Curious why your cat seems to sleep all day, then wakes you up in the middle of the night to play? Have a cat who races across the covers and play bites your toes every night at 2AM? Wonder what you can do to discourage these "eye-opening" behaviors???
Felines are diurnal species, meaning their highest activity level is twice daily, typically at dusk and dawn. In the wild, cats are nocturnal hunters. Their vision is highly acute in low light, giving them a greater advantage over their prey at nighttime. Cats use their whiskers to "feel" their way around, despite how much light there is. They also have carpal hairs along their forelegs (near the "wrist" of the cat) that are used for nerve sensation, much in the way whiskers are. All of these factors make cats ample hunters during the nighttime.
In house cats, many of these nocturnal behaviors are still retained, despite the lack of need to hunt for food. Most common in kittens, and it's been studied to show these nocturnal behaviors tend to decrease between 12-18 months of age. Though some cats are just "young at heart" and these behaviors can continue well into their adulthood.
This nocturnal behaviors are often not well tolerated by the humans, who are trying to rest. It's deemed irritating to owners because they are loosing sleep, due to the excessive vocalizations, running amuck during exuberant chase sessions, pouncing on the owner's face or body, play biting toes and other extremities that may be accessible, or possible destructive behaviors while unattended. My Kitty was originally surrendered to the humane society because her previous owner was unwilling to tolerate any nocturnal activity that might startle or wake her.
So it's not just important to understand WHY our cats act this way in the middle of the night, but it's equally vital to find reasonable solutions to help curtail these potentially unwanted behaviors. First off, DO NOT reprimand or physically punish your cat -- it will only break the human-animal bond, and possibly even reinforce the behavior to happen more. Instead, simply ignore the behavior, as not to reinforce it or create a negative association to you, the human.
Many people have successfully decreased nocturnal behaviors in their cats by providing more socialization and play time during the daylight hours. Play with and give attention in the early evening before bedtime, to tire your kitty out just before you go to sleep. Invest in some perches and cat trees to place near active windows, to keep your cat entertained during the daytime. Our Kitty loved the bay view window -- we called it her "Kitty TV" and she would sit there for hours, watching people pass by, the squirrels and birds on the feeder, or something as simple as leaves blowing in the wind.
Buy some interactive games and puzzles to keep your cat busy. Use "prey-like" toys such as a cat dancer or laser light to encourage those predatory behaviors in the RIGHT ways. This will hopefully discourage your cat from wanting to attack your feet every time you might roll over in your sleep. If your cat likes other cats, consider getting a second feline around the same age and temperament to be a playmate, for better physical and mental health.
Feed your cat before bedtime. The post-prandial serotonin release that the body exhibits once full may help your cat settle and sleep better throughout the night. Consider an automatic feeder too, so your cat is not howling AT YOU for food!
You can manage your environment to set your cat up to succeed. Restricting access, like closing the bedroom door, may help. But if your cat is anything like mine was, this caused MORE ruckus due to her strong distain for closed doors. You can try to set booby traps like motion-activated sprayers or ultrasonic noise-makers, if this is the case for your kitty. Try preventing access to the cat's favorite sleeping areas during the day, to encourage wakefulness during the daylight hours. Then offer and allow access to these coveted sleeping spaces only at nighttime, when you need your rest too.
If you've tried all of these behavior modification techniques, and you are still having problems with your cat, consult your local veterinarian. There can be underlying medical causes, such as cognitive dysfunctions, that can be assessed and managed by your vet. There are also many natural, homeopathic solutions to possibly help your cat sleep better throughout the night. When in doubt, have it checked out! Sweet dreams!
Up all night? Your cat may be as well!