Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Can Octopuses Dream?

Have you ever wondered if other species can dream the way that humans do? You might’ve seen your dog dreaming before as if it was chasing a chipmunk around. Humans have different stages of sleep, including rapid eye movement, or REM. Dreaming can occur in all stages of sleep but dreaming appears most vivid during REM stage according to this article. It cannot be assumed that other species experience sleep in the same way that humans do until their brain is fully understood. This means that a species dreaming cannot be determined until it is provided with factual evidence.

A recent video of an octopus sleeping was captured on film. In this video, it can be seen that the octopus, Heidi, wraps all eight of her legs underneath her and begins to change colors. In the video, Heidi changes between white, yellow, dark, and camouflage. This color change indicates some sort of behavior for the octopus. Octopuses typically change their color pattern in relation to their activities and surroundings. For example, a camouflaged color could represent that the octopus has captured a crab and is camouflaging itself to the ocean floor to be able to eat the crab in peace without being disturbed. If the octopus was actually dreaming these color changes could explain a dream-like scenario where the octopus is catching a crab, as explained in the video. Another sign that the octopus could be dreaming is the fact that Heidi’s eyes are moving back and forth like how humans do during the REM stage of sleep. Even though this is a good reason to assume that she is dreaming, nothing in science can be assumed. Octopuses have a complex brain and are nowhere near humans on the evolutionary tree but dreaming could be a similarity shared among the two species.

An article in the New York Times, suggests that there are other species that show characteristics of dreaming. For example birds, specifically song birds, have activity patterns in their brains while sleeping that matches the activity patterns they present during the day while singing. This activity pattern indicates that the birds may be dreaming of singing. Cuttlefish are another species that exhibit signs of dreaming. Their eyes exhibit rapid movement and their color patterns change according to this study. This study proves that cuttlefish exhibit a sleep-like state that resembles the REM sleep stage of vertebrates but states that the mechanism and nature between the fish and humans may differ. 

The article in the New York Times states that while the assumptions of a dreaming octopus are present, it cannot be concluded without further understanding of their brains. Octopuses are highly intelligent and have large complex brains that need to be understood before an assumption of dreaming can be confirmed.  This is definitely something that will be looked into more and hopefully a study can be done soon to confirm this theory of a dreaming octopus. 

Watch the video linked above to see a potentially dreaming octopus and all of the beautiful color patterns it exhibits in this process.

-Posted by "Sophie DeRepentigny" (4)


  1. I don't think it is possible to detect dreaming in any organism since we have trouble detecting what we dream. All we know is when dreaming happens in coordination with the sleep stages. But what if it was happening for other reasons? What if it was not dreaming? Perhaps Octopi and many other organisms dream of everyday vital things that their brains can conceive. Like if squirrels spend all day mating and looking for nuts, then their dreams may only be about mating and looking for nuts.... So perhaps the octopus might be dreaming about catching crabs because it spends all day looking for food.

    - Posted By King Wahib

  2. This is a very interesting post. I have not thought much about the possibility of other animals or other organisms dreaming other than seeing my dog running in his sleep. If it were to be proven that octopi do dream, many evolutionary questions about dreaming would arise. Like how far back in the evolutionary tree did dreaming evolve? Or did dreaming evolve separately in organisms like humans and octopi? If dreaming did evolve separately what are the major evolutionary benefits to dreams and REM sleep. Are there some aspects of REM sleep that provides a greater fitness to an organism?

    Posted by "John Mariano"

  3. I find this topic to be incredibly fascinating. As humans, we are still working to fully understand the significance of sleep in our own cellular repair and detoxification systems. Therefore, I agree that we would undoubtedly need to conduct further research in order to make any conclusions regarding other species. However, it would make sense for other highly intelligent organisms such as songbirds and octopuses to also have these systems in order to support their increased neural activity and allow for neuron regeneration. The video attached to your post was honestly beautiful and incredible, it really highlighted the potential parallels between human and animal sleep cycles such as REM (exemplified by the the eye movement) and the ability to dream (exemplified by the change in color). I have also been told that our dreams are a reflection of our brain processing and storing the days events, so I wonder if the octopus was either hungry and dreaming about catching a crab or reflecting on that days catch.

    As a somewhat unrelated side note, have you ever seen the video of the octopus that can walk on land? Ill provide a link below, its honestly spectacular!


    Posted by Kayla Rosiello

    1. Thank you for you comment and thank you for that video. I have never seen an octopus walk on dry land before and that was such an interesting sight. I also agree that it makes sense that highly intelligent organisms would have the required systems to be able to dream. I believe that the octopus was dreaming but I do understand why scientists need more research to be able to determine if it is in or not. I thought the video was captivating and I'm glad you agreed. It's so interesting to see other organisms in different states.
      -Sophie DeRepentigny

  4. I remember seeing this video a few days ago online and thinking to myself that it would make a great blog post, but it seems you beat me to it! I loved the article you wrote, as you gave a great sum of information in a condensed and interesting format that anyone can pick up and enjoy. While I agree with your stance that more research is needed to confirm if this was actually a dream, the data already obtained on this subject seems to point in the direction that the octopus was in fact dreaming. Octopi in general are remarkably smart creatures as they have individual personalities, can engage in leisure activities with one another, and even can remember solutions to complex puzzles that they themselves have solved. The brain of cephalopods are similar to the molluscan nervous system as both have a numerous amount of paired ganglia within their bodies. However, in cephalopods the paired ganglias are all condensed in a unique area that forms a centralized brain. This “brain” is not just larger and more refined than its molluscan counter parts, but it also contains two specific areas of memory storage that are both dedicated solely to learning. Additionally, both the changing of color during the sleep of the octopus as well as the potential rapid eye movement exhibited by the organism seem to provide direct support for this species being able to dream. Personally, I feel that any organism sophisticated enough to have a particular personality or have the “consciousness” to engage in “play time” can ultimately dream during resting periods in a similar manner to the way humans experience dreams.

    Posted by James Levangie

    1. I agree with you 100% I do believe that the octopus was dreaming. Thank you for adding the additional information about the similarities and differences between molluscan and cephalopods. I didn't know some of that information and it definitely makes sense and helps connect the topic and idea of octopuses sleeping. They are such intelligent animals that it makes sense when they sleep that they would have the ability to dream. Their memory is fascinating and shows just how intelligent this species is. It makes me wonder if other highly intelligent species can dream too, for example dolphins. This is something I am going to do more research on!
      - Sophie DeRepentigny