Should we interrupt our cat’s nightmares?

My cat having a bad dream
My cat having a bad dream
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This morning, in the early hours, my cat started to dream while he was on my lap in bed. You can see from the video that he had a sort of nightmare or bad dream and his eyeballs were moving left to right so he was in the middle of REM sleep. He made a quiet squeal and his left hind leg jumps up. REM sleep is the rapid eye movement stage during which we are more likely to have dreams but less likely to recall them. I’ll presume this applies to cats too.

Sometimes when I see him having nightmares which appear to indicate that he is having a difficult time, I feel like waking him up to spare him the emotional discomfort. However, I don’t do it because dreams and nightmares have a purpose. They would not exist if they didn’t.

They are a natural part of the life of humans and of domestic cats (and I must presume other animals). We are still unsure why we have dreams and indeed why cats have dreams but there are many theories. There must be a reason why we have nightmares too. Perhaps we are simply playing out our anxieties and getting rid of them.

Some people think that dreams are a fight-or-flight training process. One area of the brain that is most active during dreaming is the amygdala. This is the part associated with the survival instinct. Perhaps this area is more active during sleep as a way of preparing the brain to deal with threats. If that is the case it is particularly appropriate for the domestic cat as their whole life is centred around expressing their predatory characteristics.

Nightmares must have a beneficial purpose otherwise cats and humans would not have evolved to have them. A psychologist at Harvard University Deirdre Barrett, says that they help with our survival. The same must be said about domestic cats. Barrett suggests that nightmares are a way for the brain to focus on issues that need to be addressed.

Nightmares are a normal part of sleep. That being said, they should not be abruptly stopped by an outside force such as a person stopping their cat having a nightmare. This is my interpretation of how to deal with this particular situation which may not have occurred to other people. Have you ever considered waking your cat up because he was having a bad dream? Probably not 🙂 .

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