If Memory Fades, What Happens in Our Dreams?

In researching a book about Alzheimer’s, some questions for God.

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Posted in , Jan 20, 2021

Edward Grinnan

Is your dog a dreamer? Mine is. Gracie dreams more than any dog I have ever known. It fascinates me. What does she dream about? 

Well, first, she talks in her sleep. Yips, growls, whines and produces a kind of low, canine purring that sounds like she is trying to talk or mimicking human speech (she sounds a little like a canine version of Lauren Bacall or Charlotte Rampling…but I am dating myself). Sometimes I worry that she is having a nightmare (Millie, her predecessor, used to have nightmares that I am convinced were connected to a car accident we were in when she was a puppy—yes, dogs can suffer PTSD, maybe more so because they are more sensitive than we are). I know you are supposed to let sleeping dogs lie but I always wake Gracie up and give her a treat. Makes everything better.

Gracie dreamingShe’s an active dreamer, not unusual as dogs get older. The pons, that part of the brain stem that evolved to keep vertebrates still during sleep, weakens with age in dogs. Yet they dream more often as they get older, too. Why is that?

Maybe because they have more memories. All you dog owners out there know there are things they never forget. Those memories must add up over the years and what is a dream other than a kind of somnambulant memory? How often have you remembered something in a dream that you’ve forgotten in your waking life? Of course, our dream memories are usually inverted or fused with unrelated imagery or events. Still, dreaming is a kind of memory mill. Sleep unleashes our memories. I’ve been reading a lot about memory lately researching a book about Alzheimer’s for Guideposts. Do we stop dreaming when our memories fade? Is that the final insult of dementia?

One expert maintains that dogs dream mostly about us. I hope that’s not true. I’m not that interesting. I pray Gracie has better things to dream about—bounding through the woods, chasing deer, seeing an old friend, beating me to a piece of cheese I dropped on the floor. I have so many questions for God about this.

What does it matter if a dog dreams? I think it would be sad if they didn’t. But God saw to that, one of the blessings we share with our best friends.

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