Nothing beats snuggling up under the duvet at the end of a long day. But if you’re one of the nearly half of British cat and dog owners that shares your bed with a pet, how do you sleep? Soundly? Or do Fido’s twitching paws and muted howls jolt you awake. We asked clinical pet behaviourist Helen Greenley for advice on how dogs sleep, and what we can do to ensure everyone sleeps like a baby or pup.
How much sleep do dogs need?
Dogs sleep on average for 14 hours, more than 50% of the day. Humans sleep on average for 8 hours, or 30% of the day. The way dogs and humans sleep differ too. Dogs follow a polyphasic sleep cycle, taking multiple naps during the day and night. Humans are diurnal animals, preferring to sleep in one single block at night.
How do dogs prefer to sleep?
Ethological studies of domestic dogs living in free-ranging groups outside human settlements in places such as India, Mexico and Italy have taught us a lot about the preferred sleeping habits of man’s best friend. Dogs need:
- To feel safe in order to sleep
- Access to cooler or warmer spots to regulate their body temperature
- Sleeping spots that are comfortable, particularly for elderly dogs or those with painful joints
- Space to stretch out - this is when REM sleep tends to occur. Like us, REM sleep is when dogs appear to dream, with paws twitching, legs galloping and even muted little woofs, whimpers and growls
Dogs also prefer:
- An elevated sleeping area, most likely to feel safer and to stay out of damp and draughts
- ‘Social’ sleep - studies rarely saw dogs sleeping in isolation. Dogs are an innately social species, and so this makes sense. It may also help them to feel safer and better able to get some proper rest
Why is sleep important?
Sleep is essential to help the body to heal and repair, to rebalance neurotransmitters and hormones (the messengers in the brain and body) and to generally regroup ready for the next day. Research has found poor sleep to be one of the risk factors for chronic stress, which can make your dog (and you!) more prone to illness and behaviour problems such as irritability, aggressive responses and difficulties concentrating and learning.
How can we make sleeping areas appealing?
Whether you want your dog sleeping on, or under, your duvet or not, ensure he or she has access to a few sleeping options at different levels and with different surfaces (cool and smooth or warm and cosy).
Take your dog’s breed into account. Heavier set dogs with full coats, such as Newfoundlands, Golden Retrievers or Malamutes need cooler sleeping spots so as not to overheat. Breeds with finer coats such as Vizslas, Whippets and Miniature Pinschers like to get seriously snuggly in a soft bed under a blanket. If your dog can settle down at a comfortable temperature for them, they are less likely to become restless and wake you up.
If you’d prefer your bed to yourself, provide an alternative raised sleeping area, taking into account your dog’s age and any mobility issues. Put a throw on a sofa or armchair, provide a bed up on the window seat or invest in a raised bed. Don’t worry about the old advice that elevating your dog will make him think he’s top dog! This is an outdated hangover from the days of dominance theory. This theory has been discredited as new research shows that domestic dogs’ social structure is more of an informal family group, where space and resources are shared with very little grumbling or one-upmanship from anyone. So if you’d like to share your bedroom, your bed, or your sofa with your dog, please do so; without worrying about Fluffy taking over the world.
Safe & Social Sleep
Ensure your dog feels safe at night by insulating sleeping areas against disturbing sights or sounds. Black out curtains, draught excluders and white noise sound tracks help create the perfect bedroom sanctuary and calm an unsettled dog. If other household pets or children disturb your dog, ensure peace at night by keeping everyone separated by baby gates, doors, pens or crates.
Even if you would prefer your dog to sleep outside the bedroom, you can provide social sleep by using a baby gate in the doorway and placing your dog’s bed just outside the door. If you have multiple dogs and they all get along, social sleep is provided for in the form of their companions.
Message from Tielle
“If you’re concerned about pet hair on the bed, consider zipped pillow protectors and a quilted mattress protector and easily washable cotton sheets. You could also encourage your pet to sleep on a cosy bed throw, rather than on or under the bedsheets.”