We all have nightmares. They can be pretty upsetting. A lot of bearded dragon owners have reported that they see their bearded dragons can have nightmares, too.
Do bearded dragons have nightmares? It’s very possible! It has been proven that bearded dragons have similar sleep patterns as humans and are capable of having both dreams and nightmares.
In this post we will talk about the science behind nightmares, how bearded dragons share sleep patterns with humans, how to tell your bearded dragon is having a nightmare, and what to do when your little friend has woken up from a bad dream.
REM sleep (rapid-eye-movement) is the period of sleep in which your brain has the most activity. Therefore, REM is associated with being in a state where we do our dreaming.
A recent study in Germany shows that reptiles actually share these sleeping patterns with birds and mammals. Humans alternate between REM and SWS (slow-wave sleep) in about 60 to 90 minute intervals.
The study in Germany studied electromagnetic waves in bearded dragons while they slept and showed that they also alternate between REM and SWS but in much smaller intervals – about 80 seconds divided evenly.
Because they have brain activity during their sleep that shows they are experiencing REM, the general consensus now is that bearded dragons do indeed dream. Since nightmares are a form of dreams, it seems reasonable to assume that bearded dragons are capable of having nightmares, too.
The Science Behind Nightmares
But what causes dreams to turn into nightmares? And how can we tell if bearded dragons, or lizards in general, are capable of having nightmares like you or I do? Before we dive into that, let’s first figure out what causes nightmares and what’s happening within our own brains when we do have them.
One theory of what causes nightmares is that nightmares are the results of our “brains struggling to process emotional experiences during the day”, says Gary Fireman of Suffolk University.
Although dreams (and nightmares) are hard to study since they are memories, there is more and more knowledge and theories about them every day. One being that when we dream “the frontal cortex (the region of the brain associated with logical thoughts) loosens up”, which can cause us to form different and new connections between these experiences rather than when we are awake.
This can lead us to see things in a new light, sometimes in a horrific light if the brain is truly struggling to process these emotional experiences. It is thought that nightmares happen when our brains struggle in this attempt.
Do bearded dragons have enough emotional experiences to form nightmares? To this I say why not? Bearded dragons endure trying emotional experiences just as much as you or I do. Even if we don’t think these emotional experiences carry much weight, they can be very impressionable to bearded dragons.
Take for example when you move your lizards tank to a different room. Although you or I may not think this is a very big deal, this can actually lead to a lot of stress for your bearded dragon. Could this be something your bearded dragon has issues with processing at night which can then turn into a nightmare? It actually may be.
How to Tell If Your Bearded Dragon Is Scared
Bearded dragons are not shy about expressing their opinions and feelings towards their owners. While their cues may be different than you are used to if you are used to having dogs or cats as pets, once you understand your bearded dragon it will be very easy to tell what they are feeling.
This is especially true for when they are upset. It is pretty easy to tell when your bearded dragon is afraid or even when your bearded dragon is having a nightmare.
If your bearded dragon suddenly wakes up in the middle of the night and is running around his tank frantically, this is a good reason to believe your bearded dragon is suddenly afraid of something.
If this happens out of nowhere in the middle of the night, or especially if this happens while your bearded dragon is still sleeping (as a lot of owners have reported this happen) that is even more of a reason to believe your bearded dragon is having a nightmare.
If your bearded dragon starts digging in the middle of the night, especially after he just woke up, chances are your bearded is afraid and has just had a nightmare. Same goes for if they start frantically scratching on the glass.
If any of this happens in the middle of the night, especially if they are usually sound sleepers and they start behaving this way out of nowhere, chances are high that your bearded dragon has just suffered from a nightmare.
Do not worry – there are plenty of things us bearded dragon owners can do to comfort our lizards if we think that they are having a bad dream.
What to Do When Your Dragon Is Having a Nightmare
There’s nothing worse than seeing your beloved pet in a state of fear from having just woken up from a nightmare.
First thing to do is to wake them up. A lot of the times when bearded dragons have nightmares they are still asleep when it is happening. Gently wake them up by touching them or saying their name. As we know, bearded dragons learn their name and saying their name can help pull them out of whatever bad dream they’re having.
If your bearded dragon seems rattled, it may be time to comfort them. Start by rubbing them on their head or body. Bearded dragons react very well to physical touch, especially if that touch is from their owners whom they have bonded with.
Bearded dragons also really love our scent. Putting one of your T-shirts or a blanket in their tank could be a great way to comfort them. Leaving your scent in their tank is also a great way to help ease them back into sleep or hopefully prevent more nightmares from happening during the night.
Sometimes it might even be a good idea to take your bearded dragon out of his tank and cuddle him back to sleep. The heat from your body plus your scent and general comfort of being held should be enough to relax your bearded dragon and lull them back to sleep.
A warm soak may also help relax your bearded dragon. Just as we find hot baths relaxing, a lot of bearded dragons find it relaxing as well. If you are having a hard time calming your bearded dragon down this may be a good option.
Normal Sleeping Patterns
There is certainly a link between stress levels and bad dreams. Although making sure your bearded dragon is comfortable while they sleep hasn’t been proven to prevent nightmares, making them comfortable can probably go a long way if your bearded dragon is suffering from nightmares.
Bearded dragons like to dig a lot before they sleep and during as it helps to regulate their temperatures. Just like how we snuggle into the covers to get warmer or get comfier, bearded dragons dig around their substrate to get comfier during sleep. That said, it is probably important to make sure there is plenty of substrate for them to dig around in and get comfy.
Bearded dragons need complete darkness to sleep. Because of that, you should really avoid using red incandescent light bulbs as these will distract and ultimately disturb your bearded dragons sleep. A great alternative is to go with under-tank heating pads to regulate the heat while they sleep.
If your bearded dragon is continually restless at night and it’s not just a few random nights here and there, you may consider that this goes beyond the occasional nightmare.
They could be feeling generally stressed and that is why they are restless at night and running around. Stress could be as a result for multiple reasons. If you’ve just acquired them, it could be because of a new environment. Again, try cuddling them before bed to help them fall asleep. Blankets and warm beds could also be helpful here.
If you have another bearded dragon in the same enclosure this could also cause stress – particularly at night. Or even just the simple reason of moving their tank or having new decorations in.
If your bearded dragon seems like they aren’t suffering from nightmares and just appear to be stressed out, look at their surroundings and habitat to make sure the stress is not coming from their environment, lighting, or temperature.
Thanks to recent studies we are learning more and more about bearded dragons and how their brains work. This goes for when they are sleeping as well. In fact, recent studies have proven that bearded dragons share similar sleep patterns with humans which then argues that they can have dreams and nightmares as well.
If your bearded dragon is suffering from nightmares there’s a lot we can do to comfort them and lull them back to sleep. Touch your bearded dragon, wake them up, and comfort them with your scent and voice. If all else fails and they have recurring stress at night, this stress may be as a result of something in their environment.