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Russell Rosenberg, Ph.D Headshot

Sleepless With Spot? How Your Pet Affects Your Sleep

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Please don't hate me. I'm just going to go ahead and say it.

Sleeping with a pet can be bad for you.

Are you finished cussing me and throwing tomatoes at your screen?

I know I've already made many of you mad or upset from that one statement, but keep reading. Everyone agrees that pets offer many benefits to physical and psychological health. Pets can reduce stress, improve your outlook on life, and can help motivate owners to exercise. Pets are great for many areas of your life and health, but sleep is just not one of them.

As a sleep specialist, I have seen many patients who never attributed their sleep disturbance to a pet. One woman walked out of my clinic when I suggested she keep her seven cats out of the bedroom at night! Even I have two border collies that love to sleep in our room, but they scratch, moan, and sometimes whine by the door. And they believe getting up to go to the bathroom is a signal that it is time to bark and play. There is a certain comfort to being in the same room with your pet, but sleep is too important to tolerate the disturbances they sometimes cause.

According to a survey by the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, 53 percent of people who sleep with pets say that their animals disturb their sleep. Since animals are not on the same schedule we are, their sleep habits are very different. After sleeping all day, your kitten might think a 4 a.m. pounce on your chest is an excellent way to play. Even if your dog is exhausted after a long day at doggy daycare, he still may snore, bark in his sleep, or even hog the bed as he shifts around.

How Garfield Steals Your Sleep

Cats are certainly healthy sleepers. The American Pet Products Association survey found that 62 percent of cats sleep with their adult owners, and another 13 percent of cats sleep with children. For cat owners, there are basically two main problems with allowing a cat into your bedroom.

  1. Cats are territorial. Once your cat is curled up in your bed or even prancing around your bedroom, one thing is clear -- this space belongs to Felix. Trying to move your cat off your bed or into a new room may produce a protest of hisses, growls, or even scratches. Your sleep may be interrupted throughout the night by frequent meowing or scratching at your door as your cat tries to reclaim his or her territory. Additionally, cats will do almost anything to get your attention when they are hungry or bored. Most cat owners have experienced the wonderful wake-up call of a cat sitting on their face or pawing at their cheeks to let them know it is time to get moving!
  2. Cats are nocturnal. While the aforementioned cat wake-up call might work out if cats and humans had the same sleep patterns, we do not. Cats spend the majority of the daytime sleeping.
Man's Best Friend, Sleep's Worst Enemy

The same survey by the American Pet Products Association also found that nearly half of dogs sleep in their owner's beds. The survey found that 62 percent of small dogs, 41 percent of medium-sized dogs, and 32 percent of large dogs sleep with their owners.

  1. Dreamy dogs. When dogs sleep, they may enter the REM stage, in which they dream. Your dog rolls his eyes under his closed lids, and he may bark, whine, or jerk his legs. Brain activity during REM sleep is similar to that of dreaming humans, which means your sleeping puppy may act out his dreams just as you are dozing off.
  2. Nesting. Many dogs dig or scratch at their bedding to create a comfortable sleeping area and mark their territory. This instinctual urge is leftover from your dog's wild relatives like foxes and wolves, who dig dens to defend themselves against extreme temperatures and predators. Since dogs tend to wake up many times throughout the night, your sleep might be disturbed when your dog decides to dig through the sheets.

Both Cats and Dogs Might Make You Sick

A study by the Centers for Disease Control found that some diseases can be transmitted from pets to humans, especially when sharing close sleeping quarters. While it is rare, a four-legged bed partner could pass on illnesses like rabies, antibiotic-resistant infections, meningitis, ringworm, or intestinal parasites. Children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems should be especially cautious about allowing pets into their beds. The risk of getting sick from being close with your pets is real, but most of the diseases they pass on to humans can be identified and eliminated by preventive veterinary care.

Take sleep and sleep problems seriously. If you suffer from insomnia, consistently feel that your sleep is not refreshing, or are excessively sleepy in the daytime, talk with your family physician. Getting good sleep is vital to health and disease management. Your pet might not be happy to be kicked out of the bedroom, but he'll end up with a healthier, more productive, and happier owner in the long run.

For more information on developing healthy sleep habits, visit the National Sleep Foundation at www.sleepfoundation.org.

For more by Russell Rosenberg, Ph.D., click here.

For more on sleep, click here.

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