- It was long assumed that sleeping with animals was disruptive to sleep, but research results dispute that belief.
- Pet owners tend to experience psychological benefits, and may get more physical activity, which could help with sleep.
- There’s no single answer to the question of whether sleeping with pets affects one's sleep quality for better or for worse.
Does sleeping with my pet hurt my sleep? This is one of those perennial questions I get asked all the time. As I’ve written about before, we have a houseful of much-loved pets in our family, and our dog and cat all sleep with my wife and me (though lately, the cat seems to like my daughter!). On any given night, we’re joined by Hugo the French Bulldog and Monty the Devin Rex cat.
A lot of us like to sleep with our four-legged family members. A YouGov survey from about a year ago found that 66% of Americans sleep with their pets. Co-sleeping with animals we love like family can bring a lot of comfort and soothing at night.
How does sleeping with pets affect our sleep?
For a long time, it was assumed that sleeping with animals was counterproductive and disruptive to sound sleep. But the science on sleeping with pets tells a different story.
If you’re a pet bed-sharer like my wife and I are, you’ll be happy to know that there is a growing body of research showing positive results and benefits from sleeping with pets, including among people with sleep disorders and medical conditions, such as chronic pain, that affect sleep.
There’s also increasing interest among sleep professionals in the use of service animals and family pets to help treat sleep disorders, improve sleep therapies (such as CPAP use), and provide relief from parasomnias, including nightmares. I love this thinking and approach, and I thought we’d take a closer look today at the ideas behind it, and the science of co-sleeping with pets.
The psychological boost of pet ownership
The emotional bond that we have with our pets has demonstrated benefits for psychological well-being, and those benefits may indirectly influence our sleep for the better. Research shows that pet owners say their family animals contribute to better moods, less depression, a greater sense of calm, a stronger sense of purpose, and distraction from worry about their health concerns, as well as a deep sense of companionship and emotional bond. Reduced loneliness is another of the important benefits of owning, for many people, sharing a bed with a pet. (I’ve written about the impact of loneliness on sleep, and how it can often be overlooked as a driver of sleep problems.)
Pets can increase our activity and motivation
Research shows that pet owners tend to move more and get more physical activity than non-pet owners, across a broad range of ages, from young adults to older adults. A 2019 study in older adults (the average age of participants was 68 years), found higher levels of physical activity and weekly exercise, lower body mass index, less pain, better general health, better physical and social functioning, higher levels of vitality, and greater emotional well being in the older adults who owned dogs than in non-dog owners. This study also found the dog owners slept longer at night than non-dog owners.
Pet owners in a number of research studies report feeling higher levels of motivation, and a stronger connection and adherence to daily schedules. Consistency in our daily routines, particularly consistency in our daily bedtimes and wake times, is an important contributor to regular, restful sleep—and, as I recently discussed, to our mood and emotional health.
How do pets in our beds affect our sleep quality?
There’s not a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The scientific research that exists shows that in some cases, there’s no loss to sleep quality, or a small reduction in sleep quality.
A study from 2017 that used wearable devices to track owners’ and animals’ sleep found that people who slept with their dogs maintained a reasonable sleep efficiency—that’s an assessment of sleep quality, measured by how much time you spend actually sleeping compared to the overall time you spend in bed. The humans in this study averaged a sleep efficiency of 81%, which is above the important 80% threshold that is considered satisfactory. (The dogs in the study slept even better, with a sleep efficiency of 85%! Maybe we need a few sleep tips from Fido!)
This study was conducted in a group of pet owners who had normal sleep patterns. In a study of people with sleep disorders, researchers found that roughly half of those who slept with their pets reported feeling benefits to sleep, or considered their pets unobtrusive to their nightly rest.
Other research shows that sleeping with pets can be a source of disruption to sleep quality. Some research reports that pets’ snoring is a common source of sleep disruption for their owners. Differences in the sleep-wake cycles between pets and humans, and misaligned nighttime body temperatures between animals and humans, have also been attributed to sleep disruptions in people who share a bed with their pets. Dogs’ sensitivity and responsiveness to noise even when in sleep mode—say, when your pup suddenly starts barking at a garbage can toppling outside in the middle of the night—can pose challenges for their co-sleeping humans' nightly rest, according to research. A recent study found that sleeping with dogs significantly increased people’s movements during the night—but the study also found that people who slept with their dogs rarely reported their sleep being disrupted.
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