Last updated: October 20, 2016
When you go online and search for cat pictures, you are sure to see most of them to be images of cats’ sleeping. In fact, cats are famous for exactly that! Their sleeping habits are the envy of all humans who burn the midnight oil and barely get any sleep during the nights, let alone have time for an afternoon nap. On average, cats sleep for a total of 16 hours throughout the day. It helps that cats can sleep anytime and anywhere despite what’s going on in their surroundings.
Everyone already knows that cats sleep a lot, but what most people are curious about, whether they have cats of their own or not, is if cats actually dream when they sleep just like humans do? There have been quite a few videos online suggesting that cats are also dreaming while they slumber on. With the involuntary sounds and movements that they do during their sleep, it’s easy to see that they must also be dreaming. And if they do dream, what is it that they dream about?
Just like humans, cats also go through 2 main types of sleep. One is REM sleep or Rapid Eye Movement sleep and the other is Non-REM sleep. As the name suggests, REM sleep occurs in such a way that there is rapid and random eye movement while sleeping and the brain’s activity is as active as it is when awake. Ironically, it is during this stage of sleep that humans and cats alike are deep into the dream world.
While humans only get around 6 – 8 hours of sleep every night, cats can sleep from a total of 16 to 18 hours every day during which they go through REM sleep numerous times. It is also during these cycles that humans and cats are harder to wake up, even if they seem to be more active and awake. Youngsters, such as kittens, experience more hours of REM sleep than adults do, but these hours will lessen as they grow over the years as well. On average, kittens dream 80% of the time during their sleeping hours, 50% more compared to most adult cats.
The hippocampus is one of the major elements of the brain that is largely responsible for the conversion of short-term memories to long-term memory. The hippocampus exists for both humans and animals alike. In fact, the brain waves that are emitted in a cat’s brain are pretty similar to the activity in the brain of humans. This includes the activity of the hippocampus, which suggests that cats are also dreaming about things that they are remembering from their day, much like humans do.
While cats are sleeping they spend most of it in the REM stage of sleep. In fact, they are in REM sleep for 30% of their sleeping time, while humans spend theirs for only 20% of their sleeping time and the rest they spend in Non-REM sleep. During these hours of REM sleep, cats are probably not even aware that they are just dreaming since their brain activity is the same as it is when they are awake.
Now that it is established that cats dream just like humans do while they are sleeping, the next thing most people would wonder about is whether what cats are dreaming about. The logical answer to this would be: cats dream about their day-to-day activities. Cats simply replay whatever it is that they have been during the day and processing it once more in dreamland. The same goes for humans however, cat’s dreams are less lucid and abstract and are pretty straightforward.
The various sounds and movements that cats exhibit while they are sleeping can be a clear indicator of what they are currently dreaming of in dreamland. Our cat, Zany is the perfect example for this. She is the type of cat that loves the indoors and would only venture out as far as the front door, but nowhere further. Aside from being a homebody, Zany is also an avid fan of sleeping whenever she feels like it. To be honest, I only ever get to see her eating, staring and sleeping; besides that Zany is just a fluffy white Persian cat stretched out on the floor or sitting on our black clothes. She rarely ever meows, if not at all.
However, whenever she is sleeping we would often hear her making these soft sounds that could almost pass off as snores, but not quite. It’s more of like a halfway sigh and a purr. We always thought of it as a sign that she’s having bad dreams, but after further research, we realized that she is simply squunking. Squunking is an obvious sign that a cat is having good dreams. It is also referred to as nursing dreams and usually happens to cats that are happy and content during their waking hours.
If humans would dream about their life’s desires or their worst fears, cats on the other hand, would dream about daily escapades that they enjoy the most. This can include the silliest of things, such as chasing their prey, running about, attacking their prey, playing with their favorite toys and even chasing their tail. Even in dreamland, cats are pretty much just enjoying themselves.
However, it is not always rainbows and butterflies even in a cat’s dreamworld. When cats are dreaming they are simply organizing and processing all that they have experienced during the day, this means that their dreams can also turn into nightmares, just like with the dreams of humans. This is especially true for cats that have gone through difficult times of abuse and abandonment.
Much like when humans have nightmares, cats can also snap out of REM sleep with a jolt whenever their dreams get too scary for them. This often occurs to runaway cats or newly adopted kittens as well. Nightmares can also be triggered when there is a loss in the family or of a close friend. When cats are having nightmares, they would often make anguished noises throughout the night.
After waking up from a bad dream, humans’ hearts would be beating fast and their emotions would be running high. The same goes for cats. After the nightmares, cats would often wake up disoriented and still frightened from their dreams. Cat owners can help bring their cat back to reality by having them smell their scent, or verbally remind them that they are home and safe. Cats can be very vulnerable during these times and the loving and soothing caresses and sound of their owner’s voice is always the best way they can recover from anything traumatic such as bad dreams.