Have you ever thought about whether our animal friends are able to dream like us? Have your pets ever moved all around the bed or made various sounds waking you up? These can make us think that our pets actually dream in their sleep. Even though our furry friends can’t physically tell us if they can dream themselves, we can figure out using science if and how animals dream.
Can Pets Dream?
Since animals with far less developed brains are able to dream, scientists therefore believe that it’s not unlikely that our dogs and cats dream themselves. In terms of brain structure, the human and animal brain are also quite similar.
The rapid eye movement (REM) sleeping phase is where we humans encounter dreams. 90 minutes after we fall asleep, we enter REM sleep where our brain activity is comparable to that of when we’re awake.
During this phase, our limbs are paralysed because our pons (the communication centre of our brains) stops our brain from sending signals that allow us to move. This prevents us from physically acting out the events in our dreams.
Humans aren’t the only ones to encounter this sleep phase. In general, most mammals can fall into REM sleep. This causes us to believe that our pets have the capacity to dream, but they reach REM sleep quicker.
Within a span of 20 minutes, our canine and feline friends’ dream adventures are ready to begin. If you ever want to see your pets dreaming, a sign they’ve reached REM sleep is a noticeable change in breathing pattern — now more rapid.
What do our pets dream about?
The REM sleep phase is also related to storing memories and learning. This is the reason why some of our dreams are connected to events that may have happened throughout the day.
In a study conducted in 2001 by Michael Wilson and Kenway Louie of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the brain activity of awake and asleep rats were compared. During the day, the rats’ brain activity were recorded while they journeyed inside of a maze.
The same level of brain activity was present at night when the rats reached their REM sleep, specifically in the hippocampus (a part of the brain linked to memory storage). The scientists were able to identify where in the maze the rodents were in their dreams as the activity was so similar. The two MIT scientists were able to conclude the rats were recalling their memories in their dreams, similar to us humans.
Another study was conducted by Michel Jouvet and his team in 1959 where cats’ brains were altered to allow movement while asleep. The neuroscientists found that once REM sleep was reached, the cats moved as if they were seeing real-time images. Their movements mimicked actions they do whilst awake. This includes catching prey and moving their heads, despite their brain patterns proving that they were in fact asleep.
Our Dreaming Pets
It appears we have more in common with our lovable pets than we thought. Not only do we all encounter REM sleep, but we all also recall memories of our day in our sleep as a result of storing them for the long-term.
If sleeping with your dreaming pets impacts your sleep rhythm, you may consider investing in a mattress made to absorb motion. You and your pet will then be able to embark on wonderful dream adventures together!