My Cat Keeps Waking me Up!

Cats sleep a lot.  For kittens, that means around 20 hours a day.  For adults, it's closer to 16.  Despite these long hours, they usually sleep for less than eight hours at a time.  Their natural rhythms tell them that they should be awake and hunting at dawn and dusk, but what if they wake up at 3AM, fully refreshed and ready to play?  Juanda R. writes:

Tink is four years old and he runs through the house at night when everyone is asleep. He hollers “come out, come out”, along with other noises. How do I quiet him down without waking the household or my son yelling shut up?

Juanda, cats like routine.  If your current routine is that you or your son respond whenever Tink exhibits this behavior, he'll only continue to wake you.  He probably tried a lot of different methods of getting you to get up and interact with him before he discovered that vocalizing did the trick.  Now that he's trained you, it will be difficult for you to break the cycle, but rest assured that it can be done.

You have to show Tink that his method no longer works.  That means that no one in the house can respond to his requests after bedtime.  If he climbs on the bed, just hold him and snuggle with him.  If he goes to sleep then, you're okay, but he'll probably try to get away.  Let him, but don't speak to him or give him what he wants most - for you to get up and interact with him. 

It will take some time for him to learn this lesson.  Cats are persistent, especially when they've successfully trained you.  He'll have to see that his methods no longer work before he'll give up on them, and that can mean some sleepless nights.  You have to be more persistent than he is in order to succeed.

There are a few other things you can do to help you along.  The first is establishing a bedtime ritual.  Cats love rituals as they help them know what to expect each day.  You need to have a long playtime with Tink just before bedtime.  If you want to go to bed at 11PM, play with him for the half hour between 10:30 and 11.  You want him to play at hunting, so it needs to be a toy that you control and that he can stalk.  If he fetches, this would be a great time for a game of fetch.  You can do all of this while watching TV or browsing the internet.  Just make sure that you connect with Tink and help him to work out some of that energy.  It's especially important to allow him to "catch" the toy from time to time.  For this reason, laser toys are a no-no, as they create more frustration than satisfaction.  Wand toys are great for most cats, but choose something that Tink particularly responds to. 

Once he's done with playing, give him a small meal or some treats.  Cats live in the rhythm of hunt-eat-sleep, so his internal programming will tell him that it's now time for sleeping.  You can reinforce this by telling him in the same words every night, "time for sleeping" or "night-night time".  Choose the words you prefer but use them consistently.  If he has a favorite sleeping spot, make a show of preparing it and smoothing it out for him, getting your scent on the area.  Make the ritual the same each and every night and he'll be comforted by it and more willing to go to sleep.

He'll probably still get up each night and try to interact with you at first, Juanda, but if you can muster the willpower to ignore him, Tink will eventually give up on his midnight runs.  We wish you and Tink all the best!