The Secret to Getting Your Cat to Sleep Through The Night

Last updated: May 24, 2021

How to get your cat to sleep through the night by changing their feeding schedule, and switching to a grain-free cat food

My love for cats runs deep. I’ve been known to try and talk a few into following me home when I’m walking in the neighborhood, hoping they “want” an owner. And I dream of having a hobby farm with a cat barn that holds a dozen of them. I’ve taken my passion into cat rescue and I foster orphaned neonatals though Bitty Kitty Brigade, bottle feeding kittens until they can eat on their own and are medically stable.

But it wasn’t always that way. I actually had “no time” for cats most of my life. I had grown up in a hunting family with black labs, and was taught that cats didn’t really have a purpose, nor personalities, and strange loners if anything.

Until.
Brian and I had been dating for 4 months and he was leaving for Fiji. But he had also committed to watching his sister’s cat while she was on vacation, forgetting about his own trip. He announced that I’d be watching Fiona, her black cat, for a week, and I threw a mini fit. “Brian, I hate cats. What would make you think that this a good idea? How is she going to know where to go to the bathroom? She’s going to scratch the furniture.”

7 days later I had fallen completely head over heels for Fiona, my new friend, who snuggled with me at night and stood at the edge of my desk and stared at me while I typed. And 10 days later we had Grace, the sweet and sassy diva who fills my heart with more joy than I ever thought possible. And 8 years later, we adopted Bleu. They’ve both been my best friends ever since.

How to get your cat to sleep through the night by changing their feeding schedule, and switching to a grain-free cat food

I didn’t know much about being a cat mom, but figured it was proper to feed her once in the morning and at night. She’d wake us at 3am every morning, and assuming that was normal and she was hungry, I’d feed her a few kernels, hoping she’d go back to sleep. Instead, she’d bound from the bed and jump into our window blinds, a sound that will startle you from the inside out. Or scratch the carpet, stand on my stomach, and run laps in the hallway like a little black terror.

We resolved to the fact that for our sleep health and sanity, the only option was to put her away at night. We made the back bathroom her “bedroom”, with cat bed and litter box, and when we went to bed, so did she. And every night, for 6 years, when I’d close that door, I felt horrible, feeling like I was locking her up in solitary confinement.

This October we were at the vet and I mentioned the sleeping predicament, having never said anything about it before because I know many cats wake their owners. The first thing he asked about was her feeding schedule and the food. Knowing she was a stray, he explained:

  • In the wild they’re used to eating mini meals all throughout the day, every two or three hours.
  • Those meals are mostly living things, like bugs, worms, and some grass, but mostly protein. Our dogs and cats are carnivores. They require rich protein and amino acids that they can only get from real meat or seafood sources – something that vegetable protein sources alone won’t provide.
  • They need some wet food to keep them satiated and hydrated. Cats drink much less water than other animals, like dogs. And eating only dry food compounds this problem.

Lightbulb.

In effect, feeding her only twice throughout the day was putting her into “never going to be fed again” mode. Her blood sugars were likely going and up and down, creating swings like that of a human (probably why around 4pm each day she’d start scratching things, getting into things she shouldn’t be, and even nagging at me). AND, even though I was feeding her high quality cat food, it hadn’t even crossed my mind that it was made of mostly grains, carbohydrates. Also just like a human, carbohydrates are part of meals, but need to be countered with protein and fat, for satiation and fullness.

These three factors in combination looked to be the reason for her (and our) sleep struggles.

How to get your cat to sleep through the night by changing their feeding schedule, and switching to a grain-free cat foodMiracle: train a cat sleep through night

So “operation Grace” began.
Step 1: spacing out her meals.
Step 2: finding a grain-free cat food.

Since my home is my studio, I could easily keep track of feeding her mini meals, 6x a day to start with. Being the “Consumer News” type of buyer that I am, I starting researching different cat food brands. I loved that all of Nulo’s premium cat food had unique ingredients like lentils, cod, mackerel, duck, turkey, and low glycemic carbohydrates like chickpeas, peas, and sweet potatoes. The high protein/healthy carbohydrate focus is key for energy throughout the day and stabilizing blood sugar. And it includes a patented probiotic (which I never thought I’d see in a pet food)! This helps support their immune system, improved nutrient absorption, and prevent growth of yeast organisms that may cause skin problems and ear infections.

I bought the Salmon and Lentil grain-free dry (because that’s what I like to eat), and the Turkey and Chicken wet cans, and got started. When I opened the bag, I could literally smell the difference (notes of the actual real food ingredients).

We went from feeding her 2x a day to 4-5x a day, and she had no problem switching food.

How to train your cat to sleep through the night by changing their feeding schedule, and switching to a grain-free cat food

Each night she’d sleep a little longer, starting to understand her body was not hungry all the time, and that she was going to get fed. And at the same time, her afternoon mood swings went away because her blood sugars were stable.  Within three weeks, she was all snuggles next to my feet every night, and finally rustling awake around 6:30am, which is the time I get up anyways. HOORAY!

She’s getting better sleep, eating food that helps her stay fit and healthy, and mentally I’m relieved she doesn’t have to be cooped up in a room by herself at night. What was something we thought would never change, turned into something that made a big difference in our little family’s dynamic. xo, from Amanda and Grace

photos by Annie D’Souza and myself

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December 19, 2016

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16 comments

  1. Please help me going through the same thing two barn kitty’s love them both but they just want let me sleep please help me

  2. Hello! If I leave for work in the morning and don’t come back till around 7pm, should I leave a bunch of food out so he can eat freely? What’s your best suggestion because he’s driving me bonkers and I’d hate to give him away :(

    • Hi Olga!

      Yes, I would definitely leave dry food out for him while you are gone. And right before you go to bed, give him a half can of dry food. This will help keep him satisfied. Definitely not a reason to give him away, it will work out!

  3. Cats are obligate carnivores and need a high quality protein source in their diet. Because cats are desert animals, they do not have a natural thirst drive and it is best if they get their water intake from their food, i.e., canned wet food. If a cat eats too much dry food, you risk a lot of stress on their urinary tracts and kidneys (already a very vulnerable organ). Also because their urine is naturally so concentrated, if they do not get enough water intake, their urine can crystalize, requiring a very painful, and expensive, surgery, or else they will die. Feed your cats wet food for their health. It is closest to what they would consume in the wild (small mammals, which are 70-80% water).

    • Yes, I totally agree that water is so important! Grace drinks a lot, which we monitor, and we give her the Nulo grain-free wet food too. Thanks for all that great information!

  4. I haven’t given too much thought to what we feed our sweet kitty, but this makes me realize I really should! We run into the same thing, waking up very early for food and then going to back to sleep when he’s satisfied, but who knew there was a better way?! Give Grace a hug for me, I need to come back to visit her soon! xoxo

    • i know! we’re quick to think about what we feed ourselves, but what we feed them can go by the wayside. i think you should give it a try with Leo! and grace loves the hug. xo

  5. Quality food makes *such* a difference. It saddens me that it took me like 5 years of Ginger’s life before coming to the same food realizations for her that I had for myself. When we first switched her over to grain free it was like we had a new dog at feeding times. She went from completely un-amused with food to a normal “feed me, feed me, feed me!” type of dog excitement. Glad you figured out Grace’s issues and yay for good/real food for our fur babies :)

  6. Ahh love this! Milly had the same problems for a while until we switched her to grain free. Now I feed her at 5:30am, 9am, 2pm, 5pm and 9pm. The snack before bed has really helped us, but she still wakes up at the same time everyday. I also found that tiring her out works wonders! There’s this automatic laser pointer that she loves to play with, and we also got a bird feeder so she can sit and watch the birds & talk to them. Sounds crazy now that I type it out, but definitely works! :) xoxoxo!

    • Ditch the laser pointer. Experts say they cause problems for it’s not real and not something they can ever catch. Love all the rest though…

    • okay first of all, Milly is so so cute. i love when you show her on your snaps! and how she loves Tony. and i agree, the last feeding really helps. i go to bed around 11pm, so that’s when she gets it, and sometimes when i go to feed her in the morning, there’s still a little left, which i think is a great sign that she actually is satiated and getting the protein/nutrients that stick with her instead of burning off so quick. and i’m going to look on amazon for an automatic laser pointer today!