Sleeping with a pet: Is it a good idea, or does it just lead to a poor night’s rest? There is a lot of conflicting information on the subject, along with a lot of varying opinions about whether to allow your dog, cat, or bird (we’re not judging) to share a space under the covers. We’re going to break down the debate and explain the sleep benefits and risks of sleeping with your pet, along with uncovering what researchers have to say.
Continue reading for all the dos and don’ts of sleeping with pets to get ultimate snuggle time with your furry companion while still getting great rest.
Who Is Sleeping With Their Pets?
If you sleep with a pet, you’re not alone. In fact, according to a recent survey of pet owners by the American Pet Products Association, almost half of dogs sleep in bed with their owner. It’s not just the chihuahua and small pups either; while the survey found that 62 percent of these dogs were “small dogs,” 41 percent of medium-sized dogs and percent of large dogs sleep with their owners as well. Another survey conducted by Houzz found that percent of cats in the U.S. cuddle up with their owners, too.
The first question you may be wondering is this: Why do we love to sleep with our pets? It’s because around the world, and in America in particular, we treat our dogs and cats as members of the family. So if a dog is technically a family member, it makes it that much harder to shut them out of our bedroom.
However, when it comes to Americans and our sleep habits, we’re not the best when it comes to getting a good night’s rest. In fact, the Better Sleep Council released a survey that scored Americans as C- sleepers. We’re dealing with sleep deprivation, sleep apnea, and chronic aches and pains. Does this have any correlation to sharing our beds with our pets?
Sleeping with a dog or cat probably isn’t the major reason we aren’t sleeping great. While science has conducted a handful of studies on how stress, light exposure, and sleep position can affect our slumber, the number of studies that look at how sleeping with a pet are few and far between. (However, we will dive into the most recent one below.)
Still, that’s not to say that sleeping with a pet isn’t a reason we’re not sleeping well. There’s a lot of medical and sleep experts who have weighed in on this debate. Let’s break down both sides of the argument now.
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Weighing Both Sides: The Pros and Cons
Good news! There is some evidence that supports sharing a bed with your pet. Here are the potential sleep benefits of sleeping with a beloved companion:
Pets relieve stress and anxiety. Science has supported how human and animal interaction can reduce stress. (Therapy dogs, anyone?) The University of Missouri-Columbia says that cuddling close with dogs also causes a lowers cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress. Because of this, many people conclude since pets help relieve anxiety, and anxiety is a leading reason for poor sleep, we might as well cuddle up with them at night.
They keep us warm. There’s less science to back this one up, but there is a lot of anecdotal information from pet owners who say their dogs keep them warm at night. Since dogs do a great job at keeping themselves warm in cold climates, if you have an infamously cold bedroom or live in a cold climate, snuggling up with a dog might help keep you warm. Plus, scientists from a Swiss study found that warm feet and hands were the best predictors of rapid sleep onset. Perhaps have the pup or cat sleep at the foot of the bed.
They make you feel safe. Ever have trouble falling asleep when you’re home alone? Pets often help their owners make them feel safe and secure, which can lead to falling — and staying asleep — a lot easier. In fact, Mayo Clinic conducted a small survey with 150 people. The 49 percent of them who owned pets self-supported feeling more safe and secure at night, which lead to better rest.
They simply help you sleep better. While research is a bit slim, there is some evidence that supports sleeping with a pet to improve sleep quality. This point is basically a combination of our points above; if you feel safe, comforted, and relaxed, you’ll, in turn, have a better chance of sleeping better.
While all of this sounds great, there are always two sides to every story. The other camp explains how sleeping with a pet can disrupt sleep. This is for a handful of reasons: They steal the covers, they snore, they take over the entire bed, or they wake up and walk around in the middle of the night.
For this next section, we’ll explain some signs that show how sharing a bed with a pet won’t work in your favor.
If you have allergies. If your allergies start to wreak havoc when too much time is spent with your furball, then it’s probably best to leave them outside of the bedroom. You’ll be more susceptible to sneezing and wheezing, and it will undoubtedly disrupt those Zzzs. And while it may seem super obvious to avoid contact with dogs if allergies are an issue, more than a third of the American population is allergic to dogs or cats, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
You sleep with a partner. If you share a bed with a partner, there will already be limited space. Adding another living creature to the bedroom will just leave both parties more cramped and could lead to lots of tossing and turning. Furthermore, many people talk about a pet in bed impacting sex life; pets that share a bed can make it hard to initiate sex, and pets can even get protective and try to jump in between when things are starting to get hot and heavy. And since science does say that sex before sleep can help people rest better (researchers from CQUniversity in Australia polled 460 adults and 64% of the respondents said sex with orgasms helped them sleep better) you definitely don’t want any disruptions.
If you’re a light sleeper. If you’re a light sleeper, it’s probably best to leave a pet off the bed or out of the bedroom entirely. While sound machines and eye masks are helpful accessories to keep distractions at bay, it might not combat all of the noise a dog or cat could make.
If your pet is notoriously loud. Does your dog bark at anything? Does your cat love to jump on dressers and accidentally knock off picture frames? If they’re known for being loud, then it’s probably best to avoid sharing a bed with them.
If your pet steals the covers. If your pet loves to take the covers — especially if it’s a large dog that is heavy — you’ll most likely be woken up in the middle of the night trying to steal them back. This is no recipe for a good night’s rest.
What The Science Says
Now that we’ve looked at both sides of the debate, it’s clear there are viable reasons why sleeping with a bed can both benefit or harm sleep. Moreover, there’s a good amount of research that looks into our overall relationship to our pets, along with surveys that self-report sleep habits, that can lead us to draw out some safe assumptions. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a ton of research that has explicitly looks at how pets sharing a bed affects how we sleep.
However, a recent study did come out about pets and sleep quality. Publications started covering it left and right. However, the only problem was the study findings were twisted, and headlines often said that sleeping with your pet “led to better sleep.” While that is theoretically correct, the fine print says that sleeping with your pet in the same room — not in the same bed — led to better rest.
The study, which was published by Mayo Clinic, evaluated sleep patterns of 40 dogs. Researchers used sleep trackers to actually evaluate sleep quality versus just surveying their participants. They found that with a dog in the bedroom, both dogs and their owners slept well. Humans had a mean sleep efficiency—aka the percentage of time spent asleep—of 81 percent, while dogs had a sleep efficiency of 85 percent. (Side note: Levels over 80 percent are what people should aim for.)
However, the study specifically revealed both owner and dog slept well if they were in the same room. Once the dog hopped on the bed, results changed, and sleep health started to dip back down.
How to Best Sleep With Your Pet
So, what does this all mean? Should you or shouldn’t you sleep with a pet? As most things go, the answer is “it depends.” However, we can explain what factors to look out for so you can make the best sleep decision for everyone — pets included.
Firstly, we can’t ignore that the most recent research found that sleeping with your dog in the same room won’t disrupt sleep. So, if you have a pet that isn’t loud and knows how to obey, this is a great compromise.
However, a pet might be used to sharing a bed with its owner. If that’s the case, here are some tips to wean them off and keep everyone happy:
Get them their own bed. Pet beds are popping up left and right, with a handful of major bed manufacturers creating their own beds for your furry companions. The most important thing to do is give your pet a great bed alternative so they feel happy and comfy. Make sure it’s durable too – BetterPet has some great recommendations for chew-proof beds.
Learn the “off” and “no” command. Make sure your pet understands “off” and “no” — this applies more to dogs than cats. If your dog jumps up on the bed, say “off” or “no” right away, and make sure they’re trained to respect the commands.
Be diligent — but reward them too. Some dogs and cats simply can’t handle being locked out of a room while you sleep. They’ll whine or meow until they get their way. It’s okay to let them into the bedroom — just try your best to keep them off the bed if they’re known to be disruptive. Be diligent about keeping them off the bed, but reward them too to help them stay happy in their pet bed. Use treats or other pet training tactics so they quickly learn overtime that their pet bed, not the human bed, is for them.
How to Address a Whining Pet
Even though science says a pet in the bedroom probably won’t negatively impact sleep, some people simply prefer to keep their pet in a different room. Whether the pet is loud, you are focused on your sex life, or you simply want personal space, it’s completely okay to train a cat or dog to have their own bedroom that’s separate from yours.
However, if your pet will meow or whine outside a closed door, it’s easy to give into temptation and let them back in the bedroom. How does one keep all parties happy and able to get good rest?
Many people worry about separation anxiety, which is when a dog (more often than a cat) literally feels anxious when separated from his or her owner. Symptoms include the dog urinating, defecating, barking, of chewing things up, as a way to relieve their stress. It’s worth noting, however, that separation anxiety in pets is fairly common; various sources say around 20 percent of dogs experience it.
If you know you don’t want to share a bed with your pup, here are some steps to take that will slowly address their anxiety. Of course, it’s worth noting it’s best to work with a licensed profession or vet to make sure your pet feels safe when they’re separated.
Find your dog’s separation limit. This one takes a little technology, but it may be the most important step. It might be hard to know what is “too much” for your pet to handle. Try setting up a camera (try opening up Skype on a laptop or using a device like Nest) in a room where your dog is in. Close the door, and see how the dog reacts. Notice is the dog reactions right away, or if it takes a few minutes before they show outward signs of anxiety.
Desensitize…slowly. Now that you know how long your dog can handle being alone, slowly start getting them used to short periods of separation. Build up to larger amounts of time. Remember, the goal is to make sure they feel safe up to the point where they can sleep the night in a separate room.
Get them their own bedtime routine. This might sound silly, but dogs can be just as routine-oriented as people. Get them used to the signs that you’re leaving them for the night, and give them their own nighttime routine. This could be a small treat before bed, followed by a belly rub in their pet bed. For your own routine, try to let the dog see what you’re doing before closing the bedroom door, whether that’s brushing teeth or getting a glass of water. This will help the dog understand it’s time to go separate ways for the night.
Remember: There could be other reasons why your dog might be crying or whining outside the door that has nothing to do with being separated. If they start crying, don’t ignore it the first time — you want to make sure the dog is not in pain or distress. They also may need to relieve themselves, especially if it’s a puppy or any animal that has not been housebroken. Make sure to let your dog out before heading to bed to ensure this is not why they are whining!
As for cats, separation anxiety is not as common, but it could still happen. If your cat is meowing at night behind the bedroom door, they might be experiencing stress. Another sign they are experiencing separation anxiety is if they go to the bathroom outside of the litter box.
Interestingly, cats often experience separation anxiety because they are bored. If you can satisfy and entertain them, they might not become so dependent at night. Make sure to enrich their environment — this means giving the cat toys, elevated areas to jump into, tunnels, and other pay-time activities. Cat trees are another great tool; it’s a place for them to nap and play, and they often feel secure up on high ground.
Similar to dogs, slowing start to desensitize cats from separation. Practice going into the bedroom and closing the door for a few minutes so the activity eventually becomes commonplace. Start by closing the bedroom door and then opening it right away. Build up to closing it for a few minutes (perhaps while changing) and then a few hours (if you’re going to take an afternoon nap). Slowly, over time, your cat will get used to being in a separate room.
At the end of the day, it’s emotionally difficult the separate yourself from a whining animal, just as it’s a mental challenge for a pet to be away from its owner. Consistency and comfort are key; don’t give in every time they whine, but don’t be harsh about it either. Give your pet love and comfort during the day, reassuring them they are loved all times of the day and night.
The Best Advice Giver: Yourself
We can’t ignore that there is some evidence that supports how a pet in bed with you can improve sleep. At the end of the day, you need to evaluate your own sleeping habits and how a dog or cat might be affecting them. If you have a non-disruptive and well-behaved pet that doesn’t toss and turn or steal the covers, then try to share a bed. If you start feeling like sleep is becoming disrupted, wean them off the bed and onto a pet bed. However, if you’re sleeping well with a pet in the bed, there’s no reason to change something that is currently working.
Overall, listen to your body, consider tracking sleep habits, and do what’s best for you. While it might be hard to kick a companion off the bed, sharing the bedroom is a nice alternative. You’ll feel way more refreshed in the morning, which will lead to more energy to comfort and care for your pet during the day.