In the quest for better sleep, people often ask if they should share their bed with a pet. Before we get to that, let’s take a moment to reflect on the other side:
Is sleeping with you good for your pet?
“I’m delighted that we’re reversing the issue,” said Dr. Dana Varble, chief veterinary officer for the North American Veterinary Community. “In general, it is very good for animals to sleep with their people.”
Pets that share their humans’ beds tend to have a “higher level of trust and a closer bond with the humans in their lives. It’s a great show of confidence on their part,” Varble said.
“Dogs and cats that are more closely bonded with their humans reap additional health benefits, including an increase in beneficial neurotransmitters like oxytocin and dopamine, the feel-good hormones,” he added.
Is it just dogs and cats that benefit from human bedfellows? Yes, Varble said, with “very, very few exceptions.”
“I have an owner who has a meticulously cared for pot-bellied pig that sleeps at the foot of his bed,” he said. “It’s an indoor pig named Norbert – pot-bellied pigs are almost like dogs because they’re so social.” (Norbert even has his own Instagram account of his . )
Pros and cons for humans
With that important matter out of the way, let’s get to you: Is sleeping with a pet good for you? Experts have traditionally said no because you may not get quality sleep.
“Animals can move, bark and disrupt sleep. Dogs (and cats) sleep is not continuous and will inevitably get up and walk on the bed, stepping on people. All of that activity will lead to sleep fragmentation,” said Dr. Vsevolod Polotsky, director of sleep research and a professor in the department of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
These “micro-arousals” that can happen without your awareness “are disruptive because they bring you out of deep sleep,” said Kristen Knutson, an associate professor of neurology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “They have been associated with the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can impair sleep.”
That may be true for many of us, but recent studies have shown that having pets in the bedroom could be beneficial for some of us.
“People with depression or anxiety can benefit from having their pet in bed because the pet is a big pillow, a big blanket, and they can feel that this furry, cuddly, comfortable creature lessens their anxiety,” said the sleep specialist. , Dr. Raj Dasgupta, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.
Data collected in 2017 from the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine in Phoenix found that more than half of pet owners seen at the clinic allowed their pet to sleep in the bedroom, with the majority finding that their pet was ” discreet or even beneficial for sleep.
However, around 20% believed that their furry friends made their sleep worse.
Another 2017 study put sleep trackers on dogs and their humans to measure the quality of sleep for both. People who kept their dogs in their bedroom got a decent night’s rest (as did the dogs), the research team found.
Children can also benefit from sleeping with a pet. A 2021 study asked teens ages 13 to 17 to wear sleep trackers for two weeks and then take an advanced sleep test. About a third of the kids slept with a pet, the study noted, which didn’t seem to affect the quality of their sleep.
“In fact, frequent sleepers [with their pets] showed similar sleep profiles to those who never slept with pets,” the authors wrote.
“All of this suggests that having pets in the bed or bedroom is not necessarily bad,” said Dr. Bhanu Prakash Kolla, a sleep medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine in Rochester, Minn.
“There can be significant psychological comfort in having your pet close by, which can help both initiate and maintain sleep,” Kolla said.
“However, if patients report that movement or other activities of the pet disrupt their sleep, then we advise them to try to find alternative arrangements to [put] the pet to bed at night and see if that helps them sleep,” he added. .
A setup for success
Successful co-sleeping has a lot to do with how deeply you and your pet sleep, says clinical psychologist and sleep specialist Michael Breus, author of Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health .”
“Dogs are usually good all night long, but cats can be very nocturnal,” Breus said, adding that another factor is how much “they both move, since the movement of the animal can wake the human and vice versa.”
Pets, like people, can also snore and disrupt sleep, so be sure to keep that in mind, Breus said. Small dogs and cats often like to snuggle under the covers with their people, but that can raise their body temperature and disrupt their sleep. (The best temperature for sleeping is a bit cool 18.3 degrees Celsius).
If you’re thinking about putting your fur baby to bed, Breus suggested trying it out for just a couple of nights, so you don’t condition your pet, before deciding if it’s right for you.
Some of us should refrain
Despite new scientific studies, many of us still have to think twice about bringing our pet dogs, cats, or pigs into our beds.
“It is particularly harmful in people with insomnia or in patients with other sleep disorders: patients with a delayed phase of sleep (night owls) or even in people with sleep apnea, who wake up with the interruption of breathing and then cannot return. to sleep,” Polotsky said.
“Insomniacs are the most susceptible,” Polotsky said. “Sleeping with pets won’t necessarily predispose or precipitate insomnia, but it could perpetuate it.”
Every time your sleep cycles are disrupted, it disrupts the brain’s ability to repair itself at the cellular level, consolidate memories, store new information, and prepare the body for optimal performance.
The “sweet spot” for adequate rest is when you can sleep continuously through all four stages of sleep four to six times each night. Since each cycle lasts about 90 minutes, most people need seven to eight hours of relatively uninterrupted sleep to achieve this goal.
Therefore, a chronic lack of solid rest affects your ability to pay attention, learn new things, be creative, solve problems, and make decisions.
It gets even darker: Studies find that people who experience frequent nighttime awakenings are at high risk of developing dementia or dying prematurely from any cause as they age.
There’s another reason why snuggling with pets all night may not be good for your health. If you’re one of the millions of people who suffer from asthma, allergies, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sleeping with a hairball could turn into a nightmare.
“My asthma patients, my COPD patients, they always say, ‘Hey doctor, don’t worry, my dog doesn’t shed,'” said Dasgupta, who is also a pulmonologist.
“And I tell them, ‘Yeah, but remember, the allergens are in the saliva, they’re on the dog’s skin. So they will be exposed to allergens for eight hours at night and will suffer from watery eyes and nasal congestion. That, along with the movement of the animal, could prevent him from sleeping well,'” he explained.
Some pets should not sleep in the family bed
Let’s get back to what’s best for your pet: When isn’t it a good idea for a furry friend to sleep with you?
“Obviously, puppies or young dogs that are working with behavioral issues, it may not be good for them to sleep with you,” Varble said. “If you have a dog with anxiety, we teach you that kennels are a safe space.”
“Three-sided kennels make them feel like they only have to ‘protect’ themselves from one angle. We want to teach them that there is a safe place in their house,” she said.
And there are some pets, Varble said, that you should never invite to bed.
“I work with exotic pets and many of them have very specific health and safety requirements, including being in an enclosure,” Varble said. “So even though I know people who are very close to their ferrets and their guinea pigs, they need to be in their enclosure at night for their health. Those are not animals we would like to have in bed with us.”