Even though cats are in more than a third of households in the U.S., there is a great deal that many people don’t know about them. One of the most interesting is how cats helped usher in the Golden Age of sleep research.
Cats of all sizes are obligate carnivores, so they must hunt to survive in the wild. Like most predators, they save their energy for their peak hunting times, which are around dusk and dawn. The fact that domestic cats are still so closely related to their wild cousins, and therefore retain those behaviors even when humans supply the food, makes them good subjects to study if we want to learn more about sleep.
Cats, just like humans, dream in stages. We can study animals’ dreaming states just like we do with people in the sleep lab: attach a bunch of electrodes and monitor the brain activity through EEG, visual monitoring, as well as pulse and bp. We can also switch off the paralysis during REM sleep to see what they do when acting out dreams.