Do your cats wake you at the crack of dawn? Are they keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep? As much as we love our feline family members, most of us would prefer to not have that love expressed by a pounce on our chest at 4am.

Why are cats up so early?

The first step in changing this behavior is understanding why cats do it. Cats are, by nature, nocturnal animals. They hunt and eat primarily at night. Even though studies have shown that domestic cats adapt their cycles to their environment and to human activity, in many cats, this natural instinct still dominates. Add to that that most of our cats are left alone for much of the day and probably spend the bulk of that time sleeping, and it’s no wonder that they become active at night.

There are two main components to changing this behavior:

  • Stop rewarding undesired behavior.
  • Use your cat’s natural cycle to your advantage.

Stop rewarding undesired behavior

If your cat wakes you up early in the morning, your first inclination is probably to try and get back to sleep. However, in most cases, it’s simply not possible to do that with a cat either jumping up and down on you, attacking your feet, of pulling your hair. So eventually, you get up and feed the cat. And guess what you’ve just done? You’ve rewarded the behavior you don’t want.

You have to break this cycle – and if you stop responding to your cat’s attempts to get you out of bed for two weeks, you will most likely succeed. It’s going to take some moral fortitude on your part to do this for two weeks, but it will be worth the effort.

Use your cat’s natural cycle to your advantage

If you usually feed your cat as soon as you get home from work, consider moving dinner time closer to bedtime. You may not want to do this all at once because you’ll probably have a very unhappy cat on your hands, but if you can gradually feed her half an hour later each day, you should be able to shift her feeding schedule without too much fuss.

Play with your cat before feeding her. I can’t stress the importance of ritualized play enough, especially for indoor cats. Five to ten minutes, ideally at least twice a day, and at the same time each day, will go a long way toward alleviating all sorts of behavior problems. Playing with your cat before feeding her mimics the cat’s natural behavior of hunt, kill and eat.

If you don’t want to change your cat’s dinner time to closer to bedtime, feed her at her usual time, but cut back on the amount just a little bit. Feed the remaining amount as a bedtime snack after a play session just before bedtime.

Remain firm

After you’ve implemented the changes above, you have to remain committed to give the new routine time. It can take a couple of weeks or longer for your cat to accept that things have changed, and it’s up to you to hang in there and remain consistent.

Photo Pixabay

This article was first published in 2012 and has been updated.

117 Comments on How to Keep Your Cat From Waking You Up

  1. I adopted my little guy (8 1/2 lbs) about 2 years ago and it was bye bye to a full night’s sleep after that. For various reasons I leave food out at night so when he goes to eat he expects mom to wake up and pay him some attention. Even with no food down, he still attempts to wake me in the middle of the night sometimes more than once.
    I’ve tried suggestions in Ingrid’s post unsuccessfully. Ignoring him just increases his persistence; for instance, digging me from under the covers. He will not quit until I get up–trust me on that. For a little guy there is no end to his determination.

    I had hay fever week before last and decided to prop a pillow up against my foot wedge and sleep sitting up in order to breath better (I put a pillow on each side to hold my arms). My goodness, what confusion that caused since he slid down my upper body when trying to climb up. For about two days he tried reaching my upper body (critical to waking me apparently) then he’d wander off to his cat tree giving me dejected looks.  After that he started plunking down on my legs for a while before heading off to his cat tree to sleep, still puzzled for another day or two but at least not protesting.

    It has been almost two weeks now and he has adjusted. Sleeping sitting up sounds unusual obviously but is more common than one might think. It is also more comfortable than one might think. For those interested, an on-line search provides much helpful information about how to sleep sitting up. This solution is certainly unorthodox and would not work for everyone but I will stick with it–sleep is blessed!

  2. Hey Ingrid, it’s Kitty’sMom. I had a dental appt and otherwise ran around since submitting that long post a couple days ago. The window with the draft was still open and I just now opened it to close it and wow, looks like I thought I was writing a book! It’s been an interesting 2 years with my little guy so guess I got carried away. I’d like to send in a much revised version which will be good practice for me. If you can use it once received, okay and if not that’s okay too! Thanks for all you do!

  3. My problem is my work schedule. One day I work 8-5, the next 1:30-9:30 and so on. Any suggestions on how to get them on a schedule at night? I usually get up at 5am. But what about the night time schedule?

    • That is challenging. I would try to feed them when you get up at 5am, then again when you get home after your 8-5 shift, and another small meal before you go to bed after your late shift. On the days when you work the late shift, feed them a small meal before you leave for work, and then again when you come home. That is probably the best you can do with your schedule to establish a fairly consistent schedule for them.

  4. My cats do pretty good. Miss Kiki is waking me up about 4 or 4:30, by licking my face. I usually just pull the covers over my head and she stops. My husband and I always wake up at 5, so the girls don’t have too long to wait for their breakfast.

  5. I have an issue with my 2 year old male rescue cat, who wakes me at 1am every single morning to be let outside. He has a clean litter tray readily available, which he seems to have stopped using since going outside. He tends to stay outside all day while I am at work, and only comes in at 5.30pm – always has a play with his laser mouse on an evening, and has a big meal before bed.

    His behaviour is so destructive when waking me, I cannot ignore it – knocking things over/off the wall, tries to climb curtains, sitting on my head, getting under the duvet, you name it! I am unable to install a cat flap, but at a loss to what else I could try?! Any opinions welcomed…

  6. Mine wakes me up morning and night. Anytime she knows I am asleep she will jump on me or lay on my side til I am up. Then once I am awake she goes to sleep. Every time.

  7. this page has helped me so much as I have just acquired my first cat, a beautiful “tortie”. Her behavior in the early am mystified me until I read all similar behaviors. It can really be annoying as once she gets me up she goes back to sleep! Will try all advice given. Do wish I could understand cat speak!!!

  8. My cat is very hard to break from this habit. It can be really early some mornings–the earliest was 1:30 not long ago. I thank the Lord when it is close to 5:00 by the time she starts to annoy me awake. She has clever ways, like going under the bed to dig at some boxes I have there–thus making noise, or jumping up near me and making her btttp bttp sounds. She gets onto the side table and starts knocking things down. She digs at the side of the mattress, then looks innocently at me when I look at her. I have a water bottle that I spray her with, and I don’t get up to feed her until there has been a length of time that she has been quiet and not bothering me. I try to make it between 5 and 6 each morning, so she doesn’t get used to any earlier meals. I feed her in the evening, give her dry food for overnight, and have tried an auto-feeder for the morning. She still bothers me, because it is not just the food she wants. She wants my attention. She has literally dove onto me from atop my cabinet, all 12 pounds of her landing on my legs. And, once I am up, she goes to sleep! It is so frustrating. I do play with her, and she has so many toys out on the floor every night. I have tried shutting her out, but she digs at the rug and wood door frame. This is a rental, and I can’t have her damaging things. The water spray works hit or miss for how long it keeps her away. She comes back, sooner or later, and starts it all again. Is there no hope of getting her to just leave me alone until I am ready to be up?

      • My cat is doing better. It helped to get an auto-feeder, that opens up at set points early in the morning, so she can be fed without me getting up. Also, I feed her a later snack than I used to before bed. I used a spray bottle (water) and a plastic bag (shake it) and my own voice and pushing her off the bed. I hardly have to use these anymore. It did take time and consistent responses to her behavior. But she is 90 percent better than she was. And she has no added phobias or distrust of me. She will even come to lie in bed with me and be good, and that earns her a nice cuddle and no spray or rattling bag. So she knows the difference in behavior. She just had to learn I would not put up with her being obnoxious, and that she would still get fed in the AM whether I was up or not. Plus when I get up, she runs to me, and I tell her thank you for letting me sleep, and give her pets, or pick her up and scratch the back of her neck while I am positively reinforcing her desirable behavior with repeated words, daily–“You let mama sleep. Good girl. Thank you.” Cats can pick up on words and tones, and she is particularly smart this way. Hope you can find some success in behavior modification, too.

  9. My 12 yr. old cat, Todd wakes us up every night around 2 or 3 a.m. by jabbing me all over with his claws and meowing and also taking a mad dash across the bed and pouncing on top of us which doesnt feel good as he weighs about 27 pounds. Cant lock him out, what should I do?

  10. Why does my cat keep waking me up after I feed her? I can’t figure it out. It’s not really for attention, seems more like she just wants me up…sigh

  11. Hi my name is Anna. Arielle is just over 2 yrs and i purchased her from the welfare, she has had 2 owners before me. I had a problem with litter at first, but that’s sorted out now. It’s the waking me up at 3.00 am that’s a problem, i don’t feed her till 4.45 she won’t wait any longer than that time because she’s up so early. She has her biscuits to nibble on, but just wants to be feed. I lock her out of the room till 4.30 am, but she meow’s till i get up. The previous owners had dogs and i image she was kicked outside earl mornings, but i don’t want to do that as there are so many cats in my area.

      • Hi Ingrid, I know how you feel, at least your cat doesn’t bother you till 5.00. Arielle starts wondering around from 3.00, although this this morning it was 4.00! It’s very exhausting and I’m still trying to find a way to keep her from doing this!

        • I have a Bengal and she’s a talker! Ive been doing everything that has been suggested online. I have her on a feeding schedule, I play with her all the time and every evening before bed, I ignore her when she is in another room howling, and yet another year passes and she still wakes us up around 3 or 4 in the morning. We love her so much but she sure can be annoying.

  12. My male cat gets lots and lots of exercise, he free feeds. He has been waking me up by jumping on my head at five am. As a poor sleeper, this can’t continue. Once I’m awake I can’t go back to sleep, so I’m a wreck for the entire day. The only solution is to keep him out and the door closed. None of your suggestions will work.

  13. Hello, for the past 8 months we have done everything mentioned here and in other articles. We have a feeding schedule, we have a play schedule which includes play before bed time and we ignore our girl when she talks but every morning at 4:3o she starts wailing and roaming the house. She does this for hours. We don’t know what to do. We just keep ignoring her hoping she’ll clue in but again 8 months later and she still gets us up every morning. We can’t lock her out of our room because you can still hear her and she has claws so she try’s to dig under the door. She’s a Bengal so her meows are loud enough to her from outside the house. She’s got a great personality and happy and sweet but we are dying from exhaustion. By the time we are up and ready to go we find her finally sleeping.

    • Bengals do have a lot of energy, and it can be challenging to offer enough stimulation for them to help them burn off some of that energy so you can sleep at night! Try structured play session, 15-20 minutes at least a couple of times a day. Really get her tired out. Make the last session just before bedtime.

      If you’re open to leash training, taking her for walks may be another way to help her burn off energy.

  14. One of our cats has been waking up EXTRA early ever since Daylight Savings – almost three months ago! He used to wake up around 6-6:30 am and breakfast is always at 7; now he’s been waking up around 5 am every single day.

    He’s always woken us up with loud meowing, which wasn’t a problem when everyone was waking up at 6:30 anyway (we definitely see now what a mistake it was to enable him). The big problem with the 5 am meows is that we live in an apartment with quiet hours until 7 am – and you can DEFINITELY hear him down the hallway. He’s only quiet once we’re up and spending time with him. Our fellow cat-family neighbors are understanding but not everyone is so kind.

    Do you have any thoughts or advice to help curb either his early noise or early wake up time?

    He’s young and playful, and our vet ruled out medical problems. It doesn’t seem to be food related, as he doesn’t ask for breakfast until close to 7. We’ve tried different ideas, all with no effect: bedtime snacks, extra playtime, toy rotation, morning videos of birds and squirrels. The only thing that keeps him quiet is when we wake up and spend time with him. Even our other cat is exhausted at that hour of day!

    How can we help him return to his pre-Daylight Savings schedule, or help curb his meows? We don’t have the luxury of waiting a few weeks to stop rewarding his behavior and just ride it out.

    Thank you so much, your website is invaluable!

    • It sounds like you’ve tried all the tips in this article except the part about not giving in to his wake up tactics. Unfortunately, every time you give in and spend time with him, you reinforce that from his perspective, his behavior is getting the results he wants.

  15. When our lovely Pepe Bengal wants food it doesn’t matter what time it is. 3 am or 5am he tugs on the bedroom door and wakes us up. And if he hears us turn around in bed we are done he won’t stop until we give him food lol

  16. The reason for cats waking people up in the early hours (before 6am) is almost always food-related.
    I would divide the meals into at least 3, preferably more, a day. Use a timed food dispenser which you set to just about an hour before she usually wakes you up. That way kitty has something to eat and will almost certainly settle down thereafter and leave you to sleep peacefully.

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