If you are an animal lover who thinks that the more pets in your room and in your bed, the merrier, then we have some bad news for you. A number of studies conducted over the last several years have shown that sleeping with pets is particularly bad for you because it robs you of the good night’s sleep that you need.
A recent survey that was presented at SLEEP 2014, the 28th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, showed that thirty percent of those who acknowledged sleeping with their pets also admitted to being woken up at least one time each night by their animals, and 63 percent said that they have overall poor sleep quality. Five percent indicated that once their pet has woken them up in the middle of the night they find they have a hard time falling back to sleep.
According to Dr. Sowjanya Duthuluru, M.D., this research is one of very few that has been scientifically conducted into the impact of sleeping with pets. Most previous studies have examined the effect of sleeping with a partner or co-sleeping with a young child in the bed. Pets have long been assumed to be a bad mix for getting a good night’s sleep, with a number of common sense reasons provided – these include the fact that the pets may move in their sleep as they dream, they may wake up and make noises such as barking or meowing, and they may cause allergies to worsen, making their owners sneeze, cough or itch.
Duthuluru’s study interviewed three hundred patients and asked them to participate in a survey that included 17 questions regarding their sleep quality, their sleep habits and whether they owned animals. Of the roughly half that were pet owners, over half acknowledged that they allowed their pets either to sleep on the bed or in their bedroom. The group’s responses to questions of sleep quality seemed to have no connection to gender, age, or any other factor that might have had an impact on their sleep quality other than the presence of the animal being in the bed or the bedroom. Though the study seemed to present an overall thumbs down for the idea of sharing your bed with your furry friend, it also revealed an upside, in that many of those who slept with their pets reported feeling a reduction of stress and an overall sense of comfort by the fact that their animal was in the bed with them, or by their side in the room.
These results echo those of a study that conducted in 2006 by sleep researchers at the Mayo Clinic, which found that upon asking pointed questions of those who were coming to their sleep clinic in search of help with their sleep problems, more than half indicated that that they were allowing their pets to sleep in the room or bed with them and that they were the likely cause of their problem. The breakdown of the group showed that 41 percent were a result of the pets being in their beds, and 58 percent of patients said that the problem was simply having the pets in their rooms.
The problems ranged from pets snoring, with 21 percent of the patients saying that their dogs’ snoring was keeping them awake, and 7 percent reporting the same problem with their cats. Dr. John Shepard, lead author of the Mayo study and medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Mayo Clinic, says, “I suspect that the degree of sleep disruption experienced may be significantly greater than we believe.”
The truth is that this information will come as no surprise to anybody who has ever shared a room or a bed with an animal. From dogs yipping in their sleep from the side of the bed to cats suddenly thinking that a twitching toe under the cover must be a mouse that needs to be caught, pet owners have put up with this type of disruption forever in exchange for the warmth and comfort of having the pet present. I personally owned a dog who would sleep by my feet each night and who never quite got used to the idea that I might shift or rollover. Every time my feet moved she would jump up and snarl as though being attacked – then she would give me a sheepish, apologetic look and curl back up and close her eyes. I would be left with heart racing, having been awoken and scared myself, but unable to go back to sleep quite as easily as she did.
With sleep physicians advising that we need an average of seven to nine hours of sleep per night, these types of disruptions can have a serious physical and emotional impact. Dr. Joyce Walsleben, director of sleep disorders at New York University, says, “You don’t perform well, you don’t make good decisions, and over time it really adds up. Sleepy people tend to be more irritable, have a slower reaction time, and have difficulty with decision making. You can also have real problems with things such as driving.” Dr. Walsleben recommends that those who are being disrupted by their animals in the night need to take action. “Enough of life interferes with your sleep, and a pet could certainly be removed, or have their habits changed. You probably can’t control your kids coming in and waking you up, but you can control your pet.”
Dr. Shepard of the Mayo clinic suggests retraining the pet to sleep elsewhere. “You should make a spot that is warm and comfortable for them with pillows and blankets so you don’t feel as guilty about excluding them from the bedroom. People will go to extreme lengths to make their pets comfortable in the beds that they purchase and buy for them.”