Do Animals Dream Like Us?

A few years ago, social media went viral with videos of people showing their sleeping dogs and emotionally talking about how they had learned that when their best friend dreams, their humans.   

Some even shared videos of sleeping dogs moving their legs as if chasing someone, which their owners hilariously claimed meant they were after a squirrel or a cat. So, can animals dream? The simple answer is yes but the science behind it is more in-depth than you can imagine.   

Some researchers and scientists have proved that some animal kingdoms have the same sleep pattern as humans. In the 1950s, a study revealed that birds and mammals do indeed dream. The evidence lies in Rapid Eye Movement Sleep, which we call REM Sleep.   

In humans, being in this stage is an indication of dreaming. In REM Sleep, your eyes move back and forth while your body remains immobile. Your brain is engaged in electrical activity, and by looking at the collection of cells in it, scientists can determine whether you are dreaming or not.  

The electrical activity pattern in animals is the same as in humans. So, animals dream during REM Sleep, much like humans.   

In 2019, PBS posted an excerpt from a nature documentary on YouTube. This video showed an octopus sleeping and changing colors. A marine biologist narrated in the background that the octopus was hunting for food and caught its prey.   

Though many researchers looked at the video with misapprehension, a philosopher of science, David M. Peña-Guzmán, thought the sight was wonderful. In Peña-Guzmán’s book, When Animals Dream: The Hidden World of Animal Consciousness, delves deep into the topic of animal cognition and talks about how an animal’s brain works in its sleep. The book explores how REM Sleep indicates that animals also dream through a cluster of cells in their brain when they sleep and move like how they do for humans.  

At Central Washington University, Washoe, a chimpanzee was recorded signing the word “coffee” in ASL during sleep. The chimpanzee loved coffee and would often ask the researchers for a cup.  

Peña-Guzmán’s research on dreams talks in favor of all animals’ dreams, which challenges scientists’ theory that REM Sleep and neurological patterns in animals during sleep are nothing but “mental replay.” As a philosopher, he doesn’t have much insight as biologists. His book enters a slipper terrain of building a case for consciousness in animals.  

When a brain is conscious, you get this feeling of being you, which a sugar cube, a raindrop, or a frying pan does not have. The structure of consciousness allows you to be aware of your surroundings.   

You are in tune with the thoughts currently moving in your brain. To put it in simple words: somewhere inside your brain, a light turns on.    

This concept of consciousness applies to animals too. Something as small as a worm is also aware of its size. While scientists say that animal dreams are behavioristic and brought on by external stimuli, Peña-Guzmán believes they are nothing but a reaction to the world an animal has created in its sleep.  

For non-philosophers, this debate might not hold much meaning. We can conclude that animals dream. What they dream about might be different in texture than humans. Still, this doesn’t make these dreams less meaningful.