The Case for Sleeping With Dogs

A study out of the Mayo Clinic found that sleeping in the same room as a dog doesn't disrupt human sleep patterns. Both dogs and their owners maintained high sleep efficiency. Dogs can distinguish between their relationship with humans and other dogs, and sleeping together doesn't affect their perception of authority. However, not all dogs make good sleep partners, and it's important to consider their safety and comfort. Ultimately, finding sleep arrangements that work for everyone involved is key.

Do you let your dog sleep in your bedroom?

If you said yes, you’re not alone. According to one survey, about half of all dog owners admit to falling asleep each night with their dog sleeping in bed with them. And the humans may be better off for it. The New York Times reported this week on a study Dr. Lois Krahn of the Mayo Clinic, who looked at the effects on both dogs and their owners when they sleep in the same room. Krahn and her team wanted to know whether human-canine co-sleeping was beneficial or detrimental to either party’s quality of sleep. The results may be heartening for dog lovers everywhere.

The study followed 40 dogs who slept in the same room as their owners. Both the dogs and their owners wore activity-tracking devices to help determine whether they were sleeping well. The humans (all relatively healthy) also kept a sleep diary. The study follows Krahn’s previous work on this question, which relied on self-reporting instead of hard data. This time, the researcher says, she has objective results to back up her previous findings.

Dogs don’t bother people (and vice versa)

The study found that canine pets sleeping in bed with their owners was not harmful- humans and dogs sleep well together and neither causes significant disruption to the other’s sleep patterns. Both dogs and their owners maintained a high sleep efficiency when sleeping in the same room, although humans tended to sleep slightly worse when their dogs were on the bed. The dogs (perhaps unsurprisingly) slept well whether on or off the bed. As the authors note, “a dog’s presence in the bedroom may not be disruptive to human sleep, as was previously suspected.”

Is it unhealthy in other ways to have a dog sleep with its owner? For example, would your dog start to think less of you as an authority figure? Apparently not. As veterinarian Carlo Siracusa told the Times, “Dogs can distinguish between the relationship with its human fellows and other dogs, and the way in which they regulate their interactions with humans in the house is not trying to establish a hierarchy.” In other words, your dog won’t think he’s in charge just because he sleeps at the head of the bed. (Here’s how much sleep senior dogs need.)

Not all dogs make good sleep partners. Siracusa notes that some dogs can react aggressively, out of fear, when roused suddenly. There’s also the animal’s safety to consider: older or smaller dogs might have a hard time, or even hurt themselves, getting in or out of the bed at night. (Learn about melatonin for dogs and if it’s safe.)

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Sleeping with your dog—the bottom line

With pets as with humans, the important thing is to find sleep arrangements that work for all involved. If you like bedding down with your dogs, research shows there’s nothing wrong with it. If it disturbs your sleep, though, find ways to transition them gradually to another space, like a crate or pet bed of their own.

And if your dog simply doesn’t want to sleep with you? Maybe it’s because the cat’s in the way.

Next, learn about the sleep and health benefits of being a pet owner.

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