Were you ever shown a video of a cat freaking out in their sleep? twitching? and pawing the air? Although your cat might look cute, he/she is going through an intense dream. For a long time now, I always wondered if cats dreamed, what their dreams consisted of and if they dreamed in color. Now, I have the answers to all those questions and more.
Cats spend about 16 to 18 hours a day sleeping. Similar to humans, cats experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Most dreams occur during REM stage, although some dreams can happen during non-REM sleep. As kittens mature into full adult cats, the amount of REM sleep decreases as well as the muscle-twitching movements.
Just like humans, cats have similar dreams as we do. According to Matthew Wilson, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, cats dream about their everyday lives, they dream about playing, stalking prey, etc.
Wilson also mentions that the hippocampus (governs memory), is wired the same across the majority of vertebrates and mammals. In comparison to rats, dogs, and cats to a human, we share all of the same pieces. In cats, the electrical activity pattern in a sleeping cat’s brain is remarkably similar to a sleeping a human.
Automatically, humans assume that the smallest moment of movement from a cat, while their sleep, indicates that they are dreaming, but that’s not always the case. According to researcher David Greene, “The most significant indication of dreaming is an utterly slack and relaxed condition.”
When it comes to sleepwalking, cats can experience this too. It was discovered that only brain-damaged cats, with lesions around the locus coeruleus in the brainstem, can sleepwalk. Although unethical, Professor Michel Jouvet conducted experiments in 1955 where he surgically destroyed a cat’s locus coeruleus.
Jouvet discovered that brain-damaged cats acted completely normal while they were awake, but became sleeping zombies during REM. Brain-damaged cats no longer have a hyper-relaxed mode to sleep normally, so they would sleep reenact the process of hunting and stalking prey. These cats also played with imaginary toys or went looking for food, all while asleep.
Often times when you adopt a cat that’s been abused, they experience post-trauma that affects their mood, the way they act and their well-being. These cats often experience nightmares and constantly relieve the fear, from their abuse, through dreams.
The trauma causes cats to wake up out of their sleep in fear, confusion, and distress. Cats also report trauma after losing a kitten, eating bad foods or hearing similar sounds that were around during their traumatic experience.
Cats also experience good dreams too. They are called nursing dreams or squunking dreams. This is a cross between a sigh and a purr. If you hear this sound from your cat, then you know you’ve done something right. Only happy cats squunk.
Treat your cute cat right and make sure that they are getting a good night’s rest because cats do stress out during their dreams too.