Do Animals Dream? The Surprising Science of Animal Sleep States

Do you ever wonder what your dog or cat dreams about as they snooze the day away? New research shows many animals experience dream-like states that offer exciting clues about the purpose of dreaming.

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Research

German researcher Daniela Rößler was among the first to observe signs of dreaming in jumping spiders. She noticed the tiny arachnids hung motionless at night, occasionally twitching limbs – much like humans in REM sleep. Using specialized cameras, Rößler made an even more surprising discovery – the spiders’ eyes moved rapidly underneath their eyelids. This indicated inner visions, suggesting spiders may dream too!

Birds dream

Other animals also exhibit REM-like behaviors. Studies on common pet birds like budgies and parakeets found they physically reacted and vocalized in their sleep when played recordings of other birds in distress, as if responding to threats in imagined scenarios. Pigeons have additionally been shown to practice songs while sleeping.

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Octopuses and cuttlefish

Even octopuses and cuttlefish – despite being marine invertebrates – twitch their limbs and change skin colors at night, potentially interacting with dream-like scenarios. Their advanced brains and tool-using abilities imply more sophisticated cognition than realized.

So why did the ability to dream persist across evolution? A leading theory is that dreaming aids memory consolidation by strengthening recollections from the day. It may also allow problem-solving by combining concepts our conscious minds cannot. Some experts propose animals could even rehearse important skills like building nests or fishing in their dreams.

As technology enables studying sleep states in new ways across diverse species, it’s becoming clear that dreaming confers benefits driving its selection throughout the animal kingdom. Gaining insights into the shared heritage of this mysterious phenomenon in everything from spiders to songbirds enhances our appreciation for all kinds of animal cognition, including our own nocturnal visions. Stay tuned for further exciting discoveries into the functions and pervasiveness of animal dreaming!


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