To understand dreaming it helps to understand the process of sleep. Sleep is a natural state characterised by reduced consciousness and the reduction or cessation of sensory and voluntary muscular activity. In other words, you don’t eat, smell or walk during your sleep. We still do not know the reason that sleep is so important to animals but it appears to aid in growth and repair of our body systems. During sleep the brain also appears to process information gained and experiences that have occurred during the day.
There are two main types of sleep – rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep. During REM sleep, as the name suggest, the dreamer’s eyes move rapidly and randomly and their brain activity mirrors that of the animal when awake. While the dreamer may appear quite active during this stage of sleep, they are very difficult to waken. Dreaming occurs mainly during this REM phase of sleep. Young animals spend more time in dream sleep than older ones, probably due to the need to process new information.
So just what are our furry friends dreaming about? Dinner? Climbing the curtains? Playtime with their owners?
Probably all of the above. Anything your cat does during the day is being processed while they sleep and relived in dreamtime. Thus the twitching whiskers, the whimpering and the running paws that we commonly observe. Dreaming is the animal’s attempt to understanding the information being processed in the brain. So the neurons are firing and our brain constructs a storyline to fit.
Of course, just like humans, the dreams of animals may not always be pleasant or based on realistic experiences. Nightmares and more unusual dreams may be our way of determining optimum ways to behave should that experience arise in our awakened hours. Not that cats are likely to be worrying about sitting exams or finding themselves naked in public, unpleasant dreams that humans often experience!
Instead our cats’ dreams are likely to be filled of chasing toys, finding a lap to snooze or discovering ways to convince owners to feed them again! A dream life for a cat.