As a pet parent, you want what’s best for your cat. You may wonder if it’s better for them to sleep in the dark, or with light on. Does it matter? Should you leave the light on? Can cats be scared of the dark? 

Do cats sleep better in light or dark?

You may know that people sleep better in the dark. Many humans prefer leaving a night light on for various reasons. However, from a health standpoint, the darker the better. Do cats sleep better in the dark as well? 

Cats Natural Sleeping Environment

To determine the best sleeping conditions for cats, it’s best to look at how they would sleep in the wild. Their bodies are adapted to periods of darkness. In the wild, the sun provides daylight. Once the sun sets, darkness blankets the land. 

Cats don’t sleep through the entire night. They sleep during the day and the night. From this standpoint, it’s easy to assume that a cat doesn’t need darkness, because they sleep in the daytime as well. However, too much light may affect a cat’s circadian rhythm. 

Can cats see in the dark?

It’s common knowledge that cats can see in the dark, right? The truth is a bit more complex. Cats can see in low light. Your cat can see perfectly well in what may seem like nearly complete darkness to you. 

They can’t see in complete darkness, but their eyes are much more efficient at gathering available light than ours are. A nightlight or moonlight is enough to allow them to see very well. 

Eye Anatomy

There are many similarities between the eyes of humans and cats, as well as a few important differences. 

The retina is located at the back of the eye. It contains two types of cells, known as rods and cones. Put simply, rod cells are better for night vision. They make better use of available light. Cone cells allow us to see color, and provide more detail than rods. 

Human eyes have more cones than rods. This allows us to see a wide range of colors, and different shades of colors. Cats, on the other hand, can’t distinguish between some colors. 

However, because cats have 6 to 8 times the rods of humans, they have excellent night vision, which they see in black and white. 

This isn’t the only difference. Cats are also able to dilate their eyes much wider proportionately than humans. When you see a cat at night, it can seem as if the pupil takes up the entire eye. The pupil gathers light to help the cat see in the dark. 

Lastly, cats have a mirror like tissue behind the retina, known as the tapetum lucidum. Tapetum lucidum means “bright tapestry” in latin. This is what causes your cat’s eyes to glow at night. The purpose is to reflect any light lost back into the retina, further increasing night vision. 

Complete Darkness

You may have noticed a common theme with all these adaptations. They all make the best use of any available light. This allows cat’s eyes to use amounts of light that we can’t detect with ours. 

However, they can’t see in complete darkness anymore than we can. Complete darkness is a rare occurrence in the wild. It appears in caves and in deep holes. Thick woods can also be very dark. In these situations, cats can’t see. However, they can go for a moonlight stroll and see well. This gives them an advantage over much of their prey. 

Kittens

Young kittens are born with their eyes closed. They open their eyes between 9 and 14 days. At this time, their vision isn’t fully developed. It takes about 10 weeks for them to develop the full vision an adult cat enjoys. 

Kittens can’t see well at night. Of course, they can’t see well in the day either. If you notice your kitten is anxious with the lights out, it may be because their night vision isn’t strong enough for them to see their environment. This can be stressful, just as it would be for us. 

If a light provides some comfort for a kitten, there’s nothing wrong with leaving one on. Just use a dim night light. 

When do cats naturally sleep?

Cats are naturally crepescular. This means they are most active at dawn and dusk. However, their living conditions have a significant impact on when they sleep. 

Melatonin 

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland. It’s present in both cats and humans, and it’s what allows us to sleep. It triggers our brains to wind down, and prepare for sleep. 

Melatonin is produced in darkness. Humans who are exposed to light at night can suffer sleep disturbances, because their bodies don’t produce enough melatonin. The effect of light at night on cats hasn’t been studied, but it’s possible it could disturb their sleep as well. 

Even though cats can sleep in darkness and light, their bodies have evolved to experience a certain amount of darkness each night. 

Circadian Rhythms

Just like humans, cats have circadian rhythms. Our circadian rhythm tells us to sleep at night. A cats, however, tells it to sleep for periods during the night and day, and wake up at dawn and dusk. 

It’s theorized this gives them access to more prey in the wild. They can hunt birds, which are active during the morning hours, and rodents, which are active at night. Shorter periods of rest may also make them less vulnerable to predators. 

Can Cats Adapt to Human Sleep Patterns? 

One study found that a cat’s environment has a strong effect on sleep patterns. One group of cats lived in small homes with their owners. They could access a small yard for an hour in the mornings. 

The other group of cats lived with owners in large houses. These houses also had large yards, which they could access anytime of day. This group of cats stayed outside during the night, from 9 pm to 8 am. 

The cats who slept indoors in smaller homes had a sleeping pattern that was close to that of their owners, spending most of the night sleeping. The cats who were outside at night were nocturnal, meaning they spent most of the night hours awake. 

This suggests that while cats are naturally crepuscular, they can adapt to their owners’ sleeping patterns somewhat.  

Should I leave the light on for my cat at night?

Cats don’t need a light on at night to see, nor do  they sleep better with the light on. However, there are some situations where leaving a light on is desirable. 

Cat Preference

Cats generally don’t mind the dark, but each cat has its own personality and preferences. Some cats see better in the dark than others. If your cat doesn’t have great night vision, they may be uncomfortable in the dark. 

Because cats are naturally active in the dark, a cat will not automatically settle down because it’s dark. A cat who enjoys the night life may feel that it’s time to play when the lights go out. 

There’s also the rare cat who is afraid of the dark. Just like humans, cats can have anxieties and phobias. It’s possible that they don’t see well in the dark. It’s also possible they had a traumatic experience in the dark, and associate the darkness with negative experiences. If your cat prefers a light on, there’s no harm in leaving a low light on at night time. 

Owner Preference

When considering leaving a light on, there’s also your preferences to consider. If you prefer to leave a light on, you don’t have to turn it off for your cat’s benefit. Some owners prefer to leave a light on for safety reasons. 

After all, if you’ve ever tripped over a cat in the dark, you know it can be disastrous. There’s also furniture to navigat3e around if you need to get up during the night. 

Your cat can see in low light conditions as well as in the daytime, so they can navigate well with a light off. Humans are not so lucky. 

Options

If your cat has run of the house at night, then you can provide them with options. You can leave a light on where it’s convenient for you. In other areas, turn all the lights off. This allows your cat to choose the conditions they prefer at nighttime. 

Type of Light 

The invention of the LED bulb has been beneficial for night lights. These bulbs are energy efficient, and they don’t heat as other bulbs do. This makes them a safe option to leave on, particularly in smaller spaces. 

Plug in lights are the most popular night lights. They are also easy to use and inexpensive. Many today automatically turn off during the day, and come on at night. 

The other option is to leave on a lamp or overhead light. LED bulbs can also be used for these situations. Their lack of heat does add an extra layer of safety, particularly for lamps, which can be tipped over. 

If you want to leave a lamp or overhead light on, choose a low-wattage LED bulb. This will provide a soft light that shouldn’t be overwhelming. You’ll want to use the light away from your sleeping area. However, They can be much too bright to use in your bedroom, for example. Instead, leave the light on in the hall, to allow some light to filter into the room. 

Author

I created and currently run Kitty Cat Tips, the website that you can go to when you have questions about your cat's behavior. It's my hope that you find Kitty Cat Tips to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your cat. You can read more about me and my website here.