Sleep with your pet? How that may affect you (and your pet)

“I think it’s great that we’re turning the question around,” said Dr. Dana Varble, the Chief Veterinary Officer of the North American Veterinary Community. “In general, it is a very good thing for animals to sleep with their humans.”

Pets that share their human’s bed tend to have a “higher level of trust and a closer bond with the people in their life. It’s a great show of trust on your part,” said Varble.

“Dogs and cats that are more closely connected to their humans enjoy additional health benefits, including increases in beneficial neurotransmitters like oxytocin and dopamine, the feel-good hormones,” she added.

Do only dogs and cats benefit from human bed partners? Yes, said Varble, with “very, very few exceptions”.

“I have an owner who has a carefully cared-for pot-bellied pig that sleeps at the foot of his bed,” she said. “It’s a domestic pig named Norbert – pot-bellied pigs are almost like dogs because they are very social.” (Norbert even has his own Instagram account.)
"Hello, my name is Norbert.  I am almost 2 years old.  I'm a pot-bellied pig, but I think I'm human, so I sleep on the bed with the other people.  I also have my own Instagram!"

Advantages and disadvantages for humans

Now that we’ve got this important matter out of the way, let’s turn to you – is it good for? she sleep with a pet? Experts have traditionally said no because you may not get good quality.

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“Animals can move, bark and disturb sleep. Dog (and cat) sleep is inconsistent and they will inevitably get up and walk on the bed and step on people. All of these activities cause sleep fragmentation,” said Dr. Vsevolod Polotsky, director of sleep research and professor in the medical school at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

These “micro-awakenings,” which can occur without your consciousness, “are disruptive because they wake you up from deep sleep,” said Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “They have been linked to the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can make sleep worse.”

This may be true for many of us, but recent studies have shown that having pets in the bedroom could be beneficial for some of us.

“People with depression or anxiety can benefit from having their pet in bed because the pet is one big pillow, one big blanket, and they feel like this snuggly, snuggly, furry creature is reducing their anxiety,” said sleep specialist Dr . Raj Dasgupta, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

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Data collected in 2017 by the Mayo Clinic’s Sleep Medicine Center in Phoenix found that more than half of the pet owners seen at the clinic allowed their pet to sleep in the bedroom – and the majority found that their pet was “normal or even beneficial to sleep ”.

However, around 20% believed that their furry friends made their sleep worse.

In another 2017 study, sleep trackers were used in dogs and their humans to measure the quality of rest for both. People who had their dogs in their bedroom got a decent night’s sleep (and so did the dogs), the research team found.

However, the quality of sleep decreased when people took their dog off the floor to bed.

Children can also benefit from sleeping with a pet. In a 2021 study, teenagers ages 13-17 were asked to wear sleep trackers for two weeks and then undergo a state-of-the-art sleep test. About a third of the children slept with a pet, the study found, which didn’t seem to affect the quality of their rest.

“In fact, frequent co-sleepers showed similar sleep profiles to those who never slept with pets,” the authors write.

“All of this suggests that having pets in the bed or bedroom isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” said Dr. Bhanu Prakash Kolla, a sleep physician at the Mayo Clinic’s Sleep Medicine Center in Rochester, Minnesota.

“Having your pet around can be tremendous psychological comfort, which can help both induce and maintain sleep,” said Kolla.

“However, if patients report that the pet’s movements or other activities are disrupting their sleep, we advise them to look for alternative arrangements for the pet at night and see if this helps them sleep,” he added.

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A setup for success

Successful sleeping with your pet has a lot to do with how deep Both you and your pet are asleep, says clinical psychologist and sleep specialist Michael Breus, author of “Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program for Better Sleep and Health”.

“Dogs are usually fine all night long, but cats can be very nocturnal,” said Breus. Another factor is “how much you move, since the movement of the animal can wake you up and vice versa.”

"Hello, I'm Lynx (middle and right), a two year old Siberian.  I have to sleep with one of my humans so that I can walk or sit on them or try to smell their breath.  I also enjoy wrapping my 2 foot long body around her neck around 3am.  My sister Luna (left) likes to sit on her feet and bite her at night.
Pets, like humans, can snore and disrupt sleep too, so be sure to take this into account, Breus said. Small dogs and cats often enjoy snuggling up under the covers with their humans, but doing so can raise your body temperature and disrupt your sleep. (The best sleeping temperature is a little cool, at 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18.3 degrees Celsius.)

If you are thinking of putting your fur baby to bed, Breus suggested that you only try a few nights so that you don’t condition your pet to expect it before deciding if it’s good for you.

Some of us should abstain

Despite the new science, many of us still have to think twice about putting our dogs, cats, or domestic pigs in our beds.

“It is particularly harmful in people with insomnia or in patients with other sleep disorders – patients with delayed sleep (night owls) or even people with sleep apnea who wake up after having stopped breathing and then cannot go back to sleep,” said Polotski.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, up to 30% of the American population suffer from insomnia and at least 25 million adults have obstructive sleep apnea.
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“Insomniacs are the most vulnerable,” said Polotsky. “Sleeping with pets does not necessarily predispose or induce insomnia, but it could perpetuate it.”

Every time your sleep cycles are disrupted, you disrupt the brain’s ability to repair itself at the cellular level, solidifying memories, storing new information, and preparing the body for optimal performance.

The “sweet spot” for a real recovery is when you can sleep four to six times a night continuously through the four phases of sleep. Since each cycle is around 90 minutes long, most people need seven to eight hours of relatively uninterrupted sleep to achieve this goal.

A chronic lack of solid rest, therefore, affects your ability to pay attention, learn new things, be creative, solve problems, and make decisions.
It’s getting darker: Studies have shown that people who wake up frequently at night are at high risk of developing dementia in old age or dying early for any reason.

Breathing problems

There’s one more reason why it isn’t good for your health to snuggle up with pets all night. If you’re one of the millions with asthma, allergies, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sleeping with a ball of fur could turn into a nightmare.

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“My asthma patients, My COPD patients always say, ‘Hey Doc, don’t worry, my dog ​​doesn’t shed,’ “said Dasgupta, who is also a pulmonologist.

“And I tell them, ‘Yes, but remember, allergens are in saliva, they’re in the dog’s skin. So you will be exposed to allergens for eight hours at night and suffer from watery eyes and a blocked nose with the animal’s movement could prevent you from sleeping well, “he said.

Some pets should not be placed in the family bed

Getting back to what’s best for your pet, when is it not a good idea to have a furry friend sleeping with you?

“Of course, if you have a young puppy or dog dealing with behavior problems, it’s not good for them to sleep with you,” said Varble. “If you have a dog that is scared, we teach you that kennels are a safe place.

“Zwinger with three sides give you the feeling that you only have to ‘protect yourself’ from one point of view. We want to teach them that there is a safe place in your home, ”she said.

And there are some pets, said Varble, that should never be invited to bed to spoon.

“I work with exotic pets and many of them have very specific health and safety requirements, including keeping them in an enclosure,” said Varble. “So I know people who are very close to their ferrets and guinea pigs, but they have to be in their enclosure at night for their health. These are not animals that we want to have in bed with us.”

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