Here’s why you may be getting a better night’s sleep if you snuggle up with a pup.
In addition to being their owner’s best friend, dogs can also be their best sleep partner. That is, if their owner is a woman.
Research from Canisius College in New York State found that, for women, dogs are better bed partners than human or feline companions.
“We found that women commonly rate dogs as better bed partners than cats and human partners and report that their dogs enhance their sleep quality,” Christy Hoffman, PhD, animal behaviorist and lead researcher of the study, told Healthline.
Hoffman explored the impact pets have on human sleep quality by collecting data from nearly 1,000 women across the United States.
From her research, she discovered a few reasons why dogs make good sleep partners.
Similar sleep patterns
Hoffman 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’,” said Hoffman.
While she can only speculate the benefits of the matching sleep patterns, she believes there are some.
“Further research would be needed to test these ideas, though,” Hoffman said. “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.”Advertisement
Dogs stay put
Hoffman says 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, we 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.
She adds that this consistency may be due to the need for dogs to go outside after waking up.
“Dog owners may accrue some benefits 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,” she said.
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; furthermore, 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,” explained Hoffman.
In fact, participants associated cats with weaker feelings of comfort and security than both human and dog partners.
HEALTHLINE PARTNER SOLUTIONS
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.
“For example, a dog who snores loudly or radiates heat in the middle of summer is unlikely to enhance one’s sleep quality. On the flip side, some cats may greatly enhance their owner’s sleep quality,” she said.
She points out that her research was based on individuals’ perceptions of how their pets affect their sleep.
“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. That is, we need 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,” she said.
For instance, she notes that follow-up research could suggest that dogs are responsible for some nighttime awakenings even though people report that their dog helps them sleep better.
“This does not necessarily invalidate individuals’ perceptions or mean that people should not sleep with their dogs. For example, we might find a dog does create some brief disturbances during the night, but that their human sleeps more restlessly without their dog or takes longer to fall asleep following nighttime awakenings if their dog is not with them,” said Hoffman.
She believes that the field of sleep research benefits from having more information about how pets and where they sleep impacts sleep quality.
“Particularly since dogs and cats are common in so many U.S. households,” she said. “It will be valuable to continue this line of research so we can develop a clearer picture of the contexts under which pets and their presence in their owner’s bed may positively impact sleep quality, and the contexts under which co-sleeping with a pet may be detrimental to one’s sleep quality.”
What about germs?
If you’re concerned about germs your dog might bring into the bed, Jason Tetro, microbiologist and host of The Super Awesome Science Show, says not to worry.
“Unless our best friend happens to be sick or has diarrhea, there’s really no issue with germs,” Tetro told Healthline. “There was even a study that revealed a dog and a human living together may share more of the same microbial species than two humans sharing the same space.”
As far as washing your sheets more frequently, Tetro says you might want to if the sheets are getting smellier faster or if you are seeing more hair than usual.
“But that goes for humans sleeping with humans as well,” he said.
And for those who find comfort sleeping with animals other than dogs, Tetro says keep this in mind.
“If you have other animals, including cats, remember they will have different microbes from you and some of them can make you sick,” he said. “There are a number of potential pathogens [on] the skin and [in] the gastrointestinal tract. But there are a few special pathogens to take note, such as Bartonella henselae, the cause of cat scratch fever, Chlamydia psittaci in birds, and Leptospira in rodents.”
He added, “Then there is Toxoplasma gondii, which is a serious brain pathogen. It comes from cat feces and needs to be given consideration.”
However, he notes most of these pathogens are rare and unlikely to cause infection in people with healthy immune systems.
“But if your immunity is weakened, you may want to keep these animals from crawling under the covers with you,” he said.