It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that having a dog can affect your sleep; however, not all of the ways they do so are obvious. In fact, some of them are downright sneaky — although usually in a good way. But whether your pupper sleeps snuggled up right next to you or in the next room, you can be sure that how many zzzz’s you get have something to do with the fact that you have a furry roommate sharing your home with you.
According to Statista, 90 million dogs were members of U.S. households in 2017 — and given how dramatically the number had risen since 2000, when there were around 68 million, it’s likely that in 2019, it’s even higher, even though the exact numbers aren’t available yet. And when I saw the dogs are members of U.S. households, I mean it; a whopping 95 percent of Americans consider their pets to be part of their family, per the 2015 Harris Poll. As such, it's to be expected that a good many people would allow their dogs access to their bedrooms or beds at night; snuggling with your dog while you're all cozy in your (maybe matching) PJs is one of the great joys of life with pets.
Knowing all this, being aware of the ways your dog might be affecting your sleep can likely be considered vital information for your everyday life. Many of the effects are positive; some are… uh… less so; but either way, Fido’s presence in your bedroom or bed has some major ramifications for your REM cycle. Here are just a few:
1. You Might Wake Up Less In The Middle Of The Night
Or at least, you might if you’re a woman. According to a study published in the journal Anthrozoos in November 2018, women who sleep next to dogs are a lot less likely to be woken up during the night than women who sleep next to either cats or other humans. The researchers did acknowledge that the study results, which were gathered by interview and therefore self-reported by participants, may have to do with how people perceived their sleep quality, rather than the sleep quality itself. But, in the grand scheme of things, feeling like you slept better can go a long way towards, y’know, actually helping you feel well-rested.
2. Your Stress May Not Bother Your As Much
The fact that pets can help reduce your stress levels is a well-known, well-documented benefit to having an animal friend at home; numerous studies have found that pets like dogs improve our mental health and emotional well-being. Those benefits don’t stop when you go to bed, even if your dog doesn’t sleep in the same room as you or next to you; just living with a pet can help keep everyday stress in check. And when your stress levels are lower, you sleep better.
3. Your Bed Might Be Warmer
Dogs typically run a little hotter than humans do; according to the American Kennel Club, they usually measure in at anywhere between 99.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (compared to the standard 98 degrees most humans run). As such, notes Stanley Coren, PhD., DSc, FRSC at Psychology Today, dogs can be quite “efficient bed warmers.” That’s great during the winter, when a little extra warmth can help you maintain a comfortable sleeping temperature while keeping your heating bill down — but it goes both ways, too: If you get too warm, you might have more trouble sleeping than you would otherwise. The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping your bedroom somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit while you sleep, so just make sure that having your dog next to you doesn’t bump the ambient temperature in your bed up too high.
4. You Might Have Fewer Nightmares
If you have regular nightmares as a result of anxiety or PTSD, sleeping next to a service dog might help alleviate them. A paper published in the journal Sleep Review in 2015 detailed the ongoing research into how service animals and emotional support animals can contribute to sleep disorders therapy, including how they can help people with nightmares related to anxiety and PTSD. The animals are trained to “immediately awaken the nightmare patient and provide comfort” — which, the paper notes, is something that no medication has been able to accomplish thus far.
5. You Might Suffer Less From Insomnia
Do you have regular bouts of insomnia? If it’s a symptom of or caused by anxiety for you, having a service dog sleep nearby might help. That same paper in Sleep Review additionally noted that dogs may be used in sleep disorders therapy “to mitigate anxiety, which is often associated with insomnia, and to modify hyperarousal and hypervigilance, which in turn creates a more amenable mood state for sleep initiation, as well as a greater sense of safety in those who are uneasy in the dark and/or night and who tend to phase-reverse to dodge nighttime sleep.” All of which is to say, if anxiety keeps you up at night, a service dog might help ease your mind a bit so you can sleep better.
6. Your Allergies Might Keep You Up More
Dogs track all sorts of things into your bedroom — and into your bed, if you let them sleep up there with you. Pet dander sticks to everything, of course, so it can really pile up in your bedding; however, even if pet dander doesn’t bug you, there are other concerns when it comes to what your pupper brings into the bed with them: Namely, dust mites. Having your dog (or cat, or any other pet) sleep in your bed with you can contribute dramatically to the dust mite population living in your sheets and other linens — and although it’s true that dust mites are always going to be taking up residence in your bedding, adding more can make for some uncomfortable nights if you’re allergic to them. (Have I mentioned that allergies are often worse at night? Because they are. True story.) If your dog sleeps in your bed with you, make sure to change and wash your linens regularly — including your comforter and your pillows.
7. You Might Have An Easier Time Going To Bed…
Especially if you have a chronic medical condition. According to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, pets — particularly dogs — can help ease the transition to bedtime. They provide a sense of routine, order, security, and comfort, all of which can make going to bed and actually falling asleep much easier.
8. …And Getting Up In The Morning
A 2018 study published in the journal Social Sciences examined how dogs affect the sleep environments of people with chronic pain — and it turns out that what you do with your dog during the day can also contribute to better sleep. Part of it is just the fact that dogs keep you physically active, what with all the walking and playing they require, which can help tire you out; however, part of it might also be having something else for which to get up and care. “My days revolve around lots of walking with the dog,” said one participant in the study. “I think he was a real gift… because of him and looking after him, you know, feeding and medication and then we started therapy… over the next four months I got feeling better and got out of the house and had to do stuff for him and walk him.”
9. Your Overall Sleep Quality Might Go Up
If, that is, your dog sleeps in the same room as you — but not in your bed. An oft-cited 2017 study from the Mayo Clinic found that having a dog in the room increased sleep efficiency quite a bit in 40 adults without sleep disorders: It weighed in at 83 percent, meaning that of the total time spent in bed, the participants maintained sleep for 83 percent of it. Sleep efficiency dropped to 80 percent when the dogs actually slept in the beds with their humans, though, so know that although there are benefits to having a pupper directly in the bed with you, there might also be some drawbacks.
If you already have a dog, all of this might be old news to you; if you're thinking of getting one, though, it might be brand new. Either way, though, it's worth knowing — and besides, even if your pupper sometimes keeps you up at night, it's all worth it in the end.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go find a dog to pet.