Can’t Sleep? Your Dog Can Help

If you’re a dog owner and struggle with sleep issues, you’ve probably been told to kick Fido out of your bedroom. Indeed, many people believe that pets disrupt sleep and that it’s part of good sleep hygiene to ban them to their own sleeping situations.

There’s research, however, from the Mayo Clinic that provides a different perspective and is likely music to animal lovers’ ears.

Scientists from the Mayo Clinic set out to discover whether or not the presence of a dog disturbs the sleep of healthy, already-asleep adults. The 40 human participants had not reported sleep issues and their dogs were all over the age of six-months (puppies need not apply). The results showed that every participant actually slept better with their dog in the room — no matter the size or the restlessness of the dog. Dogs ON the bed, however, may still be a no-no, as the study found that human sleep efficiency (the percentage of time spent asleep while in bed) was lower if the dog was on the bed as opposed to just in the room.

Where your dog sleeps is up to you but if you like your dog in your room or even on your bed, you can rest assured that there are some great reasons for that:

  1. Dogs keep you warm. In fact, dogs’ body temperatures are 3-6 degrees warmer than humans’, making them cozy bed-warmers on a cold night.
  2. Dogs help you relax. With their rhythmic breathing, a dog can be a natural white noise machine, helping to lull you to sleep.
  3. Dogs make you feel good. Just having your dog look at you can increase your body’s levels of oxytocin. Sometimes called the “love” or “cuddle” hormone, oxytocin contributes to feelings of relaxation, connection and trust (among other things.) Similarly, interacting with dogs can decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure.
  4. Dogs are good for your overall health and longevity. According to studies into dog ownership and “survival” in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, having a dog is linked to a 24% lower risk of death in general and a 31% lower risk of death due to cardiovascular issues. The researchers aren’t sure why, but perhaps part of the benefit comes from the fact that dogs encourage their owners to get more exercise (see below.)
  5. Dogs get you moving. The journal BMC Public Health reports that dog owners walk 22 more minutes per day than non-dog owners and that people who walk with dogs exercise harder, too, with dog walks tending to be brisk and to get the heart rate up. Exercise, we know, is important to achieving quality sleep. In one study, according to the National Sleep Foundation, adults with insomnia fell asleep more quickly, slept longer, and had better sleep quality after they began an exercise program.

When might your dog be harmful to your sleep? If your dog is very young, very old, or ill, he or she might be more restless at night and therefore might not be the best sleep companion. Dogs that startle easily can also disrupt your sleep with sudden barking or growling and should sleep elsewhere in your home. And if you’re allergic to animals or have asthma, be sure to talk to your doctor to get the best advice on whether to allow your pet in your room. Some experts may suggest allergy shots, a HEPA filter or giving your system a nightly rest from dander by banning pets from the bedroom. If so, don’t worry, you’ll still be getting the heart health, exercise, and calming effects of your furry friend during the day while you’re both awake to enjoy each other’s company.

Looking for more ways to optimize your sleep? Read our Expert Tips to Help Prevent Insomnia Tonight.

For serious sleep concerns, talk to your healthcare professional or a sleep therapist. He or she can discuss appropriate treatment options, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.