Pets in the Bed
Does sleeping with your dog or cat affect how well you rest?
According to Dr. Stanley Coren, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, the idea of people sleeping in bed with their dogs is nothing new. Dr. Coren notes that even Rameses the Great, the Egyptian pharaoh, had a hound name Pahates who was given the title of “Bed Companion to the Pharaoh.” Rameses is one of many famous people throughout history who have been known to sleep with their dogs in their beds.
Why do we sleep with our pets?
Even in modern 21st century times, many pet owners choose to sleep with their furry friends. According to a 2012 Harris poll, about 70% of Americans, at least occasionally, let their pets sleep in their beds. There are many reasons why we let our pets sleep in our beds. Here are just a few:
Contentment – Oxycotin the snuggle hormone, which is raised by touching (human or otherwise) increases our level of contentment. As you can imagine, the more content we are, the better we sleep.
Warmth – Dr. Cohen notes that dogs have a slightly higher body temperature than humans. Sleeping with dogs may have meant the difference between survival and death in more primitive times. As the colder weather approaches, I often encourage my dogs to climb on my bed to keep me warmer at night, even if they’d prefer to sleep on their own somewhere else in the house.
Security – Some pets are meant to keep us safe. Perhaps your reason for letting your dog, cat, or rabbit into your bed is because you sleep better knowing protection is close by. There are hundreds of heroic stories of owners being awoken by their pet to let them know someone or something is unusual around the house. This natural instinct could have also helped in the survival of humans, suggests Dr. Cohen. Dogs would have been used to warn humans of an approaching dangerous animal or hostile human, which could have meant the difference between life and death.
Does sleeping with your pet affect your sleep?
The big question and of course, there is no simple answer. According to a group of Australian researchers from Central Queensland University: yes, but not really.
In their 2014 sleep study, they found that people who slept with their pets took longer to fall asleep, were more likely to wake up tired and were more likely to be woken up by a dog barking or animal making noises. There were, however, “no significant differences found in total self-reported sleep or feelings of tiredness during the day,” The study found that, on average, people who shared a bed with their pets, took only 4 minutes longer to fall asleep than those who slept without pets.
Another study published in FastCo.com surveyed 298 patients at a family practice clinic. About 50% of respondents said they shared a bed with their pet. Nearly a third of people who shared a bed with their pet also reported being awoken by their pet at least once per night. What’s more, 63% of the same bed-sharing owners, stated that they have a “poor sleep quality” and also share a bed with their pet 4 nights a week or more.
Another aspect of sharing your bed with your pet are the ripple effects it may have on your relationship. A study cited by the Daily Mail suggests that a dog will add nearly 2,000 arguments to a couple’s relationship throughout its lifetime. Disagreements can range from who will walk the dog, yard clean up with the most common being, you guessed it, whether or not the dog can sleep in the bed. Yikes!
Concerns About Pets Sleeping in the Bed
Let’s say you’re like me, and you’re happy to let Fido, Felix, Thumper or Babe also share your bed. There are other concerns beyond a good night’s sleep (and your relationship) to take into consideration.
- Disease – Dogs and (especially outdoor) cats are known to get dirty. I like to believe my dogs compete with one another to see who can smell worse or who can dig a bigger hole in the backyard. But do they bring diseases and parasites into our beds?
Dr. Sophia Yin wrote a piece for the Huffington Post where she argues this is unlikely. In 2011, there was a study by two Californian veterinarians which stated people who slept with their pets were more likely to get diseases such as the bubonic plague. Dr. Yin says the chances of this happening are rare and pets on regular flea protection should not be a concern for disease if sharing a bed with their owner.
- Disturbance – Another reason you may not want to let your cat or dog into bed with you could be that they disturb your sleep. One reason for insomnia can be your partner’s (or pet’s) snoring. If this is the case, you might consider shutting the door to your bedroom and teaching your pet that they’re no longer welcome in your bed. As any animal lover will undoubtedly know, this is much easier said than done sometimes.
- Dirt – I’m a softie, but the one rule I am adamant about is that the bed is for sleeping – no bone chewing, or dirty dogs in the bed. My dogs are pretty good about respecting this rule, but I’m sure that if I were to setup a webcam in my bedroom, I’d see them chewing a bone or two on my bed while I was away.
Beyond the odd toy I find in my sheets as evidence, it doesn’t cause me (or likely other pet owners) much of a concern. Adapting a more frequent cleaning schedule and changing of bed sheets is normally a sufficient solution to this problem.
So do my dogs affect my sleep? I’d say not really. They prefer to sleep on their own at night (perhaps it’s me disturbing their sleep), so for the most part my bed isn’t shared with animals at all. To anyone who knows me, they know I’m already an early riser. Most days I’m up earlier than the dogs or the sun. When they do join me in bed, I’m either cold at night or taking an afternoon siesta. Sometimes they just enjoy the comfort of being next to me – and I mean, who can say no to those big loving eyes?
How do you feel about animals in the bed? Has it ever caused disagreements between you and your partner? If you don’t share your bed with your pets, why not?
Share your thoughts in the comments below. We’d love to hear from pet owners who feel strongly one way or the other about sharing their bed with their furry friends.
Greg Lehman is one of the founding members of Spike Creative Solutions, a marketing agency based out of Waterloo, ON Canada. A self-described hippie in a business suit, outside of work Greg is either wandering through a forest, digging in the garden or taking a nap with his two dogs Casey & Dakota. Connect with Greg Lehman online.