How to Train Your Cat To Let You Sleep Sometimes

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I'm sleepy

Cats sleep sixteen hours a day—but not in a row. They take naps and wake up round the clock. Their sleeping schedule is somewhat like an infant's. Whereas most adult humans like to sleep through the night. So you can see the potential for conflicts. But every conflict is an opportunity for 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 layed 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.

 Semi-random fact 
According to cat behavior expert and author Dr. Bruce Fogle, yawning is a sign of nervousness in some species. Definitely not in cats.

Part 1 -- Kitty's Nighttime Adventures

Introduction

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

Basic Fact

Cats tend to get up when you're asleep, and sometimes when they do they have lots of energy and want to do stuff. Please know that before you get a cat.

Tips to Help You and Kitty Make it Through the Night

  • Try to establish a routine wherein you and kitty engage in a rousing play session just before you go to bed each night. After the final victorious pounce, reward kitty with a snack. If all goes according to plan, 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 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.
  • Buy or construct a comfortable perch, and put it near your bed and by a window. This can work out quite well. 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. And he drifts off to sleep in his own comfortable furniture. You may want to look at perches that have sides, to make kitty feel more cozy. (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 it, or incorporate it into their dreams.
  • "Sleep machines" generate a soothing, steady sound, such as rainfall, which blocks out intermittent noises such as kitty scratching or using the litter box. These devices do a decent job of filtering out routine noise and they may be a great bargain.
  • Put toys around the house in hiding places that range from easy to moderately hard. The idea is that kitty finds the toys and is delighted to play with his discoveries. You probably don't want to hide toys with bells in them, or toys 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, or on top of it, teetering on the edge. Use your imagination—so kitty can use his. Yes, the toys will quickly collect under the couch, behind doors, in the closet, and in various odd places such as in 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 kitty experiences from playing with them. Not to mention the sleep you'll gain.
 Semi-random fact 
A new or shy cat may choose a sleeping spot in which she feels safe, such as a high-up perch or under the bed. A confident, comfortable cat may sleep, well, just about anywhere.

A Feline Playmate

Do you have one cat? Who seems 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. Little Cat 1 can play with, groom, stare out the window with, eat with, and nap with Little 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 who's compatible with yours. (Some cats strongly prefer to be the only cat in the household, although even in those cases there often are specific other cats with whom they get along quite amiably.) Introduce new cats gradually and with ample oversight, applying positive praise and gentle negative discipline as required 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. Prime resources include perches, window views, hiding places, scratching posts, and your lap. And your kind attention.

For a brief introduction on bringing a new cat into a household that already has a cat, please see How to Introduce Your New Cat to the Rest of the Tribe.

Part 2 -- Let Sleeping Cats Lie...In Bed With You?

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

Introduction

Again—Half of you delight in sleeping with a little furball 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, 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, polyfill beds, orthopedic beds, catnip-treated beds, faux lambswool beds, covered beds, and—take note—completely machine-washable beds.

There may be more types of beds for cats than for humans. Which is interesting considering cats often prefer human beds.

If kitty takes a liking to her bed, you need to clean it frequently or she'll become disinterested. Cats, for whom cleanliness is next to godliness, 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 muliplicity of other functions. If you buy a cat tree, prefer one with shelves that are big enough for 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 feel, 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 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, 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.

 Semi-random fact 
One cat's junk is another cat's treasure. Anything you buy for kitty that she ignores can usually be donated to a local shelter or rescue group.

Equitably Divvying Up the Bed

Often, what keeps the humans awake is not that kitty's on the bed, but that he's chosen an awkward spot. Many a spouse (usually the wife, it seems) has complained that they were confined to a tiny little sliver of the bed all night, because kitty and the "better half" took up most of the real estate. There's no formula for this, but you may be able to work out a deal where kitty can have a section of the communal bed, but down by your feet. You may be able to gently lift him there and give him some good-night scritches 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 kitty sharing the bed with you, but 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. 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 kitty wants in, he'll scratch at the door and meow, and he'll be persistent. A baby gate down the hall works 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 the cats need and want throughout the night in the part of the house to which they're restricted. In the morning, "tear down that wall" so your kitties, who missed you, can give you a big greeting, and you can give them a big greeting back. You may want to have a couple of throw toys handy, too; they might be fired up. Or hungry. Or both. They probably figure, "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."

 Semi-random fact 
Cats generally aren't fond of closed doors, even though the door is usually closed for their own good. A closed door in cats' world doesn't compute: why would anyone willingly block access to territory?

(*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 others. Within his capacity to do so, kitty will adapt to your schedule. When he hears you coming home, he'll arise from his nap to meet you at the door. When you watch TV after dinner, kitty will join you to be sociable, even if he can't stay awake the whole time. If Kitty, who runs the place, goes to this much trouble to make things easier for his staff, the least the humans 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.

zzzz... purrrr...