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How to Train Your Cat to Let You Sleep

Cats like to be awake when you’re asleep.

Cats sleep as much as sixteen hours a day—but not in a row. They take naps and wake up around the clock. Their sleeping schedule is somewhat like an infant human's, whereas most adult humans like to sleep through the night. So you can see the potential for conflicts between feline cat-nappers and their slumbering human companions. But every conflict is an opportunity to develop a win-win resolution.

When cats do sleep, sometimes they use your bed, or use you as a bed, because they want to be close to you. This is endearing, but some people have trouble sleeping with a cat splayed out on their stomach.

So there are two issues with which this article deals: cats awake at night making noise, and cats asleep at night taking over the bed.

Part 1: Your Kitty's Nighttime Adventures

Half of you sleep so soundly that you don't hear the kitten stampeding around the house at 3 am. Or maybe you have a quiet, mellow cat who lets you sleep through the night. For the rest of you, read on.

Tips to Help You and Your Cat Make it Through the Night

  • Try to establish a routine where you and your kitty engage in a rousing play session with interactive toys just before you go to bed each night. After the final victorious pounce, reward your cat with a snack. If all goes according to plan, the kitty will be tuckered out, wash up, and settle into a blissful nap—which should buy you at least one REM sleep cycle.
  • An automatic cat feeder that deposits food a couple of times during the wee hours of the morning will probably attract your cat's attention and help fill his tummy in a more novel way than grazing at the food bowl. It may also save you needing to get up at 4 am to fill the cat food dish.
  • Buy or construct a comfortable cat perch, and place it near your bed, by a window. This can work out quite well. Your kitty gets to hang out near you, and he gets to watch all the nocturnal goings-on outside that cats can see with their keen nighttime vision. Then he can drift off to sleep on his own comfortable furniture. You may want to look at perches that have sides, to make kitty feel cozier. (We discuss this more in Part 2, below.) With this arrangement, you may occasionally feel the pitter-patter of little feet running over you, but most cat parents tend to sleep right through that or incorporate it into their dreams.
  • Sleep machines that generate a soothing, steady sound, such as rainfall, can block out intermittent cat noises such as scratching or litter box use. These devices do a decent job of filtering out routine noise, and they may be a great bargain.
  • Place toys around the house in hiding places that range from easy to moderately hard for your cat to find. The idea is that your kitty will find the toys and be delighted to play with his discoveries. You probably don't want to hide toys with bells in them, or ones that make a lot of noise as they roll on the floor and bounce off the walls. Add interest to the toy hunt by using a steady rotation of props, such as cardboard boxes: place the toy in the box, slightly under it, on top of it, or teetering on the edge. Use your imagination—so your kitty can use his. And your cat may just end up using the box as a bed for a while, too.

Yes, the toys will quickly collect under the couch, behind doors, in the closet, and in various odd places such as your shoes. That's a given; it comes with the species, just like fur on the couch. Providing adequate stimulation for our feline friends is part of the deal, and picking up a few cat toys here and there is nothing compared to the fun your kitty can experience from playing with them. Not to mention the sleep you'll gain. You can learn more about making fun cat toys in the article "Clever DIY Cat Toys."

A Feline Playmate?

Do you have one cat? Does he seem to be bored or crave attention during the night? Have you considered having two cats? There may be some distinct advantages to going this route. Cat 1 can play with, groom, stare out the window with, eat next to, and nap with Cat 2 if they get along reasonably well. This is a major decision, so do your homework beforehand to be confident that you're ready for two cats and to make sure that you get a cat that's compatible with yours. Some cats highly prefer to be the only cat in the household, although even in those cases, there often are specific other cats that they get along with quite amiably.

Introduce new cats gradually and with ample oversight, applying positive praise to make the introduction process go as smoothly as possible and to help ensure years of friendship, or at least peaceful coexistence, between the two felines.

Make sure you have enough "prime resources" around the house to minimize territory disputes. These include perches, window views, hiding places, scratching posts, your lap, and your kind attention.

Part 2: Let Sleeping Cats Lie...in Bed with You?

(Or, "I woke up with a cat on my head")

Again—half of you delight in sleeping with a little fur ball or three nestling against you, purring and cute as sugarplums. Even if they do take up most of the bed. Those of you in the other half are drinking lots of caffeine. This is primarily for group two.

Cat Beds

Some cats would rather sleep in cat beds than in human beds with humans in them. This is worth a try anyway. Annie Bruce, in Cat Be Good: A Commonsense Approach to Training Your Cat, succinctly sums up cats' preferences: "Different cats prefer different beds." The book has many useful tips on selecting or fashioning a bed for your cat and deciding where to place it.

There is a nearly overwhelming selection of cat beds from which to choose. There are large beds, small beds, square beds, round beds, heated beds, poly-fill beds, orthopedic beds, catnip-treated beds, faux lambs-wool beds, covered beds, and—take note—completely machine-washable beds. This bed is a great 3-in-1 option.

There may be more types of beds for cats than for humans.

If your kitty takes a liking to her cat bed, you'll need to clean it frequently or she'll become disinterested. Cats, fastidious as they are, will prefer a human bed (like yours) with freshly washed sheets over a filthy cat bed.

Many kitty condos and cat trees serve well as beds, in addition to fulfilling a multiplicity of other functions. If you buy a cat tree, select one with shelves that are big enough for your kitty to sprawl out on. Or get a tree that has one or more perches with low-sided walls. Cats like the snugness of the enclosed feeling but appreciate that they can look out over the wall onto their kingdom. Gazing at the outdoor wildlife and then dozing off into a deep snooze on a favorite cat tree by the window—while you take a nap to catch up on the sleep you missed during the week—is a great way for your kitty to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Consider two or more cat beds (makeshift or bought). Cats, more than humans, often like to sleep in a variety of places, even in one night. In addition, your kitty's preferred sleeping spot may change with the seasons—perhaps in a cozy loft upstairs in the cold of winter and on a cool surface downstairs during the dog days of summer.

Equitably Divvying Up the Bed

Often, what keeps the humans awake is not that the kitty's on the bed, but that he's chosen an awkward spot. Many a spouse has complained that they were confined to a tiny little sliver of the bed all night, because their kitty and the "better half" took up most of the prime real estate. There's no formula for this, but you may be able to work out a deal where your cat can have a section of the communal bed but is located down by your feet. You may be able to gently lift him there and give him some good-night scratches on the forehead to help him settle in. Many families have worked out a mutually agreeable system of who goes where, so if you like the concept of a kitty sharing the bed with you but you can't sleep when he's stretched out everywhere you want to be, you may want to try this policy.

Unconventional Cat Sleeping Places

Some cats like to sleep on anything new (new to them, that is). Big sheets of tissue paper (like the ones you get when you buy a shirt), a piece of luggage flattened out, a seat cushion, a coat that's been in the closet for six months, even two cardboard scratching pad replacement boards fastened together. There's almost no limit to what cats will sleep on. Your kitty may decide to appropriate a given object as a bed for one night, or for the next several years, so be prepared to give up items for the cause if you ever leave them out as a guest bed for kitty.


Humans Only Beyond This Point, 11pm - 6:30am*

If your bedroom must be a no-cat zone because you can't sleep through late-night kitty antics or because of allergies, closing your door may not be enough. If your cat wants in, he'll scratch at the door or carpet around it and meow, and he'll be persistent. A baby gate down the hall from your bedroom door will work better. Actually, you'll need two baby gates, one on top of the other, since most cats can jump over one. Make sure you have everything your cat may need and want throughout the night in the part of the house to which he's restricted. In the morning, remove the gates so your kitty can give you a big greeting and you can give him one back. You may want to have a couple of throw toys handy, too; your cat might be ready to play. Or hungry. Or both. He probably figures, "He kept us out of his part of the house all night, now he has to feed us and play with us," and there's some logic in that. Anyway, you'll have had a good night's sleep, so you should be ready for a kitty morning workout.

(*7am seemed too unrealistic.)

Conclusion

Wouldn't it be great if cats slept in eight-hour shifts each night like humans? Oh, well. In any committed relationship, there are compromises to be made, and each party has to make a sincere effort to accommodate the other. Within his capacity to do so, your kitty will adapt to your schedule. When he hears you coming home, he'll rise from his nap to meet you at the door. When you watch TV after dinner, he'll join you to be sociable, even if he can't stay awake the whole time. If your kitty goes to this much trouble to make things easier for you, the least you can do is meet him halfway. Hopefully this article has given you a starter set of ideas on how to make sure everyone in the household gets their required beauty rest, so that when they're awake, they'll have that much more energy and vigor with which to enjoy each other's company.


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