Every early morning around 2 a.m. my sleeping partner wakes me up because she is thirsty and needs a toilet break. Fortunately, she has no problem getting back to sleep. I know this because after this nightly ritual I’m often wide awake and listening to their gentle snores.
By now you may have found out that my bed buddy is a dog. Like many dogs around the world, Maddie, a 13-year-old Shih Tzu, is a co-sleeper who shares her bed with a human.
Various studies have estimated that around half of all pet owners allow their pets to sleep in bed. While the scientific literature convincingly shows that our pets are good for us in many ways, research into the effects of co-sleeping is more limited.
A small Mayo Clinic study of 40 adults used human and dog body monitors to measure whether a dog had an impact on sleep quality in the bedroom or in bed. The researchers measured sleep efficiency, which compares how many minutes you actually sleep after going to bed. (The clock doesn’t start until you close your eyes for the night – staying up to read a book doesn’t count.)
Everyone has short periods of waking up at night, but often they don’t even notice. Ideally, you sleep about 85% of the time you are in bed. In the Mayo study, the sleep efficiency of people whose dogs slept in the room was close to it at around 83%. When a dog slept on the bed, sleep efficiency dropped to around 80%, which is less than ideal, but not bad either. Although the difference was statistically significant, it meant about 14 minutes of sleep loss for people who slept with their dog compared to those who had their dog in the same room.
The study’s authors found that the dog’s sleep efficiency was “unaffected by its location.” Most importantly, the monitors realized that the dogs were enjoying around two minutes of play time each night.
On a few occasions my dog Maddie has chosen to sleep elsewhere and I wake up wondering even more where she is
Once a dog sleeps in bed with a human, it can be hard to break the habit, said Alexandra Horowitz, professor at Barnard College in New York and author of the book Inside a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.
“If you let them sleep in bed with you, they’ll keep wanting it because it’s a nice place to sleep,” said Horowitz. “It would be particularly difficult not to let her.”
But letting your pet sleep in bed is only an issue if it bothers you, Horowitz said. Although some people believe that having a dog in your bed could cause behavior problems in the pet, there is no evidence that sleeping together causes problems, she said. In fact, it could lead to a stronger bond with your pet.
“I think it really came from this idea that dogs should be separated from the best parts of the house – they shouldn’t be in the kitchen, dining room, couch, or bed,” Horowitz said. “For some reason there is a feeling that we need to maintain our dominance over them by having full ownership of these things. It sounds ridiculous because it’s ridiculous. “
Horowitz said when their dogs, Finnegan, a Lab mix and Upton, a Great Dane and Bloodhound mix, overcrowded the bed, the solution in their house was not to kick them out but to “make our bed bigger. ”
“They are getting older and can no longer jump on the bed,” she said. “We actually have to lift her onto the bed. But it’s the best place. It’s a convenient place. Here we are.”
Horowitz recently had a new puppy, a Schnauzer and Beef dog mix named Quiddity, who sleeps with her son. She said that if someone has trouble sleeping because of a dog, they should try to find another comfortable place for the pet. “You don’t have to sleep in bed,” she said. “Find another place that is spectacularly good – or maybe they want to sleep with your son.”
One question the Mayo Clinic study failed to answer was how sleep changes for dog owners when the dog gets out of bed. On a few occasions my dog Maddie has chosen to sleep elsewhere and I wake up wondering even more where she is. When that happens, I’ll find her and put her back in bed.
When Jamie Contreras and her husband, who live near Portland, Oregon, got their Bulldog mix puppy, Cooper, they made plans for him to sleep in a crate by the bed. But the dog soon made it clear that he wanted to go to the bed. As the dog got bigger it turned out there wasn’t enough room for everyone – so the couple bought a king size bed.
Now, nearly 12 years later, part of the 83-pound dog’s nightly routine is sleeping under the covers between Contreras and her husband. Often times the dog moves on the blanket at night, nailing the couple under the sheets. Sometimes, while dreaming, Cooper kicks and “walks”.
“He’s a big dog and he moves a lot,” said Contreras. “But I like having him with me. It is a consolation. When we travel it is almost difficult to sleep when he’s not there. There is inconvenience and it wakes you up occasionally, but the benefits outweigh the benefits. I wouldn’t have it any other way. “
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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