Sleeping with your pet? How it may affect you (and your pet)

"In general, it is a very good thing for animals to sleep with their people," said Dr. Dana Varble, the chief veterinary officer for the North American Veterinary Community.<br /><br />"Do you really think there's enough room for you?" -- Delilah, a 10-year-old Siberian husky.<br />

“I love that we’re flipping the question,” said Dr. Dana Varble, Veterinarian in Chief for the North American Veterinary Community. “In general, it’s a very good thing for animals to sleep with their people.”

Animals who share their human’s bed tend to have “a higher level of trust and a closer bond with the humans in their lives. It’s a big show of trust on their part,” Varble said. .

“Dogs and cats that bond more closely with their humans gain additional health benefits, including an increase in beneficial neurotransmitters such as feel-good hormones oxytocin and dopamine,” she said. added.

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

“I have an owner who has a meticulously groomed pot-bellied pig sleeping at the foot of his bed,” she said. “He’s an indoor pig named Norbert – pot-bellied pigs are almost like dogs because they’re very social.” (Norbert even has his own Instagram account.)

Advantages and disadvantages for humans

With that important question out of the way, let’s turn to you – is it good for you sleep with a pet? Experts have traditionally said no because you might not get quality sleep.

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“Animals can move, bark and disrupt sleep. Dogs (and cats) sleep is not continuous and they will inevitably get up and walk on the bed, stepping on people. All of this activity will lead to sleep fragmentation “said Dr. Vsevolod Polotsky, director of sleep research and professor in the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

These “micro-awakenings,” which can happen without your knowledge, “are disruptive because they wake you out of deep sleep,” said Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology and preventive medicine at the University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Northwestern. “They’ve been linked to the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can make sleep even 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 may benefit from having their pet in the bed because the pet is a big pillow, a big blanket, and they can feel this snuggly, cuddly, furry creature shrink. their anxiety,” said sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta. , assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

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

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

Another one study 2017 putting sleep trackers on dogs and their humans to measure the quality of rest for both. People who had their dogs in their rooms got a good night’s rest (and the dogs too), the research team found.

However, sleep quality decreased when people moved their dog from the floor to bed.

Children can also benefit from sleeping with a pet. A study 2021 asked teens aged 13 to 17 to wear sleep trackers for two weeks and then take a state-of-the-art sleep test. About a third of children slept with a pet, the study notes, which did not appear 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 wrote.

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

“There can be significant psychological comfort in having your pet around, which can help both initiate and maintain sleep,” Kolla said.

“However, if patients report that the animal’s movements or other activities are disturbing their sleep, then we advise them to try to consider alternative arrangements for the animal at night and see if that helps. sleep,” he added.

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A setup for success

Successful co-sleeping with your pet has a lot to do with how deeply you and your pet sleep, 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 good all night, but cats can be very nocturnal,” Breus said, adding that another factor is how much “the two of you move because the movement of the animal can wake you up. humans and vice versa.

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

If you’re planning on taking your fur baby to bed, Breus suggested you try it for just a few nights, so you don’t condition your pet to expect it before deciding if it’s right for you.

Some of us should abstain

Despite the new science, many of us still have to think twice about bringing our indoor dogs, cats or pigs into our beds.

“It is particularly harmful in people with insomnia or in patients with other sleep disorders – patients with a delayed sleep phase (night owls) or even in people with sleep apnea, who wake up after they stop breathing and then are unable to go back to sleep,” Polotsky said.

Up to 30% of the American public suffers from insomnia and at least 25 million adults suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
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“Insomniacs are most susceptible,” Polotsky said. “Sleeping with pets won’t necessarily predispose or precipitate insomnia, but it could perpetuate it.”

Whenever your sleep cycles are interrupted, you disrupt the brain’s ability to repair itself at the cellular level, consolidate memories, store new information, and prime the body for peak performance.

The “sweet spot” for a good rest is when you can fall asleep continuously through all four stages of sleep four to six times a night. Since each cycle lasts about 90 minutes, most people need seven to eight hours of relatively uninterrupted sleep to achieve this goal.

A chronic lack of solid rest therefore impacts your ability to pay attention, learn new things, be creative, solve problems and make decisions.
It gets even darker: Studies have shown that people who frequently wake up at night are at high risk of developing dementia or dying prematurely from any cause as they age.

Respiratory problems

There’s another reason why snuggling up with animals all night may not be good for your health. If you’re one of the millions of people who suffer from asthma, allergies or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sleeping with a hairball could become a nightmare.

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“My asthmatics, my COPD patients, they always say, ‘Hey Doc, don’t worry, my dog ​​isn’t shedding,’” said Dasgupta, who is also a pulmonologist.

“And I’m like, ‘Yeah, but remember, the allergens are in the saliva, they’re in the dog’s skin. So you’re going to be exposed to allergens for eight hours at night and have watery eyes and a stuffy nose. with the movement of the animal, may well prevent you from sleeping well,” he said.

Some animals should not join the family bed

Back to what’s best for your pet: when isn’t it a good idea to have a four-legged friend sleeping with you?

“Obviously young puppies or dogs that have behavioral issues — it might not be good for them to sleep with you,” Varble said. “If you have an anxious dog, we teach that kennels are a safe space.

“Kens that have three sides make them feel like they only have to ‘protect’ themselves from one angle. We want to teach them that there is a safe place in your home,” a- she declared.

And there are pets, Varble said, you should never invite them to bed for a spoon.

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