Last Updated on: July 10, 2023 by Crystal Uys
If you have ever watched your cat sleep, chances are that you’ve seen them do a bit of twitching due to what looks like an interesting dream. You might wonder if your cat is actually dreaming and what exactly they are dreaming about.
While experts believe that cats do indeed dream, they aren’t entirely sure what they dream about, though it’s likely to be recaps of their day.
Let’s go more in-depth into a cat’s sleep habits and what they might be dreaming about!
How Long Exactly Do Cats Sleep?
Cats can sleep an average of 12 to 16 hours daily, which works out to sleeping about 70% of the time.1 This gradually increases as your cat ages. Senior cats are more likely to sleep between 12 and 18 hours every day.
If you’re wondering why they seem to sleep so much, just watch your cat when they get the zoomies! With all of this sleeping, it’s no wonder that it seems likely that cats dream!
In order to dream, we have to enter into the rapid eye movement (REM) cycle of sleep. REM occurs multiple times during a sleep cycle, which is when the brain is most active.
Cats tend to have three sleep stages, which are REM, non-rapid eye movement (NREM), and a transition stage between REM and NREM.
It’s believed that cats experience similar brain waves found in low-wave sleep or deep sleep as human brain waves. They also have similar sleep spindles, which are faster brain waves during NREM.
It’s believed that sleep spindles in humans help maintain a solid sleep by reducing disruptions and have a role in memories.
While the sleep spindles for cats differ from ours, they also occur as a transition to REM sleep and likely serve the same purpose.
REM sleep involves quick eye movement under the eyelids while asleep, also with twitching and limp muscles. It’s thought that cats might have 3 to 8 hours of REM sleep every day and that the eye movements are essentially them reacting to dream imagery.
Other than eye movement, you’ll likely also notice paw movements, ear and tail twitching, and rapid breathing. All of this is perfectly normal.
When your cat isn’t going through REM, they are usually in a deep sleep, which is crucial for the repair and growth of the body. During these times, it’s important to not wake your cat up too often and to let them rest as much as necessary.
What Do Cats Dream About?
As you can imagine, it’s difficult to have a complete understanding of what cats are dreaming about. Starting in the 1960s, French neuroscientist Michel Jouvet discovered that cats experience REM and therefore, likely dream the way that we do.
Researchers studied rats’ brains to understand what they might dream and discovered that they likely dream about their tasks. Studies showed that a rat’s brain activity while going through a maze and doing puzzles is quite similar to the brain activity measured while they were experiencing REM sleep.
Since cats experience REM just like humans and rats, there is a chance that they dream about the events, places, and people in their everyday lives. Dreams help us unpack events in our day, and cats are no different. It’s also just as likely that they dream about one of their favorite pastimes: hunting!
Do Cats Have Nightmares?
If cats dream like us, they can have nightmares like us. Some cats have been known to wake up hissing or even bolting out of their bed, so it’s safe to assume that they were experiencing a particularly bad dream.
Twitching while sleeping is perfectly normal, but if your cat wakes up startled and looks unsettled, they might have had a nightmare. But it’s impossible to know what that might have entailed—perhaps being chased by someone or a dog?
If you suspect that your cat is having a nightmare, leave them be, and they’ll wake up from it in due time. They might react aggressively when being woken up from an unpleasant dream.
How Do Dreams Benefit Cats?
Dreams enable us to process information, understand new experiences, and form memories. They can also help reduce stress or trauma by helping us recover or even soften the experiences. Dreams can help us prepare for difficult events and upcoming tasks. When waking up, we sometimes feel better prepared to handle these events.
It seems probable that cats get the same benefits from dreams. After experiencing something frightening, such as a thunderstorm, once they’ve calmed down, they might take a nap and dream about something pleasant or perhaps relive it as a way of coping.
There’s no need to worry if your cat is twitching while asleep, as this is normal behavior. Cats do dream, but we just can’t know for certain what exactly they are dreaming about.
If you’re ever concerned about your cat’s sleeping patterns, particularly if something has notably changed, speak to your veterinarian. But if everything seems fine, continue watching your cat sleep. It’s definitely a relaxing pastime!
Featured Image Credit: Александар Цветановић, Pexels
About the author
Cat mom to Ivy – a feisty little rescue kitten that is her one and only child. For now! Throughout her life, she has been introduced to the special love that can be found in the bond with a cat. Having owned multiple felines, she is more than certain that their love is unmatched, unconditional and unlike any other. With a passion to educate the public about everything, there is to know about felines, their behavior, and their unique personalities, Crystal is devoted to making sure that all cats and their owners know the importance of conscious living – and loving!