monitoring your cat’s health and wellbeing. Contact your vet if your cat’s behavior has you concerned. They can help get to the bottom of what’s causing the unwelcome nighttime wakeups.


In summary, there are several common reasons why cats may wake their owners up at night. These include their natural nocturnal instincts and desire for activity, play, attention, or food during the nighttime hours. Cats may also disturb sleep if they have litter box issues, anxiety, or alerting behaviors. Certain health conditions can also lead to night wakings and vocalization in cats.

If your cat is consistently waking you multiple times per night, it’s important to rule out any medical issues by scheduling a veterinarian visit. Persistent night wakings and vocalizations can sometimes indicate an underlying health problem that requires treatment. Otherwise, there are steps you can take to try minimizing night wakings by keeping your cat active during the day, ensuring their needs are met at bedtime, and creating a calming sleep environment.

Scroll to Top