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Restoring Rest: Don’t Let Your Cat Make the Wake-Up Call

In the distant future, when cats and people have spent another few thousand years together, it’s likely that our sleep schedules will more closely coincide. Until then, cats will continue to wake up early—and encourage you to do the same—by running across the headboard, rattling the blinds, or knocking a glass of water off the dresser.

Nature’s urges are a lot stronger than your desire to snooze for another hour, so there’s no easy way to teach cats that mornings are for sleeping. Once you understand your cat’s underlying motivations and desires, however, you can encourage him to sleep a little later, or at least to leave you alone while keeping himself entertained.

Satisfy their urges. Even though cats have been domesticated for thousands of years, their hunting instincts remain strong. On a typical “wild” night, cats would hunt, eat, and sleep—a routine that’s hard to maintain in a modern apartment or townhouse. You can help cats sleep more soundly by simulating these ancient scenes—by playing with them for 20 minutes in the evening and feeding them afterward. This gives them the sense that they’ve caught their prey and done a good day’s work. Gentle play is fine. In fact, playing too energetically will rev your cat up and make it harder for him to sleep. People think that playing with their cats has to be high-energy, but cats don’t kill prey that way.

Ignore the fuss. One of the most annoying tricks cats use to get their owners out of bed is also, unfortunately, one of the most effective. They will get just out of range and meow or howl. They know you have to get up to deal with them. And once they succeed in getting you out of bed, you can be sure that they’ll remember this neat trick the next time. The minute they get you up, they’ve won. Since cats figure out what doesn’t work just as quickly as they learn what does, it’s worth gritting your teeth, covering your head with the pillow, and pretending to be asleep as long as they continue crying. Ignoring your cat may not help him sleep later, but he will learn that he’s wasting his time trying to get you up. You need to set clear boundaries so that your cat will understand what the rules are.

Go on the offensive. Like children who won’t take “no” for an answer, cats don’t always interpret a lack of interest as meaning “go away.” You may need to respond more assertively to their morning incursions—by misting them with a spray bottle, for example, or bleating a tricycle horn. They’ll figure out that it’s better to let you sleep.

Help them adjust. Cats who have only recently started pestering you in the morning may be bothered by something that’s happened in their lives. It could be something as simple as another cat visiting the yard. Moving to a new house can also be a problem. Giving your cat extra attention during the day and evening can help reduce stress and help him sleep more soundly.

If you’ve recently moved, you may want to keep your cat in a small area at first, like the bedroom or a laundry room. When cats are tense, they don’t like having too much territory.

Keeping them in a smaller area, with their food and a litter box handy, will help them feel a little calmer. Try an electric “waiter.” Until your cat learns to operate the can opener, he’s going to depend on you to fill his cat bowl—and he won’t be shy about telling you when his tummy’s rumbling. You can take yourself out of the picture by getting an automatic feeder.  Available at pet supply stores, these ingenious gadgets can be programmed to open at whatever time you like. This means that you can feed your cat in the morning and save your sleep at the same time.

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