Do cats dream of mice and men?
Cats sleep on average 15 hours each day, which if you think about it is most of their lives spent sleeping. Have you ever wondered what cats dream about?
Cats can sleep as much as 16 hours a day, and older cats spend even more time at rest — as much as 20 hours a day. That sleeping habit is a result of the cat’s evolution, nutritional habits and physiology. In the wild, cats have to hunt in order to eat, and the stalking, chasing and killing of prey burns a lot of energy. Sleeping helps cats conserve energy between meals. Of the time cats spend sleeping, about three quarters of it is what we might call snoozing. In that state, cats can get all the rest they need, but they’re still alert enough to awaken at a moment’s notice. You can tell when a cat is in light sleep because their ears will twitch and rotate toward noises and their eyes will be open a tiny bit. Even when they’re sitting upright, cats can slip into that dozing mode.
Do cats really dream?
The remaining quarter of cats’ sleeping hours is spent in deep sleep, but older cats might spend as much as 30 percent or 40 percent of the time at that level. Cats in deep sleep are usually curled up with their eyes tightly closed. Sometimes, they might even have their tail over their face, like a fluffy sleep mask. Deep sleep is critical for the body’s ability to regenerate itself and stay healthy. It’s also the time when your cat dreams.
By this point if you’re a dog lover, or horse lover, or an animal lover of any other type, you may have decided to switch off and perhaps mentally go to sleep. Aha!
But I will also be asking if dogs dream?
So feline cats sleep the most up to 20 hours on a 24-hour period. I remember being told that humans were the only conscious beings, capable of asking why, and then possibly doing something about it. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that just as all animals sleep, including humans. As I have watched a number of cats in my own house fast asleep, sometimes I see them dreaming, REM sleep, their eyelids are flickering, often sleeping on their backs, I can see the arms and legs moving slightly responding to their dream. But I have no way of knowing what they’re dreaming about?
In many ways cats are faster than us, more agile than us, and can hear better than us, and can hunt better than us, because their eyesight is so good day or night, and their reactions are quicker than ours!
I was interested in the research by Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, who is a professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in New England, USA, who said in an article in Metro, that cats definitely dream.
He says that, ‘Cats exhibit all the physiological and behavioural characteristics of dreaming sleep in humans: low voltage fast wave activity, fast EEG activity – where the cerebral cortex (thinking centre) and hippocampus (memory centre) are active in the face of continued behavioural sleep.
‘Behavioural sleep is characterised by the absence of muscle potentials, super relaxed posture, unresponsiveness, and elevated auditory threshold.
‘This is the so-called the sleep of the body, where the mind is still active.
‘The fast wave EEG activity in periods of REM sleep is the dreaming phase of sleep.
What is REM sleep?
REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep is one of the four stages of sleep, and should take place every 90 minutes or so while you’re snoozing.
During REM sleep, your eyes will make distinctive movements while closed. This is when dreaming takes place. REM sleep is associated with maintaining important neural pathways and even learning new information. Your heartbeat during REM sleep will be rapid, which could be a response to the dreams you’re having.
‘These periods alternate with periods of slow wave sleep (the sleep of the mind) in which some muscle tone remains (the body is not totally relaxed) and there is no dreaming.
‘During the former fast wave sleep, rapid eye movements and twitching movements of the limbs, vibrissae and ears are seen.’
Just like humans, cats have periods of deep sleep where they are completely relaxed in their bodies, but their minds are actively dreaming. Dr. Dodman also has some ideas about what cats might dream about.
He says: ‘Like us, cats will probably dream about things that have gone on in the recent or distant past. ‘Maybe stalking a bird or mouse. Maybe being petted. Maybe an altercation with another cat or dog.’
Although dogs sleep slightly less than cats do, with adult dogs getting an average of 12-14 hours sleep a day, Dr. Dodman says that the brain activity present during sleep is remarkably similar.
‘The sleeping patterns of dogs, cats and humans are all very similar.
‘However, the phase length of REM sleep vs. slow wave sleep varies between individuals and between younger and older subjects.’ This means that the amount of dream time you get depends on your individual characteristics and your age. So potentially, cats and dogs could be dreaming just as much as you do.
If you see your cat’s little legs cycling or their ears twitching as they snooze, they’re probably having a satisfying dream about catching the bird that’s always mocking them from a high tree branch in the garden, or getting the better of the neighbour’s dog.
Sweet dreams are made of Miow and Woof!