Dopamine is involved in motivation, memory, and reward processing. However, it is not clear whether the activity of dopamine neurons is related or not to vigilance states. Using unit recordings in unanesthetized head restrained rats we measured the firing pattern of dopamine neurons of the ventral tegmental area across the sleep-wake cycle. We found these cells were activated during paradoxical sleep (PS) via a clear switch to a prominent bursting pattern, which is known to induce large synaptic dopamine release. This activation during PS was similar to the activity measured during the consumption of palatable food. Thus, as it does during waking in response to novelty and reward, dopamine could modulate brain plasticity and thus participate in memory consolidation during PS. By challenging the traditional view that dopamine is the only aminergic group not involved in sleep physiology, this study provides an alternative perspective that may be crucial for understanding the physiological function of PS and dream mentation.