Adult cats can spend up to 18 hours a day asleep, a fact that takes the term “cat nap” to a whole new level. With so much time spent sleeping, it begs the question — do cats dream? If so, what do they dream about?
While we can’t ask them directly, sleep research can help us make an educated guess about what goes through their minds when our cats are asleep. It has much more in common with human sleep than you might think.
Do Cats Dream?
Humans have been fascinated with dreams for centuries, but less attention has been paid to our furry friends’ unconscious experiences. Unfortunately, we can’t just ask our cats if they dream (or what they may dream about). However, we can apply what we know about sleep science from years of human study to our feline companions.
It all hinges on one distinct phase of the cat’s sleep cycle — REM sleep. REM is short for rapid-eye movement, a stage of sleep where the brain lights up with electrical activity. Research has shown that cats (and most mammals) cycle between REM and NREM (non-REM) sleep like we do.
Although most sleep is spent in the non-REM sleep stages, the REM stage clues us into what may be happening while our cats lazily sleep on the sofa. During REM sleep, brain activity actually increases (although we’re still not consciously aware of the world around us).
This phase is also where dreams happen, so researchers have surmised that because cats experience REM sleep, they can and do dream.
What Do Cats Dream About?
Research may tell us that cats have the potential to dream, but technology has yet to be invented to can tell us exactly what they dream about. However, if we apply what we know about human sleep to our cats, we can reasonably assume that their dreams are similar in structure to ours.
With a few exceptions, most dreams involve places we experience in real life. For instance, if you went to the grocery store and then out to dinner, you can expect similar scenarios to appear while asleep. Although they may be strange sometimes, most of the players and situations in our dreams are essentially the same as those we encounter in our day-to-day life.
Let’s apply that same logic to our cat. If our dreams are just re-enactments of our day, that likely means your cat is dreaming about the exciting things that happened before falling asleep — the bird they saw from the living room window, the treat they got before bed, or even how good it felt to be cuddled on your lap while you watched TV.
Unfortunately, that also means that your cat can have a bad dream, which you may be able to determine just by watching them. Their movements and actions in their sleep can tell you a lot about what they might be dreaming about (and how they are feeling about what’s happening in dreamland).
But why does this happen? Sleep is non-negotiable for physical health, but it also plays a crucial role in memory. When we (and your cat) enter the sleep phase, our brain works hard to categorize, store, and process information absorbed during the day. Dreams are just one way that your cat’s brain does this.
How Can You Tell if Your Cat Is Dreaming?
To tell if your cat is dreaming, just pay attention to them. Take some time to watch them sleep. Not only can this tell you whether or not they’re dreaming, but it can also help you keep a closer eye on their overall health.