- Dogs sleep differently than humans and typically they will sleep more hours than people.
- A dog's size and age will affect how long a dog will sleep and its size will also affect how long it dreams.
- The most common sleep disorders in dogs are obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and REM sleep behavior disorder.
A friend called me because she was worried about how much her dog was sleeping. She said, "Max [her St. Bernard] sleeps through the night soundly. He gets up for his morning walk and when we get back he immediately conks out again. He will wake up for an occasional lap around the house or to spend a few moments now and then to 'defend' us from visits from the postman or other delivery people, but except for walks, he seems to spend most of his time curled up in his bed or snoozing on the living room rug. I would guess that he spends around 14 hours a day sleeping — that's twice as much as I sleep! Does he have some sort of sleep disorder?"
To begin with, it is important to note that dogs can have sleeping disorders, however, normal dogs sleep differently than humans do. It is these differences that can cause some dog owners to wonder if their dog is sleeping too much or not enough.
The basic fact is that dogs are carnivores (meat eaters) and carnivores sleep more than herbivores (plant eaters). The reason is obvious, since carnivores hunt herbivores it is more dangerous for a hunted animal to sleep. Most research has shown that an average adult dog will sleep between eight and 14 hours out of every 24, which is more than their human (omnivore) owners typically sleep (which is between seven and nine hours a day). However, a dog's natural sleep length is modified by a number of factors.
Age Makes a Difference
Generally speaking, puppies sleep more than adult dogs. Their characteristic activity pattern is to charge around in play mode for a little while, and then to plop down and take a nap. Puppies need additional sleep to conserve energy which is necessary for them to grow properly. A puppy might sleep less than an adult dog at night, but more hours during the day.
At the opposite end of the age spectrum, senior dogs tend to sleep almost as much as puppies, however, they tend to wake up less often during the night and may sleep later in the morning. They will also take frequent naps during the day. According to a recent study from North Carolina State University, older dogs with dementia can develop the same kind of sleep disorder that older humans with Alzheimer's often have. Specifically, these old dogs do not sleep as deeply as normal dogs and may also show a reduction in total sleep time. Furthermore, this study shows that they have atypical brainwave patterns during sleep.
Size Makes a Difference
Generally speaking, larger dogs (like my friend's St. Bernard) tend to sleep longer than smaller dogs. The argument is that the larger the dog the more energy it requires to move and therefore they need more sleep time to recharge.
There is an interesting quirk here. Just like humans do, dogs dream and their dreams are marked by the same REM (rapid eye movements) that mark human dreaming. However, when it comes to dogs the unanticipated finding is that size also makes a difference in canine dream behavior. Big dogs have longer dreams than smaller dogs, however, they are less frequent. Smaller dogs will have much shorter dream periods, but they will have many more of them. Thus for a large dog like a St. Bernard, he might have one dream every 45 minutes and it will last for four minutes. Compare this to a much smaller dog, like a Pug, who will have a dream every 10 minutes, but each will only be around one minute in length.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Now that you have an idea of what normal sleep patterns are in dogs I should point out that dogs, like humans, can also experience sleep disorders. I have already mentioned that old dogs with dementia show the same disrupted sleep patterns that humans with Alzheimer's disease do. However, the most common sleep disorder in dogs is probably obstructive sleep apnea. It is also highly prevalent in humans affecting 15 to 30 percent of all men and 10 to 15 percent of women in North America.
The name of this disease pretty much describes its nature, if you understand that apnea is a temporary stoppage of breathing. Episodes usually occur when sleep relaxes the tissues and muscles in the upper airway of the nose and throat. These then droop down and obstruct normal breathing. With no effective respiration, the oxygen level in the blood drops, and soon the individual wakes up momentarily gasping for breath. The individual then falls back to sleep and usually does not remember awakening. This can happen hundreds of times each night, which makes the normal rest and recuperation provided by sleep nearly impossible.
The reason that this disorder is so prevalent in dogs is that it is a common problem in short-faced (brachycephalic) dogs like Pugs and Bulldogs. This is because their flat faces compress their airways. Sleep apnea is actually on the rise statistically because of the increased popularity of the French Bulldog and similar short-faced breeds, especially in America.
As a dog owner, the symptom to look for is frequent and loud snoring from your dog. Treatment usually involves surgery or medication, although some lifestyle changes (like weight loss) can also help.
Narcolepsy is a rather bizarre disorder that is characterized by abrupt and uncontrollable attacks of deep sleep which may occur when the dog is excited or playing. It is frequently associated with cataplexy, which is a sudden temporary loss of muscle tone. In both people and dogs, a narcoleptic attack with catalepsy leaves the individual just unexpectedly sinking to the floor in a state of sleep.
There is a genetic component to this disease, and it was originally discovered in a line of Poodles, although it also appears in some Doberman Pinschers and sporadically in Labrador Retrievers. Lines of dogs susceptible to the disorder have actually been systematically bred in laboratories for researchers looking for a human and canine cure. Unfortunately, there is no cure at the moment, however, the good news is that the condition is not life-threatening and doesn't worsen with age. Some recently discovered medications can at least prevent catalepsy.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
REM sleep behavior disorder was only identified and named in the mid-1980s. It is a condition where individuals physically act out their dreams while still asleep. The danger in humans is that these actions can cause injury to the individual or their bed partner, especially if they are acting out a violent nightmare. It is more common in older people.
In dogs with the disorder, you often see violent limb movements, howling or barking, and similar behaviors in a sleeping dog. It differs from the human form of the disorder since the majority of dogs first exhibit symptoms before they are one year old and the effects sometimes seem to reduce later on. Fortunately for both people and dogs, the medication appears to be effective in around 75 percent of cases.
So you can see that sleep disorders do occur in dogs, and except for obstructive sleep apnea in short-faced dogs, they are relatively rare.
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