It’s been a while now, but our cat used to wake us up at 4 a.m. every night. At the exact same time. Actually, we also did exactly the same thing every night – we gave her canned food. It was a lovely solution, because we could get back to sleep a few minutes later. But it kept happening each and every night – again, and again, and again ….
Feel familiar? It may also occur differently. Your cat may wake you because he wants to get outside; he may wake you early in the morning because the night is too long to wait; or he may wake you just by making mischief without wanting anything in particular.
Whichever is your case, in this article you will learn how to stop your cat from waking you at night or meowing early in the morning.
1. Make sure your cat is all right
Okay, he obviously is NOT all right – right? After all, he is meowing and waking you up. But you should check whether the thing your cat wants requires immediate attention.
What to check for?
- Is your cat in pain or discomfort due to a health issue? A vet visit might be necessary.
- Is your cat’s litter box clean? You should check the box at least twice daily; preferably, one check should be in the evening, so it is clean for the night.
- Is there water in the bowl? And is the water fresh? It’s best to replace the water in the bowl shortly before you go to sleep.
- Is your cat hungry? Most cats wake their owners for food, but this is NOT related to hunger in most cases. However, to be sure, check whether your cat receives enough food during the day. Even if your cat isn’t thin (see how to assess your cat’s body condition), you should still check the manufacturer’s guidelines on the food package and make sure you provide enough. Remember, though: your cat may still be hungry even if he eats more than the recommended amount, because he may have worms, diabetes, hyperthyroidism or another health issue. If one of those issues seems likely, a vet visit is recommended. See here for more information if your cat wants to eat constantly.
- Did your cat get enough activity during the day? Unfortunately, most cats who wake their owners up at night did not. The good news is that it’s not hard to change this habit. We will talk about this in more detail below.
- Is something disturbing your cat? A light from the street, TV or a night light? Cats fighting or wandering by the widow? Birds singing outside? While cats most often wake their owners because they are bored, sometimes they may be just too disturbed to sleep. Check what is causing this disturbance, and do what you can to limit it.
2. Ignore your cat when he meows at night
If you checked to make sure your cat was all right in the evening, you should not worry about something terrible happening to him; thus, you are safe not paying attention to him during the night. Why would it be necessary?
If your cat meows to wake you, and you indeed wake up and feed him (or let him out, or grant whatever your cat asks for), it’s just enticing him to do the same again and again; thus, you will not be getting sleep tonight, the next night, or any other night.
Of course, at first glance, it looks easier to wake up, quickly pour some food into the bowl and get back to sleep, rather than listen to a cat meowing all night, ignore him and not get any sleep at all.
However, to stop your cat from waking you at night, you must sacrifice some nights. The first one will be the hardest, obviously, but every successive one will be easier.
IMPORTANT: The above advice applies not only to granting your cat what he wants, but to any interaction with him. Do not even shoo him, scold him or lock him away. Any of those is attention, and attention is a reward. You do not want to reward your cat for waking you up. Lie in your bed and pretend you’re dead … sleeping, that is.
You can also consider closing the door. Read here how to prevent your cat from scratching at it.
If you follow the steps below, you will get your sleep back after several days – it’s that soon.
3. Play with and feed your cat right before you go to sleep.
Not before you take a shower, brush your teeth, or read your book. Right before you turn out the lights and go to sleep. It’s best if your cat finishes his meal when your home is already quiet and still.
The last meal of the day may be smaller than a regular one, but make sure it is at least substantial enough to be a meal, not a treat. It also must complete the daily amount of your cat’s food.
IMPORTANT: Make sure you also schedule a short play session before you go to bed. You could play for 10 minutes, for example, but that is not written in stone. Assuming you already had a few play sessions during the day, this one last will work magic. Here’s why.
Look at how cats live in nature (are there any left?). They spend most of their waking hours hunting. After they eat, they continue with a self-grooming session, which is essential for their survival, and then take a rest, because they will need energy for the next hunt. This is how it goes in the wild, with almost no time left in between.
Thus, if you provide enough activity for your cat throughout the day, and have the last play session before you go to sleep, followed by a small meal, your cat will magically go to sleep right after it. At first, of course, it won’t last through the night, but as long as you do not respond when he begs for attention at night, your cat will soon realize there’s no point in waking up at night.
4. Do NOT feed your cat upon awakening
This is crucial, especially if your cat wakes you up early in the morning. You do not want your cat to connect those two events – you waking up and the food appearing.
If he does connect them, you leave your cat no choice – he must wake you in order to receive the food.
So, right after you wake up, do not pay attention to your cat. Brush your teeth, make tea, eat breakfast, take a shower. Follow your morning routine.
Then, right before you leave (or at a specific time if you stay home), have a short play session with your cat, and only then serve breakfast. Very soon, your cat will understand: waking you earlier will not bring the food sooner. And that is what you want.
5. Create a strict schedule for your cat’s meals
The next part of the plan is to set consistent expectations for your cat regarding his meals. This will help your cat to understand what comes when; it will help him see when it’s morning and when it’s day; and, most importantly, it will stop your cat from waking you up at night.
So create a schedule of three to four meals per day, and make sure they occur at approximately the same time.
If you wish, you can also buy an automatic food dispenser, which provides meals at the exact same times every day. Dispensers are available for wet or dry food. This will help to remove the association between your cat’s food and you.
Of course, it’s not only about the clock; it’s also about your actions. For example, you can feed your cat at six every evening, or you can feed him an hour after you return home, even if that doesn’t happen at the same time every day.
6. Increase playing time during the day
Whether your cat is waking you at night for food, to be let outside or just because he wants to have fun, increasing playtime will help solve your problem. Check these tips if you think you are too busy to play with your cat.
How often should you play with your cat? It depends, but, in most cases, three or four play sessions of 15 to 20 minutes is the minimum. As always, the more the better.
It’s important to understand that seven play sessions for 5 minutes is better than one for 35 minutes; thus, you might consider grabbing a toy and playing for even a few minutes whenever you can.
Also, remember that early morning and evening are the top activity times for your cat, so you want to schedule most playing sessions then. A good way to end every play session is to leave the toy at his disposal and give him a small amount of food. Then you can remove the toy while he eats. NOTE: Do not overfeed your cat; make sure you subtract this amount from the daily portion.
Additionally, consider solo playing opportunities for your cat. It works especially well to provide part of your cat’s food through a food dispenser toy – a cat-food-filled ball that drops a small piece out now and then if your cat continues to play with it.
Read our article: 11 interesting activities to do with your cat.
Every part is important to stop your cat from waking you at night
We marked some bits of information above as “IMPORTANT.” In reality, though, all parts are crucial. They combine to form a chain of actions. If you do not miss any, the chances your cat will stop waking you up at night will increase to the point where you could almost get a money-back guarantee.
Is it Magic? No, it’s feline behavior, and it works. Stop expecting your cat to act like a human; accept that he is a cat, and adjust your rhythms and his accordingly. This is when your cat will stop waking you up.