I don’t know about you, but when I realised we were in for a lovely long four-day weekend, I had visions of lying in warm, high-thread count, cottoned sheet comfort, hiding my head under the pillow and catching up on all the Zzzs I’ve been missing the last few months.
I knew Target would be all over it because he adores spending time in bed. Guido is more active but he doesn’t say no to napping either.
So I was in delicious anticipation of a good snooze to come. However, we were woken up at two in the morning by a catfight outside. Both Target and Guido were shocked out of a deep sleep, and even half-asleep, they were growling furiously in sympathy.
An assurance that the doors were all locked and that every-thing in the house was all right got Guido curling up again but Target was nervy. I woke up to find him twitching in his sleep, paws and whiskers trembling. That kept me awake. And then Guido began snoring.
Luckily, I had a game plan: I got up quietly and went to the other room. I was almost back in dreamland when there was a bump on the bed: it was Target, of course. We had a purring cuddle and then there was another bump: Guido. He purred too and we finally all got back to sleep.
We managed to stay in bed until well past dawn, which I considered a miracle. Being well rested, I was full of beans, catching up on exciting stuff like cleaning the fridge and figuring out how to do 10 tonnes of laundry with just one drying rack. The cats, however, were thrashed.
Target stayed in bed and then moved to the office, snoozing happily in the big chair. Guido settled on the sofa downstairs, picking out one of his favourite cushions, the one covered with the sarong turtle we bought from the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia.
There is something very soothing about watching a happy pet sleep. Guido was round and furry, breathing gently, the picture of happy indulgence. I felt good just watching him.
Then Guido began twitching. His whiskers were going, his paws were trembling and I heard little meows. It got me thinking: How different is cat sleep to human sleep?
Cats have fascinated scientists for generations, so feline sleep has been studied quite extensively. As far back as the 1950s, it was established that cats dream, just as we do. Other studies show that cats suffer from fitful sleep if they think there is a predator nearby or it’s a moonlit night.
So being woken up in the middle of the night might explain why Target and Guido were so conked out all day.
I know that cats are marathon sleepers but I wasn’t sure exactly how much they sleep. That’s when I found a paper by academics at Boston, Durham and Harvard that ranked 60 mammals according to sleep patterns. The results were fascinating.
The Snoozer of the Mammalian World Award goes to the large hairy armadillo who sleeps 20 hours a day, while the Most Active goes to the donkey who sleeps just three hours. Cats sleep about 12.
As for the science of dreaming, the focus is on non-REM and REM sleep.
In humans, non-REM sleep happens in three stages, with each stage lasting anywhere between five and 15 minutes.
First, there is the bit where you’ve just drifted off. You can be easily woken up and you may not even realise you’ve been asleep. Second, there is the bit where your heart rate slows down and your temperature cools a little. This is when your body prepares itself for the third stage: Deep sleep. It is during the third stage that your body builds bone and muscle, boosts your immune system, and does all the repairs that are needed to keep you strong and healthy.
Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep is where your brain is active and you might have lots of vivid dreams. This is when your eyes move about and you might twitch, too.
REM typically happens 90 minutes after you fall asleep, and lasts 10 minutes. You fall in and out of it all night, with the last one maybe lasting an hour.
How much REM we get depends on age. Babies spend around 50% of their snooze time in this stage but, for adults, it’s about 20%.
When it comes to cats, studies show their sleep is made up of about nine hours of non-REM and three hours of REM sleep. That’s 25% of their sleep in REM state, almost the same as us. Other animals with similar profiles include the European polecat, the common opossum and various types of ground squirrel.
Nobody really knows what’s going on. There are theories that some animals need to focus more on body repairs than others, or that it has something to do with how many predators a species has.
However it works, just knowing what’s going on means you can gear your day to make the most of your pet companion.
I’m just curious, though, about what exactly Target and Guido are dreaming about. Do they have cat-like fantasies of themselves running wild, eating tonnes of chicken, or whapping that big cat down the street? Or do they have wonderful imaginings where they fly through the air, walk on two legs, acting as humans or maybe even barking like dogs?
I guess we’ll never know but I can guess one thing: If Guido opens his eyes during REM, he’s having some Technicolor turtle dreams!