Is sleeping with your pets good for them – or for you? Experts intervene


By Sandée LaMotte, CNN

In the quest for better sleep, people often ask if they should share their bed with a pet. Before we get to that, let’s take a moment to think about the flip side:

sleep with you good for your animals?

“I love that we turn it around,” said Dr. Dana Varble, chief veterinarian of the North American Veterinary Community. “In general, it’s a very good thing for animals to sleep with their people.”

Animals that 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 great show of confidence on their part, ”said Varble.

“Dogs and cats who are more closely related to their humans enjoy additional health benefits, including an increase in beneficial neurotransmitters like oxytocin and dopamine, the feel-good hormones,” he said. she adds.

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 that sleeps 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 so 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 to sleep with a pet? Experts have traditionally said no because you might not be getting quality sleep.

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

These “micro-arousals,” which can occur 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 Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. . “They have been linked to the release of the stress hormone, cortisol, which can make sleep worse.”

This may be true for many of us, but recent studies have shown that pets in the bedroom may be beneficial for some of us.

“People with depression or anxiety may benefit from having their pet in bed because the animal is a big pillow, a big blanket, and they may feel that this cozy, cuddly, furry creature is diminishing 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.

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

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

Another 2017 study put 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 (as did the dogs), the research team found.

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

Children can also benefit from sleeping with a pet. A 2021 study asked teens aged 13 to 17 to wear sleep trackers for two weeks and then undergo an advanced sleep test. According to the study, about a third of children slept with a pet, which didn’t seem to affect the quality of their rest.

“In fact, frequent co-sleepers showed similar sleep patterns to those who have 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, 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 nearby, which can help both initiate and maintain sleep,” Kolla said.

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

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A configuration for success

Sleeping successfully with your pet has a lot to do with how deeply you and your pet both sleep, says clinical psychologist and sleep specialist Michael Breus, author of “Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health.”

“Dogs are usually good for a whole night, but cats can be very nocturnal,” Breus said, adding that another factor is the amount “of movement you both do, as the animal’s movement can wake up humans and vice versa “.

Pets, like humans, can also snore and disrupt sleep, so be sure to take that into account, Breus said. Small dogs and cats often like to snuggle up under blankets with those around them, but this can raise your body temperature and disrupt your sleep. (The best temperature for sleeping is a little cool, 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18.3 degrees Celsius.)

If you are planning on bringing your furry baby to bed, Breus suggested that you try it out 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 before bringing our indoor dogs, cats or pigs to 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 are then unable to go back to sleep, ”Polotsky said.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, up to 30% of the American population suffers from insomnia and at least 25 million adults suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

“Insomniacs are the most sensitive,” Polotsky said. “Sleeping with pets won’t necessarily predispose or precipitate insomnia, but it could perpetuate it. “

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

The “sweet spot” for good rest is when you can sleep continuously during the 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, problem-solve, and make decisions.

It gets even darker: Studies show that people who have frequent nocturnal awakenings are at high risk of developing dementia or dying prematurely from any cause as they age.

Respiratory problems

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

“My asthma patients, 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 tell them, ‘Yeah, but remember, the allergens are in the saliva, they’re in the dog’s skin. You will therefore be exposed to allergens for eight hours at night and suffer from watery eyes and a stuffy nose. That, along with the movement of the animal, may well prevent you from sleeping well, ”he said.

Certain animals must not join the family bed

Let’s come back to what’s best for your pet: When isn’t it a good idea for a four-legged friend to sleep with you?

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

“Kennels 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, ”she said.

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

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

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