Cat owners are all too familiar with the nighttime “zoomies.” While many animals dart around in a display of frenetic energy, it seems that only cats enjoy doing this at 2 a.m. when their owners are asleep. Though the night zoomies can be difficult to understand, a cat researcher tells Inverse there’s actual science behind it.
But according to Mikel Delgado, a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis, the zoomies aren’t related to black magic — or so cats would have us think.
“The nighttime ‘zoomies’ or ‘crazy capering’ is common for a few reasons,” she tells Inverse. “One reason is that cats are naturally crepuscular, meaning active at dawn and dusk, which is when their natural prey (rodents) are active. Cats are not really nocturnal (a common misperception). So their internal rhythm just tells them, ‘It’s time to get active and start hunting.’”
Since kitties spend a lot of their day snoozing while their humans are at work, their internal clocks might be a little wonky.
“They tend to be more active when we’re more active, and so since many cat guardians are gone all day, when they get home there’s more going on in the house, and cats have all that energy stored up from lounging all day,” Delgado says. “It’s a good time to blow off some steam!”
Sure, the nighttime zoomies can be charming — but they’re not great for people who already have trouble sleeping. Increasing a cat’s daytime activity by providing them with food puzzles, a bird feeder to watch, or some other kind of enrichment can all help calm a cat down before bedtime, Delgado explains.
We might never know the one true cause of the zoomies, but at least we have some good ideas. In the best case scenario, cats are just expending some pent-up energy. At the very worst, they’re trying to open the portal to the cat dimension. But who knows.