Are Cats Nocturnal?

Many cat owners have complained that their cat is keeping them awake at night. This is a common complaint that’s not at all unusual because cats are mostly nocturnal animals. But being nocturnal isn’t necessarily the lifestyle adopted by every cat who may choose playtime around dusk or dawn or during the day rather than the night!

Diurnal (Day Cats)
Cats active during the day are probably no problem because they’re sleeping quietly with you at night instead of causing some trouble or making noise. My childhood cat, Mitz, was diurnal. He’d retire around 8PM and sleep through the night until around 5AM when my family awoke for daily activities. Animals active during daylight hours are called diurnal.

Crepuscular (Dusk or Dawn Cats)
Some cats sleep in the warmth of the day, stirring only when their family returns from work or school. These cats love combining the night with the day and they enjoy a lot of human interaction. Their agenda includes lounging around midday, avoiding the heat, and keeping their cool. Early morning and early evening is their time to thrive! These types of animals are known as being crepuscular, which differ from those being diurnal and nocturnal. Diurnal animals peak during the day and nocturnal at night. Take note that crepuscular cats sometimes don’t follow crepuscular rules as a moonlit night or cloudy dreary days can enchant your cat into committing some daytime mischief!

Nocturnal (Night Cats)
In the wild, the big cats are nocturnal hunters. Their eyes are designed to see in low light. Feral cats appear to be nocturnal as well. These were previously household cats that returned to their wild state when they were abandoned or slipped away from their owners. Unlike their big cousins, feral cats rely on some human contact in order to get food and rarely live specifically on hunting prey. If your cat displays nocturnal behavior, you can take solace in the fact that in some of those cats this behavior can be modified so your cat becomes more diurnal. By slightly shifting your cats schedule and by managing their environment you can accomplish the change from nocturnal to diurnal (but take note that some cats simply cannot or will not change).


Here are a few tips to aid you in altering your cat’s behavior:

  1. Never reward disturbing behavior by feeding, playing or even chasing them out of your room. Reinforcing your cats nightlife behavior is sending a message that it is okay.
  2. Tire your cat out with early evening playtime so he sleeps through the night. Be creative. Many cat toys exist as do ideas on keeping your cat occupied so they sleep through the night.
  3. Keeping your cat occupied while you’re away during the day will provide mental and physical stimulation for your pet. Many toys are available such as a “Roll-a-Treat” or a “Kong” that will attract your cat with food.
  4. Consider changing one of your cats feeding times to right before bedtime or feed your cat with an automatic food dispenser to keep him awake some of the day so he sleeps at night.
  5. Do not strike or punish your cat for this behavior which isn’t caused by human emotion. The last thing you want is a stressful relationship between you and your cat!
  6. Manage your cat’s environment to dissuade nocturnal activity by placing her in another room (if possible) with a litter box, water, bed, and some silent kitty toys. If you decide to put your kitty in a dog kennel, be sure to let her out as soon as you awake!


Each cat is an individual unto itself, so not every cat will respond exactly the same. The important point to remember is to be persistent. If you allow your cat to disturb you at night or you reward them for doing so, this unwanted behavior will continue. But if this behavior continues and you’ve been persistent, certain medical problems may be the cause. A veterinarian visit may be in order.

By Tom Matteo


Animal Humane Society
Doctors Fosters & Smith

About the Author
Tom Matteo has been a freelance writer since 1992. He has written hardware and software reviews for computers and gaming systems, and now writes about animal behavior and care. Tom resides in Bethlehem, PA with his wife, Tina, and their beloved cockapoo, Angel.