As you may know, I’m a pet lover. It didn’t start out that way, but my wife is a serious pet person and I’ve always had dogs. That said, I didn’t grow up with pets sleeping in my bed. My wife though, she finds it incredibly comforting.
On any given night, it’s Me, Hugo (the French Bulldog), Sparky (the rescue Chihuahua), and Monty (the Devin Rex) cat, and my wife.
I’ve written about pets in my bed before from the perspective of people who are generally “normal” sleepers (the results were that pets are okay as long as they aren’t disruptive). Recently though, I reviewed a study looking at how pets in the bed can affect those suffering from pain.
For those who sleep with pets, being told by a healthcare provider to discontinue co-sleeping with their dog, for example, can be potentially stressful and unnecessary for patients experiencing pain. It may also increase a pain patient’s feelings of isolation and of being a burden to other family members who may have to take on more night time dog care responsibilities.
The good news is that this research showed that in a small group of pain patients who sleep with their dog in their bed, 80% reported a positive benefit!
I decided to dig into this question deeper and discovered that the literature review in this article was excellent, and it really created a good summary. The article is worth reading, but I’ll discuss the pros and cons below.
There are numerous positive benefits resulting from sleeping with a pet.
Pets Are A Comfort To Many People, Especially Those Who Sleep Alone
In a 2015 study, (150 patients with significant sleep disorders), 25% of the participants allowed pets in the bedroom. About half perceived their pets as unobtrusive or beneficial for sleep (Krahn et al. 2015).
Participants described their pets as beneficial, especially those who did not co-sleep with a human. Participants reported that their pets provided them with security, companionship, and relaxation that aided their sleep.
Pets Lead To Psychological Well-Being
Similarly, in other research, the Wells (2009) study all of the participants who owned a pet made positive comments and attributed pet ownership with a wide range of advantages for health and physical and psychological well-being including: companionship, emotional bond, decreased loneliness, better mood, reduced depression, increased sense of calm, a sense of purpose and distraction from worry about health concerns.
Pets May Help You Get Out Of Bed Easier
The role pets played in motivation to get out of bed (keeping to a regular schedule) and encouragement to exercise, both of which are considered important contributors to restorative sleep, were also frequently mentioned. Some researchers also suggest that pets can play a transitional role at bedtime by triggering a sense of routine, order, and security which eases the path to sleep.
A pet in the bedroom or on the bed can also have other advantages such as feelings of security, contentment, and relaxation. This is especially true for those who do not co-sleep with another human. Many pets are a source of unconditional support, comfort, security, and stability (Crowe et al. 2017; Giaquinto and Valentini 2009; Smith et al. 2014) and, for some people, the advantages of human/pet co-sleeping likely outweigh the disadvantages (Smith et al. 2017).
Let’s be honest, there are a few things we all need to think about before we allow our pets in our bed.
Pets May Disturb Your Sleep
Some disturbances in sleep while co-sleeping with a pet are linked to mismatches in human/pet core body temperatures and the different sleep-wake cycle between humans and dogs (Campbell and Tobler 1984; Smith et al. 2017; Thompson and Smith 2014).
- Sleep disturbances may also occur given dogs’ responsiveness to auditory stimuli regardless of whether in a sleep state or an active state (Adams and Johnson 1994).
- In the Shepard (2002) study, 53% of the participants who slept with a pet in the bedroom considered their sleep to be disturbed most nights. The most common cause of disturbance dog owners in the Shepard (2002) study identified was that the pet snored (21%).
- Finally, as noted previously, sleeping with a pet on the bed may also delay sleep onset by several minutes (Smith et al. 2014).
So, what is the right call? Well, you already know what I’ve chosen for my family. What do you feel is best for you and yours?
If you’re not sleeping with a pet now, but think you may benefit from it, you can test it a few nights and see how it goes for both you and your pet. I only recommend testing it for a couple of nights though so you don’t condition the pet to sleep with you if you decide you don’t want them in your bed. Tell me how it works out for you. I look forward to hearing what you decide.
Dr. Michael Breus