By now you may be one of the millions of people who have seen “Bizkit the Sleep Walking Dog.” The dog is the latest YouTube sensation.
What can we learn from Bizkit?
Well, the video is pretty good evidence that dogs have dreams. In fact, YouTube is littered with similar videos. They all show sleeping dogs in various states of twitching, whimpering and moving. But few of them can match Bizkit’s full-throttle “sleep sprint.”
Of course, we may never know for sure that dogs dream like we do. They can’t exactly tell us about their dreams after they wake up. Unless your dog is Scooby Doo or Astro, that conversation is unlikely to happen.
But there is something even more important that we can learn from Bizkit. The dog’s behavior is an example of what can happen when dreams come alive.
Normally the brain paralyzes most of our muscles during the stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This prevents us from jumping out of bed and acting out our dreams.
Cats and dogs have a sleep stage that is similar to REM sleep. Sometimes it is called “paradoxical sleep.” This is the paradox: The animal appears to be asleep; but brain waves and eye movements look like the animal is awake.
Studies have found movement disorders during sleep in cats and dogs, as well as a disorder of REM sleep in a cat. Early studies also found that cats with lesions in certain brain areas would display complex behaviors during sleep. While sleeping they might even search for and attack an imaginary prey.
This animal research led to the discovery that some people have REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD). They act out vivid, action-packed dreams while remaining asleep.
People with RBD may shout, punch, kick, run and even jump out a window. Usually their eyes remain closed during the episode. Once they are awake they often report having a dream that describes their unusual actions.
Injuries may result from an RBD episode. Both the dreamer and a bed partner are at risk of being hurt. This is why it is important to seek medical help at an AASM-accredited sleep center if you suspect that you or a loved one may suffer from RBD.
As for Bizkit, the dog’s behavior looks a lot like RBD. It wouldn’t be the first time; a 2004 study reported on the diagnosis of RBD in a dog.
In fact Bizkit may be the latest in a line of famous dogs with RBD. It has been suggested that dogs in the movies “Cinderella,” “Lady and the Tramp,” and “The Fox and the Hound” all may have had RBD.