A Woman and Her Dog

Your pet can enhance your sleep quality through promoting regular exercise and combatting depression and stress. However, sharing a bed tends to cause more sleep disturbances, especially if your pet tends to snore or move around at night.

Simply owning a pet can help out with mental health and sleep. Pet owners are better at handling stress and tend to experience fewer feelings of depression and anxiety than people without pets. This has two positive consequences for sleep:

  1. Stress is associated with high levels of cortisol in the brain. Being stressed can prolong the time it takes to fall asleep and hurt sleep quality. Conversely, lower stress levels correlate to better sleep.
  2. Depression affects the mechanisms in the brain that regulate sleep. Combatting depression promotes better sleep, and spending time with pets can help prevent or reduce symptoms of depression.

Exercise can have a similar significant impact on sleep wellness. It promotes deep sleep and mental relaxation, although the exact relationship between exercise and sleep is still being researched. Pets help their owners get more exercise, especially dog owners who do 200 minutes more of activity per week than average.

However, while dogs may be “man’s best friend”, it’s actually WOMEN who come out on top when it comes to pets and sleep; women actually sleep better next to their dogs than with their human partners!

In a research study of more than 1,000 American women which looked at the impact of pets on sleep quality conducted by Canisius College in New York State it was found that, for women, dogs are better bed partners than human or feline companions. According to lead researcher Christy Hoffman, PhD, an animal behaviourist, women commonly rate dogs as better bed partners than cats and human partners and report that their dogs enhance their sleep quality.  The research discovered a few reasons as to why dogs make good sleep partners.

Similar sleep patterns

woman asleep with labrador in her armsHoffman found that sleep patterns of dogs, not cats, more closely coincide with sleep patterns in humans. The difference between dogs and cats is not surprising because dogs’ major sleep periods tend to coincide more closely with humans’ than do cats.

While it can only be guessed what the benefits of the matching sleep patterns are, Hoffman believes there are some, but further research is required.  It may be that, in comparison to human bed partners, dogs may be better at accommodating their human’s sleep schedule.

It’s not uncommon for human bed partners to go to bed at very different times and wake up at very different times. Such differences in partners’ schedules can certainly disrupt sleep. It may be that dog bed partners adapt more readily to their owner’s schedule than do human bed partners.”

Dogs stay put

The research indicated that dogs who slept in their owners’ beds were perceived to be less disruptive for sleep than human partners and cats.  Participants who slept with a dog reported their dog stayed on the bed most of the night whereas those who slept with a cat stated that their cat spent less of the night on the bed.

This suggests that cats may be more likely than dogs to create disruptions by moving on and off the bed during the night. In addition, the study found that dog owners kept to more consistent bedtime and wake time schedules than cat owners and also tended to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier than cat owners,” Hoffman said.  This consistency may be due to the need for the dog to go outside after waking.

Dog owners may benefit by keeping to a more consistent sleep schedule. Previous research suggests people who keep to a stricter sleep routine tend to be less sleepy during the day and to be less likely to report insomnia,” according to Hoffman.

A sense of security

Dogs as bed partners scored higher on comfort and security than human and feline bed partners.

Some dog owners may take comfort in the thought that their dog will alert them in the case of an intruder or other type of emergency and a dog’s bark may deter a potential intruder. A cat is less likely to take on this role, and so, may not provide psychological comfort in the same way a dog might.  In fact, participants associated cats with weaker feelings of comfort and security than both human and dog partners.

woman standing by pond with dog

Should You Ditch the Cat for a Dog?

Although a large number of participants in the study reported that their dogs had a positive impact on their sleep, Hoffman says there is a lot of variation across people and their pets that may influence how they affect each other’s sleep, e.g. a snoring dog is unlikely to enhance your sleep quality; but on the other hand, some cats may greatly improve their owner’s sleep quality.

Hoffman emphasised the fact that her research was based on individuals’ perceptions of how their pets affect their sleep.

Hoffman explained that, because we often experience disruptions to our sleep that we do not recall the next morning, it would be good to take some objective measures of how dogs and cats impact human sleep. What is required is to actually capture dog, cat, and human activity at nighttime to get a better sense of how the activity of one individual may be impacting the activity of another. Hoffman  believes that the field of sleep research benefits from having more information about how pets and where they sleep impacts sleep quality.

Sources:  Somnology, Healthline