Sleeps with Dogs

By Eliana Osborn, October 2014

A snoring spouse, sirens and glowing electronic screens can all make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Research from the Mayo Clinic finds that pets can be part of the problem, too.

Patients at the Mayo Center for Sleep Medicine were asked about causes of interrupted sleep in 2002, and only 1 percent mentioned their pets as an issue, though 22 percent had pets sharing their beds. When patients were asked similar questions in 2013, 10 percent reported that their pets disturbed their sleep.

Dr. Lois Krahn, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, says, “Dogs disturbed sleep by wanting to sleep in a particular place on the bed (where the sleeper would prefer to place their feet, under the covers, on the pillow), needing attention and creating sounds [such as] whimpering during dreaming.”

One benefit of having a dog is having a warm body to snuggle up with at the end of a long day. But sometimes, what you love gets in the way of what you need. In a 2009 survey done by Kansas State University, Dr. Kate Stenske found that more than half of dog owners allow their dogs to sleep in their beds.

How can you reconcile your need for solid sleep with the comfort of your canine companion?

First, take an honest look at how well you sleep. Do you fall asleep quickly, or do you spend a long time tossing and turning? Are you up in the night, for your own needs or to take care of something else? In the morning, are you energized or do you rely on coffee to get going?

If your dog is getting in the way of your falling or staying asleep, it’s time to make some changes. Try moving her from your bed to her own bed in the same room; create a comfortable space near you but on the floor. This is a hard habit to break, so plan to work on it. You’ll have to keep moving her back to her bed when she climbs up with you, but be patient and offer lots of praise.

What about doggie sleep sounds? If you don’t want to use earplugs, try white noise from a fan or other appliance with a constant humming sound.

Once you take back your sleeping space, you may realize that the dog wasn’t the problem. Dr. J. Todd Arnedt of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Michigan has tips for what he calls good “sleep hygiene.”

• Avoid evening exercise.
• Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and comfortable: reduce external light sources, turn off the TV and find your best sleeping temperature.
• No caffeine after mid-afternoon, and no alcohol in the evening.
• Make the bedroom a place for intimacy and sleep only; leave work outside.
• Establish an evening wind-down time. Lower the lights, do quiet activities, have a light carbohydrate snack.

If you make these changes and insomnia is still stalking you, it’s time to talk to a professional for more in-depth study.

Most dog owners can continue to enjoy the comfort and companionship of their furriest family member through the night. But if sleep is evasive, you may want to take a closer look at what’s keeping you up at night.

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