Cats tend to spend a lot of their lives sleeping, so it’s only natural to think they have nightmares, and whether waking them up from one is a good idea.
If you wake a cat up during a nightmare you will interfere with its natural sleep rhythm. Nightmares occur during the REM sleep stage where the hippocampus is busy shifting through memories from the day. Waking up a cat during this stage can result in shock and aggressive behavior.
While experts will tell you that you should never wake a cat up from a nightmare, almost everyone does it. In fact, 75% of the cat owners we asked do wake them up. But how bad can it really be?
Our article will explain why waking a cat up from a nightmare is a bad idea, what could happen when you wake your cat up from a nightmare, and how you can comfort them.
Why Waking A Cat Up From A Nightmare Is A Bad Idea.
Before we explain why it’s a bad idea to wake a cat up from a nightmare, it’s important to know whether cats even have dreams. The answer is believed to be yes.
According to French Neuroscientist Michel Jouvet, cats experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. They also experience the same characteristics during this period of sleep as humans; twitching of their eyes, and a relaxed muscle state.
Associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT Picower Institute, Mathew Wilson, believes that feline dreams are very similar to ours. So it’s only right that we assume they have nightmares.
Now that we know cats can dream, we can look at why waking up a cat from a nightmare is a bad idea. REM sleep in cats is vital, just as it is for humans. It’s also the time that most cats are likely to have dreams or nightmares.
During REM sleep the hippocampus is busily shifting through memories from the day. So by waking your cat up during this stage of sleep you will be interfering with its natural rhythm, which could overwhelm your cat and make them even more anxious.
What Could Happen If You Wake A Cat Up From A Nightmare?
Waking your cat up from a nightmare can result in injury, to both you and them. Depending on what their nightmare was about – and it’s not possible to find out – your cat is likely to be frightened or terrified.
Terrified or frightened cats are likely to hiss, scratch, and even bite and lead to injury for you.
But that’s not all. Waking a cat up from a nightmare could have a devastating impact on them as well. When a cat is having a nightmare their heart rate is already racing, so waking them up unexpectedly could result in a jolt that could lead to heart palpitations or even cardiac arrest.
The Cat Sleep Cycle
Cats have two sleep cycles; REM sleep and deep sleep. These sleep cycles are very similar to the sleep cycles humans encounter when they sleep.
This is the stage of the sleep cycle where your cat is likely to dream or experience a night terror. During this stage, you’re likely to see twitching of their ears, eyes, tail, and paws. You may even hear them squeak or purr.
Your cat is 90% of the time going to be in the deep sleep stage of its sleep cycle. This stage in cats is crucial as it’s responsible for rebuilding and repairing the body.
A lot of professionals suggest that it’s best not to wake your cat up during any of these stages, instead you should provide them with a cozy, secluded space where they can feel safe so that they enter into the deep sleep phase.
As your cat ages, the amount of REM sleep they experience will decrease so it’s safe to say that your kitten is more likely to dream than adult cats.
Signs Your Cat Is Having A Nightmare
You can usually tell when a cat is having a nightmare as it will twitch, hiss or growl. On rare occasions and depending on the nightmare you may even witness your cat swipe its claws through the air while it’s asleep.
You may also notice their pupils rapidly darting behind closed eyelids, their heads moving as though watching prey, and their breathing may become faster or more labored.
How Can You Comfort Your Cat While Having A Nightmare?
When your cat is visibly disturbed during their sleep, instead of waking them up, which as you know is a bad idea, you should just comfort them instead. Sleep, regardless of dreams or nightmares, is vital to felines. Ways to comfort your cat include:
- Reassuring words like “you’re safe”, or “it’s okay”.
- Appealing to your cats’ sense of smell by placing a familiar-scented item close to their nose. This could be a blanket, a scarf, a jumper, or a cushion.
When your cat wakes up from its nightmare, it will likely be confused and potentially a little anxious. Do not scoop up your cat straight away and start petting, it may take a few minutes for your cat to realize where it is.
Instead, say your cat’s name and let them approach you, it’s likely that they will want a lot of love and attention from you. So offer to play with them, keep telling them they are safe and create positive memories as soon as possible after their nightmare to aid its recovery.