How to help an older cat sleep at night

Article expert
Approved by

Nicky Trevorrow

Cats Protection
Reviewed by

Brian Faulkner

Veterinary Surgeon
RCVS Registered

As cats age, their sleeping habits can change. While some mature moggies may snooze away most of the day, other old cats yowl all night long. We suggest ways to help older cats get a good night’s sleep.

If there’s one thing most cats are good at, it’s getting some shut-eye. Cat sleeping habits vary, but the average cat sleeps for around 16 hours a day, while very young or old cats may snooze for considerably longer.

Do cats sleep more as they get older?

As cats age, they can sleep up to 20 hours per day. It makes sense for an older cat to sleep more because, like ageing humans, they may have reduced mobility and less energy.

It can be concerning for many owners to find that their older cat’s sleeping habits have changed and their beloved pet sleeps all day long. The good news is, an older cat sleeping a lot is often nothing to worry about. As long as they are in generally good health for their age, a change in a cat’s sleeping habits is normal as they grow older.

Why doesn’t my cat sleep at night?

In some cases, an older cat may sleep less at night-time compared with when they were younger. After years of relatively peaceful nights, owners of older cats can suddenly find themselves woken up by their pet yowling.

Ageing can change the way cats behave at night and this is especially true if they’re suffering from feline dementia, also known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Signs of CDS include learning and memory issues, such as pooping in the wrong place, general confusion and changes to their sleeping patterns. Cats with CDS may start waking up frequently at night and becoming much more vocal.

If a cat has CDS, not being able to find their owner, not being able to see or hear properly, or simply feeling cold, can all make them feel very anxious. This anxiety can also lead to an old cat yowling at night.

CDS isn’t the only condition that can disrupt senior cats’ sleep, however. Arthritis, failing sight, dental pain, hyperthyroidism or kidney problems can also affect a cat’s sleeping habits.

Be alert to signs of pain (which are really subtle in cats) or behavioural changes that are worsening. If you feel your cat is in distress – physical or psychological – contact your vet straight away.

How to get an older cat to sleep at night

Once your vet has ruled out any underlying medical causes, there are plenty of things you can try at home to soothe a restless senior cat and to encourage positive cat sleeping habits.

Help your anxious cat rest at night

If your pet does seem to be experiencing night-time anxiety and disrupted sleep, try a synthetic pheromone diffuser. These plug-ins mimic the pheromone that cats produce when they feel relaxed.

Older cats, particularly those with CDS, may feel less able to defend their territory at night, and this can make them very restless at this time. Simple tricks, such as closing the curtains to prevent your cat from seeing other animals outside, or providing toys to distract them, can help ensure they have a more peaceful night and improve their sleeping habits.

It’s also a good idea to gently call out to your cat in the night, to reassure them that you are nearby, since this can stop them yowling in some instances. Despite popular belief, cats cannot see in the dark when it is pitch black, so place night lights next to your cat’s important resources. This helps them to find their resources more easily at night-time.

Create spaces in your home where your cat feels safe

There are several ways to boost your cat’s feelings of safety, which will promote better sleeping habits at night. Provide your cats with lots of hiding places where they can snuggle in and rest. An igloo-style bed, cardboard boxes with blankets inside or play tunnels will give them a safe space to reduce their anxiety. Actively encourage your cat to use these hiding spaces with treats and familiar bedding.

You could also try limiting your cat’s night-time environment to one or two rooms, to see if this makes them feel more in control. Make sure senior cats can still reach their favourite areas – particularly those up high – by providing ramps or footstools. It’s all about making your cat feel secure in their core territory.

Finally, give your pet access to warm, safe places to sleep. Using a safe heated cat bed, or keeping radiators switched on in cold weather, will also help your cat to relax. Heated cat beds only heat up to a cat’s body temperature, so you don’t need to worry about your cat overheating.

Keep playing with your cat to keep them happy and alert

Daytime play and stimulation are vital for older cats. Remember, however, that cats need much more sleep than humans, so be sure to let them catch some daytime shut-eye as well. You may need to adjust your play style if your cat isn’t very mobile, but simply watching a toy move in a prey-like way can keep your cat happy and alert. Always allow them to catch and ‘kill’ the toy wherever possible to release endorphins (‘happy hormones’). Activity feeders are another good solution to mimic natural hunting behaviour.

Lower the litter tray to reduce night-time accidents

Toilet accidents at night are more common in older cats, and have many possible causes: your cat’s litter tray may be too high to access comfortably, they could have cystitis or they may simply be too frightened to move around at night. All of this can add to their anxiety, which can affect their sleep.

If your cat is experiencing night-time toileting accidents, it’s important to check with your vet to rule out cystitis or another medical problem. If there is no medical reason for night-time accidents, experiment with a larger, low-sided litter tray alongside your cat’s existing tray, so they have a more comfortable option.

For more advice on caring for your elderly cat, read our comprehensive guide.

Love snoozes with your cat? Stick a snap of you and your pet on social media with the tag #PethoodStories – we’d love to share it.

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