Guinea pigs are surprisingly complex and intelligent animals for rodents, but do they dream?
What would a guinea pig even dream about, anyway?
If you’ve ever noticed your piggy twitching away in their sleep, you’ve likely wondered what their dreams–and perhaps nightmares–are like.
Since guinea pigs can undergo both non-REM and REM sleep, they likely do experience dreams and nightmares occasionally. However, because they only sleep for a few hours at a time at most, REM sleep is rarer than non-REM sleep, so they don’t dream very often.
Keep reading as we take an in-depth look at how guinea pigs sleep, what happens in their sleep, and any other similar questions you probably have had at some point about what goes on in their fuzzy little heads while they rest.
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Do Guinea Pigs Dream in Their Sleep?
All animals have to rest somehow, including your very own guinea pig!
However, not all animals are complex enough to be capable of dreaming.
Dreaming implies the presence of sentience or the conscious awareness of feelings, and many animals simply haven’t evolved to need very complex thought processes.
But even though they don’t seem like very advanced animals, most rodents–including guinea pigs–do undergo non-REM and REM sleep.
What we understand as “dreams” typically only occur during deeper REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep.
Most animals have distinct sleep stages in which different levels of brain activity occur, though they vary in complexity.
REM sleep is deeper and takes longer than non-REM sleep, which is much lighter and easier to wake from.
While almost all animals engage in at least some non-REM sleep, not all engage in deep enough sleep for REM to occur.
Alternatively, like elephants, some animals don’t sleep for long enough periods to undergo REM sleep very often.
During the lighter and earlier initial stages of non-REM sleep, most animals’ bodies simply maintain homeostasis, i.e., their body temperature, breathing, and other unconscious biological processes.
Unfortunately, while guinea pigs are technically capable of non-REM and REM sleep, REM sleep is rare.
They and most rodents only sleep for a few hours at most rather than the typical 8 to 10 hours humans and many other mammals get, so they probably don’t have dreams very often.
However, while researchers have been able to get an idea of brain waves and brain activity during sleep, it’s impossible to know exactly what animals like guinea pigs dream about without actually, well, perceiving it and seeing it through their eyes.
Can Guinea Pigs Have Nightmares?
Like with dreams, it’s hard to say if guinea pigs have or can perceive “nightmares” as we humans understand them.
While they sometimes experience REM sleep and exhibit behavior typical of dreaming animals, guinea pigs typically sleep very short periods.
This means they will usually wake up before REM sleep kicks in and dreams occur.
However, based on how guinea pigs often twitch and even vocalize in their sleep, there is a good chance they experience some kind of bad dreams or nightmares occasionally.
However, their dreams–and, by extension, nightmares–probably aren’t nearly as complex or detailed as ours are.
This is a good thing, as detailed nightmares are frightening if you’ve ever had them!
In this case, an animal being less intelligent and complex is beneficial.
Ignorance is bliss, after all.
Related: How good is a guinea pig’s memory?
When Do Guinea Pigs Sleep?
Guinea pigs are diurnal animals, so they are mainly active during the day and mostly sleep at night.
They sleep for around four to six hours a day, but they usually don’t sleep for long periods as we do.
Instead, they get small naps here and there, most of which last anywhere from as little as 15 minutes to a few hours at a time.
Most of their naps take place at night, but they also often nap during the day.
As rodents with almost no real defense mechanisms, wild guinea pigs have many predators to watch for in their native habitats!
This means they’ve had to evolve to sleep in short spurts and be able to wake up quickly to stay on the move.
Deep REM sleep is difficult to wake from in a pinch, so guinea pigs usually undergo much lighter, non-REM sleep.
Do Guinea Pigs Sleep With Their Eyes Open?
Interestingly, guinea pigs often sleep with their eyes open!
This is likely another biological adaptation to allow them to stay as aware of their surroundings as possible as often as possible to evade predators.
Sleep in guinea pigs is a pretty sporadic thing in general.
Their senses of hearing and smell are very keen, but their eyesight is much more primitive and poor.
As a result, they will often nap with their eyes open, so all their senses are alert enough to perceive danger when needed.
If you notice your guinea pig sleeping or dozing off with their eyes open, you don’t need to intervene or attempt to force their eyes closed.
This is an instinctual behavior, even amongst captive/pet guinea pigs, and it’s best not to interfere.
Your piggy knows how much sleep they need and when to get it.
On a related note, check out if guinea pigs need their cages covered at night.
Why Do Guinea Pigs Twitch in Their Sleep?
The reason why guinea pigs often twitch in their sleep, particularly when they are undergoing deeper, REM sleep, is likely because they’re experiencing some form of dreams.
As we covered earlier, their dreams are likely not nearly as complex or detailed as ours are, but they will still react subconsciously to them as they rest.
Another reason why they occasionally twitch while sleeping is due to myoclonic jerks, or involuntary muscle spasms, which occur while most animals, including humans, begin to drift off to those first stages of sleep.
As long as your piggy isn’t seizing or displaying any other troublesome symptoms, it’s best to leave them be while they sleep.
A small amount of movement and twitching is normal, such as the occasional ear twitch.
Even if you think they’re having a nightmare, waking them up will likely irritate or scare them even more.