New research indicates that co-sleeping with a pet might just be the answer to nighttime woes for sufferers of chronic pain.
The findings come out of the University of Alberta, where a team led by researcher Dr. Cary Brown endeavored to investigate the impact pets, particularly dogs, could have on the sleeping environments of folks who routinely struggle with physical discomfort.
To do this, the scientists recruited a group of 7 adult pet owners who had been experiencing consistent pain for more than 6 months and who also happened to sleep with their dogs. In a series of phone conversations, Brown and her team asked questions about the quality of their slumber, specifically whether their pets positively or negatively affected their sleep.
Across the board, the participants revealed that their pets had an overwhelmingly positive impact on their slumber. The big takeaways were that the actual physical presence of a dog was not only reassuring, but also prevented loneliness. Additionally, sleeping with a furry companion appeared to reduce stress and made falling asleep on painful nights much easier.
“Very few of our subjects identified any real problems with sleeping with their dogs,” Dr. Brown explained to me over the phone. “Many said it helped them to keep a regular bedtime routine while others mentioned that their pups made them feel safer.”
“For some people,” she continued, “they have very few other companions in their lives, so the animal is a constant source of comfort.”
Note: The content on Sleepopolis is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t be taken as medical advice, and it shouldn’t take the place of supervision from a trained professional. If you suffer from chronic pain, or any other medical condition, please consult with a healthcare provider immediately.
Bucking Traditional Advice
While Dr. Brown herself acknowledges that these results would seem like common sense to most pet owners, they’re still important for how they add nuance to the discussion surrounding chronic pain care.
“I’ve been working in the area of pain and sleep research for 15 years, so this ended up being a good opportunity to look at things from a new perspective,” she said. “Medical professionals will often tell those with sleep problems to make sure there are no pets in the bed, but for people with chronic pain, it’s a more complicated story.”
According to Brown, there’s nothing “wrong” with the advice, as pet noises, smells, and movements can be disruptive to a chronic pain sufferer’s sleep. However, she thinks it’s “too simplistic” and doesn’t take into account the “context of a person’s life.”
Related: Should pet sleep with me?
Ultimately, it really does come down to the individual: “There’s a physiological relationship between pain and sleep. If you have pain, you won’t sleep as well, and people who are sleep deprived are more prone to feeling pain, creating a vicious cycle. If we can do something to improve people’s sleep, we can undo that cycle and they can get better sleep.”
Moving forward, Brown and her team plan to further probe whether or not this “something” might be as simple as a cuddle with man’s best friend by both increasing the study’s sample size and conducting qualitative sleep measurements.
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