Dreaming. We all do it. But it’s one of the few things we have yet to fully comprehend, even with all the modern technology available. The act of dreaming represents the a facet of the (human) mind that we may never fully understand. I’ve always been curious about how blind people dream; what do they see? how do they see it? is it more vivid or less than someone who has their sight? As I kept spiraling down this fascinating wormhole on the internet, I eventually stumbled upon something that discussed animals and how/if they dream… In particular, they touched on man’s best friend, the dog…
Dogs sleep more than people do and they have a particular penchant for catnaps. But the structure of their sleep looks remarkably human: Like humans, dogs cycle through stages of wakefulness, rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid-eye-movement sleep. Scientists reporting in the journal Physiological Behavior in 1977 recorded the electrical activity of the brains of six pointer dogs for 24 hours, and found that the dogs spent 44 percent of their time alert, 21 percent drowsy and 12 percent in REM sleep. They also spent 23 percent of their time in the deepest stage of non-REM sleep, called slow-wave sleep.
Dogs enter REM sleep about 20 minutes into a snooze session, and might stay there for 2 or 3 minutes. An observant owner might notice the animal’s breathing become irregular, Coren said. In puppies and very old dogs, the muscles might twitch. In both dogs and humans, part of the brain stem called the pons is responsible for paralyzing the large muscles during sleep, which keeps people and pets alike from acting out their dreams. The pons is underdeveloped in puppies and may not work as efficiently in old dogs, which is why these pooches are more likely to twitch than dogs in their middle years. (The same is true of very young and very old humans.)
Studies in which the muscle-paralyzing part of the pons has been temporarily deactivated are the only way to peek into doggy dreams. With the pons offline, dogs start to act out their dreams (in humans, this condition is called REM sleep disorder).
“What we’ve basically found is that dogs dream doggy things,” Stephen Coren said. “So, pointers will point at dream birds, and Dobermans will chase dream burglars. The dream pattern in dogs seems to be very similar to the dream pattern in humans.”
“For unknown reasons, the size of the dog may determine the size of the dream. Smaller dogs have more frequent but shorter dream periods,” Coren, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia said, “while large dogs have less frequent but longer dreams.”
“Dog sleep is similar to human sleep in other ways. Dogs probably have nightmares, just as humans do,” Coren said. They can also get narcolepsy, a disorder that causes the brain to fall into sudden sleep. In fact, research into a line of narcoleptic dogs at Stanford University unraveled the biochemistry behind the human form of the condition.
But dogs probably escape one common human sleep problem: sleep paralysis. In this condition, consciousness returns before the brain “switches on” the muscles again, so people awaken but can’t move. Sleep paralysis is often the result of sleep deprivation, which is a rare condition for dogs.
Next time, when you’re about to wake up your pup from his afternoon snooze, think about how you can make his doggy dreams, a doggy reality. That way, at least ONE of you will accomplish your dreams today 😉 .