Why Do Dogs Eyes Roll Back When They Sleep

In this blog post, we will explore the intriguing phenomenon of dogs’ eyes rolling back when they sleep. 

We will delve into the possible reasons behind this behavior and provide fascinating insights into the world of canine sleep patterns. 

From physiological explanations to behavioral theories, we will unravel the mysteries surrounding this peculiar occurrence and shed light on why dogs exhibit this eye-rolling phenomenon during their slumber.

Understanding Canine Sleep Patterns

Dogs, like humans, experience different stages of sleep, which can be categorized into two main types: non-REM sleep and REM sleep. 

Non-REM sleep is further divided into three stages, while REM sleep is associated with vivid dreaming and eye movement. During non-REM sleep, dogs experience a gradual descent into deeper sleep. 

In the first stage, they are in a light sleep state where they can easily wake up. Their muscle activity decreases, and their eyes may roll around slightly. 

In the second stage, their body temperature drops, heart rate slows down, and their brain waves become slower. 

Finally, in the third stage, also known as deep sleep, dogs are in their most restorative state. This is when it becomes difficult to awaken them, and their eyes usually stop moving.

REM sleep, on the other hand, is characterized by rapid and random eye movements, increased brain activity, and irregular breathing. 

This phase is associated with vivid dreaming in both dogs and humans. It is during this stage that dogs may exhibit eye-rolling behavior while they sleep.

For example, let’s consider a scenario where a dog is fast asleep and suddenly begins to exhibit rapid eye movements. These eye movements are an indication that the dog has entered the REM sleep stage. 

As the dog continues to dream, the eyes may roll back or move in various directions. This eye-rolling behavior is a result of the dog’s brain activity during REM sleep.

It’s important to note that dogs go through multiple sleep cycles throughout the night, alternating between non-REM and REM sleep stages. 

These cycles can vary in duration depending on the dog’s age, health, and various other factors. 

By understanding these sleep patterns and the correlation between eye movements and brain activity during REM sleep, we can start to unravel the mystery behind why dogs’ eyes roll back when they sleep.

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Physiology of Dogs’ Eyes

To understand why dogs’ eyes roll back when they sleep, it’s important to delve into the physiology of their eyes. 

Dogs have similar eye structures to humans, consisting of various muscles, nerves, and blood vessels that control eye movement and function.

One crucial component is the extraocular muscles, which are responsible for moving the eyes in different directions. These muscles allow dogs to track moving objects, focus their vision, and adjust their gaze. 

During wakefulness and periods of non-REM sleep, these muscles are actively engaged in eye movements.

However, during deep sleep or REM sleep, the control of these muscles relaxes. As a result, the eyes may roll back or move involuntarily due to the absence of active muscle control. 

This phenomenon is more noticeable in dogs because they have a relatively larger visible white portion of the eye (sclera) compared to humans. 

When the extraocular muscles are relaxed during REM sleep, the white part becomes more visible, giving the impression that the eyes are rolling back.

For example, imagine a dog in a deep sleep state during REM sleep. As the dog enters this stage, the extraocular muscles relax, and the control over eye movement diminishes. Consequently, the dog’s eyes may roll back or move involuntarily due to the lack of active muscle control. This physiological mechanism explains why dogs’ eyes appear to roll back during certain phases of their sleep cycle.

It’s worth noting that not all dogs exhibit pronounced eye-rolling during sleep. The visibility of this behavior can vary depending on factors such as breed variations in eye structures and individual differences. 

Some dog breeds have different eye shapes and sizes, which may influence how much eye-rolling is noticeable during sleep. 

Breeds with prominent bulging eyes may exhibit more apparent eye movement during sleep compared to breeds with flatter or deeper-set eyes.

REM Sleep and Eye Movements

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is a stage of sleep characterized by increased brain activity, vivid dreaming, and rapid eye movements. 

This stage plays a significant role in the sleep cycle of both humans and dogs. Understanding the correlation between REM sleep and eye movements can help us unravel why dogs’ eyes roll back when they sleep.

During REM sleep, the brain becomes highly active, similar to wakefulness. However, the body undergoes a state of temporary paralysis known as REM atonia. 

This paralysis prevents us from physically acting out our dreams and protects us from injury during sleep. 

Dogs experience REM atonia as well, which explains why they remain still during vivid dreaming.

The brain activity during REM sleep is closely linked to the occurrence of eye movements. 

Studies have shown that the same areas of the brain that control eye movement during wakefulness are also active during REM sleep. These eye movements are believed to be associated with the visual content of dreams.

For example, imagine a dog in REM sleep, experiencing a vivid dream. As the dream unfolds, the brain’s activity triggers eye movements that correspond to the visual stimuli within the dream. 

These eye movements can manifest as rolling back, shifting side to side, or darting in different directions. 

The intensity and frequency of these eye movements can vary among individual dogs and may depend on the content and intensity of their dreams.

It’s important to note that the specific content of a dog’s dream is still unknown since we cannot directly communicate with them about their dreams. However, studies on brain activity and eye movements during REM sleep strongly suggest that dogs do experience dreaming just like humans.

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Dreaming in Dogs

Dreaming is a fascinating phenomenon that occurs during REM sleep in both humans and animals. 

While we may never be able to fully understand the content of a dog’s dream, there is scientific evidence to suggest that dogs do indeed dream.

Research conducted on animals, including dogs, has provided insights into the occurrence of dreams.

For example, a dog in REM sleep maybe twitching movements and wagging its tail. This behavior can be seen as a manifestation of the dog’s dream content. 

He might be dreaming about chasing a ball, playing with other dogs, or engaging in activities that bring him joy and excitement. 

These behaviors suggest that he is experiencing some form of dream-like content during REM sleep.

Scientific studies have also identified similarities between the brain structures involved in dreaming in dogs and those in humans. 

The areas responsible for processing emotions, memories, and sensory information show similar patterns of activation during REM sleep in both species. 

This further supports the idea that dogs experience dreams that may involve emotional experiences or memories of past events.

While we may not know the precise content of their dreams, the behaviors exhibited during REM sleep strongly suggest that dogs experience mental activity and engage in dream-like experiences.

Relaxation and Sleep Positions

The way dogs position themselves during sleep can provide insights into their level of relaxation and comfort. 

Understanding the relationship between relaxation and sleep positions can help shed light on why dogs’ eyes roll back during sleep.

When dogs are in a deep state of relaxation, their muscles tend to relax, and they assume positions that allow them to feel safe and comfortable. 

During this state, it is common for dogs to choose sleep positions that expose their bellies, stretch out their limbs, or curl up into a tight ball.

In terms of eye movements, relaxation can affect the visibility of dogs’ eyes rolling back during sleep. 

When a dog is deeply relaxed, its facial muscles, including the muscles around the eyes, may become laxer. This relaxation can cause the eyes to appear to roll back more prominently compared to when the dog is in a more alert or tense state.

It’s worth noting that not all dogs exhibit visible eye-rolling during sleep, even when deeply relaxed. 

The degree of eye movement visibility can vary among individuals and may depend on factors such as breed variations in eye structures and the specific sleep position adopted by the dog.

Behavioral Interpretations

While the physiological explanations behind dogs’ eyes rolling back during sleep are important to consider, there is also behavioral theory that provides additional insights into this phenomenon. 

There is a belief that dogs are rolling their eyes as a protective mechanism to shield them while sleeping. 

You see, in the wild, animals need to be vigilant even when they are resting to protect themselves from potential dangers. 

By rolling back their eyes during sleep, dogs may be instinctively protecting their vulnerable eye area from potential threats.

For instance, consider a dog peacefully resting outdoors in a natural setting. As he enters a deep sleep, his eyes naturally roll back, offering a potential protective mechanism. 

This rolling motion helps safeguard the sensitive cornea, reducing the risk of injury or irritation.

It’s important to note that these behavioral theories are speculative and not backed by extensive scientific research. 

Breed Variations and Eye Structures

The visibility of dogs’ eyes rolling back during sleep can vary among different breeds due to variations in eye structures. 

Some breeds may have specific characteristics that make the eye-rolling behavior more noticeable, while others may have features that make it less apparent. 

Let’s explore this further:

Breeds with prominent, bulging eyes, such as Pugs or French Bulldogs, may exhibit more noticeable eye-rolling due to the shape and prominence of their eyes. 

The larger visible surface area of the white part of their eyes (sclera) makes any eye movement more apparent.

On the other hand, breeds with flatter or deeper-set eyes, such as Shiba Inus or Greyhounds, may have less visible eye movements during sleep. 

The shape and position of their eyes may make it more challenging to observe any eye-rolling behavior.

Common Myths and Misconceptions

The phenomenon of dogs’ eyes rolling back during sleep has led to various myths and misconceptions. 

Let’s address some of these misconceptions and debunk them with scientific explanations:

Myth 1

Dogs’ eyes rolling back during sleep means they are possessed or experiencing seizures. 

This is a common misconception. 

Dogs’ eyes rolling back during sleep is a natural and normal occurrence associated with REM sleep. It is not a sign of possession or a seizure. 

During REM sleep, dogs experience vivid dreams and eye movements, which can cause their eyes to roll back or move involuntarily.

Myth 2

Dogs’ eyes rolling back during sleep indicate pain or discomfort. 

Eye-rolling during sleep is generally not an indication of pain or discomfort. 

It is a result of the relaxation of the extraocular muscles during REM sleep. If a dog shows signs of distress or discomfort while awake, it is essential to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues.

Myth 3

Eye-rolling during sleep is unique to certain breeds or abnormal in dogs. 

Eye-rolling during sleep is a normal occurrence in dogs and is not limited to specific breeds. 

While the visibility of eye movements may vary among breeds due to variations in eye structures, the underlying physiological processes are similar across different breeds.


Dogs only dream when their eyes roll back during sleep. 

While eye movements are associated with dreaming, it does not mean that dogs only dream when their eyes are rolling back. 

Dreaming occurs during REM sleep, which involves various physiological and behavioral changes beyond just eye movements. 

Dogs can still dream even if their eye movements are not visibly noticeable.

By debunking these myths and misconceptions, we hope to provide you with accurate information to better appreciate the natural and normal occurrences during canine sleep patterns.

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