Do Our Cats Dream?
23 April, 2014

As any cat owner knows, our cats sleep a lot!  Yet, when our cats are taking one of their many cat naps, we often wonder if they are dreaming of chasing mice, their best bowl of food or just in a deep sleep.   Research shows that cats do, in fact dream.  Not every cat nap has a dream; however, their overnight long term sleep most certainly does.  And cats, not unlike their pet parents, might not understand why or how this works, but just accept it as normal routine.

Cat sleep stages

The first phase of a cat’s sleep is called light slow wave sleep. During this phase our kitties are not fully relaxed and are easily roused. You say their name and they wake up easily and/or can feel any type of movement.  Next is the deep slow wave sleep when our cats becomes progressively more limp and harder to rouse. Finally, there is paradoxical or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in which the brain becomes extremely active once more, as if the cat is awake, and yet the body is profoundly relaxed.

The second phase of sleep is the REM phase

This REM sleep is sometimes referred to as the sleep of the body. Certainly the mind is getting no rest. It is at this most-difficult-to-wake stage of sleep that dreaming occurs.  People who are awakened from REM sleep have reported that they have been dreaming. The fact that the body’s muscles are relaxed does not mean that occasional movements cannot occur and it is quite common to see cats twitching or contracting their toes during REM sleep, as if they are experiencing some mental chase.  This is when we think our cats do dream.

Cats sleep patterns are very much like our own. They spend about nine to ten hours a day asleep, mostly at night and during this time their sleep cycles shift.

You can tell when your cat is in the deep sleep and might be dreaming

When REM sleep arrives, the brain is the most active and this when you might see some movement in your cat and twitching of his or limbs.  What has been researched to happen is that a cat’s serotonin neurons supply muscles that control large anti-gravity muscles and not those that control episodic behavior and fine movements, such as muscles that control eye position and movement of the limbs or paws.

The Catnap

A catnap is when our cats are in a light wave sleep and the cat’s mind is blank at this time.  This represents the resting of the mind (as we humans can take 5 minute ‘cat naps’)” during which there is no dreaming.  This is similar to when we fall asleep in a chair and the brain is resting, but dreaming doesn’t occur.

Although they sleep mainly at night, cats are most active at dawn and dusk when their prey would normally be most active, with periods of snoozing and sleeping in between times of peak activity. And, if our cats become totally relaxed, with their eyes darting back and forth, it is likely they are dreaming.  So, really, our kitties might sleep a lot more than we do, but their sleeping patterns are very similar to us humans.

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