Do Women Get Better Sleep Next to a Person or a Dog?
Sleep quality varies when you share your bed with a dog, cat, or another person.
Posted January 24, 2019
A slim brunette woman, probably in her mid-30s, waved to catch my attention. When she was near, she immediately blurted out, "You're a psychologist, so maybe you could tell me why I find it more comfortable to sleep with Jake rather than Warren."
I was taken aback since people virtually never ask me questions about their sex life. A moment later, however, my wits returned, and I remembered that Warren was her husband, while Jake was the Labrador retriever that she had on a leash next to her. The woman seemed unaware of my momentary confusion and continued to tell her story:
"Warren's job involves organizing medical conferences, so he is often away from home for two weeks or more at a time. When he is home, Jake is not allowed on the bed, but sleeps on a mat in the corner of the room. However, when he's gone, Jake sleeps with me. I love Warren, but nonetheless I tend to feel more comfortable when Jake is on the bed, and when I get up in the morning, I feel more rested, as if the quality of my sleep was better than when I slept beside Warren. I'm a bit puzzled about this — is this a normal thing?"
Actually, according to some recent research by a team of scientists headed by Christy Hoffman from the Department of Animal Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, this woman was describing a common situation. Hoffman's research group set out to explore the impacts that pets have on human sleep quality. To do this, they conducted an Internet survey and gathered data from 962 adult women in the United States. In this particular group, they found that 55 percent of the women in the sample shared their beds with at least one dog, and 31 percent shared their beds with at least one cat. Human bed partners were reported by 57 percent of the respondents. Apparently, humans and pets compete for sleeping rights, since individuals who shared their bed with a human partner were significantly less likely to share their bed with a dog than those who did not have a human with them in bed.
If we focus on the women's perception of the quality of their sleep, those who shared their beds with a dog reported significantly better and more restful sleep. They also claimed that their dogs were less likely to disrupt their sleep than their human partners. Using a scale which measured the emotional tone that they experienced while in bed, the researchers found that women actually felt more comfortable and more secure when sleeping with a dog compared to when they were sleeping with another human.
As bed partners go, cats are a poor substitute. The women in this survey reported that a cat in bed is just as disruptive as having a human partner. Part of this may have to do with behavioral differences between cats and dogs. In this data set, it was reported that the dogs spent approximately 75 percent of the night resting in bed, while cats, with their higher nocturnal activity level, were in and out of bed many times. Cats are also associated with weaker feelings of comfort and security than were reported for either canine or human partners. The authors note, "dogs who slept with their owners scored higher than cats on the Comfort and Security scale [which] may be related to dogs’ abilities to deter intruders and warn their owners of potential threats in ways that cats cannot."
Having a dog as a bed partner seems to impose a more consistent sleep routine. Dog owners tended to go to bed and to wake up earlier than people with cats. The wake times on workdays and non-workdays varied less for dog owners than for non-pet owners. Studies have shown that having a regular sleep and waking schedule helps to strengthen the circadian rhythm, which, in turn, tends to improve sleep quality.
The researchers suggest that another way in which dogs might improve sleep quality may be that "having the dog in one’s bed may reduce the prevalence of bad dreams, a finding previously reported in relation to veterans with PTSD who slept with service dogs."
So, overall, having a dog in bed seems to greatly improve the quality of sleep and comfort experienced by women. One caution, however: The authors did not take into account whether specific breeds of dogs were more likely to be associated with better or poorer sleep in their human partners. Brachiocephalic dogs, those with flat faces like pugs or bulldogs, tend to snore. I once took care of a pug for a week while a friend had to be away to take care of some family matters. That dog snored so loudly that I felt that I was in the room with a Mercury outboard motor set at full throttle. The situation was so bad, and the noise was so disruptive to my sleep, that I eventually had to put the dog in a kennel crate downstairs in the living room in order for me to have any rest at night. So, I am waiting for a follow-up study which might indicate which dog breeds sharing our beds are most conducive to a good night's sleep.
Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.
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Christy L. Hoffman, Kaylee Stutz & Terrie Vasilopoulos (2018) An Examination of Adult Women’s Sleep Quality and Sleep Routines in Relation to Pet Ownership and Bedsharing, Anthrozoös, 31:6, 711-725, DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2018.1529354