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Some dog owners may have been on team dog-in-bed from the beginning. Or maybe they started out as sticklers not letting their furry friends in bed…only to succumb to those adorable pleading faces begging to hop up and cuddle. Those with terriers may have also witnessed their pup burrowing under a blanket—an instinctive behavior for that breed—and decided it was too cute to resist. Whatever the case, most of us have likely let our dogs sleep in bed, if not every night then at least a few nights. But should we be?
Here’s what the science says about the pros and cons of snoozing with your dog.
It’s no surprise that stress—which increases sympathetic nervous system activation and releases hormones like adrenaline—impacts the ability to fall and stay asleep. This is where having your dog in bed while you’re winding down and falling asleep may help.
Studies have shown (1-3) that people who share their homes with pets have healthier physiological responses to stress, including reduced baseline heart rate and blood pressure. Additionally, pet owners have been found to demonstrate less cardiovascular reactivity to mild stressors—plus faster recovery.
Studies have also shown (4) that levels of oxytocin, a calming hormone, increase following socio-positive human-animal interactions (like snuggling!).
READ MORE: How Stress Affects Your Sleep
In a 2018 study, (5) researchers collected survey data from 962 adult women living in the United States to better understand the relationship between pet ownership and human sleep. Results showed that, compared with human bed partners, dog bed partners were perceived to not only disturb sleep less but also be associated with stronger feelings of comfort and security.
We all know what it feels like when a cough or scratchy throat keeps us up at night, which is why an improved immune system is another added benefit of co-sleeping with your dog.
Exposure to pets such as dogs diversifies the beneficial bacteria in our gut microbiome which, in turn, impacts immunity. (6) Petting dogs also helps increase immunoglobulin A (IgA), (7) which is the first line of defense for resisting infection.
In a 2018 exploratory study, (8) five dog owners and their dogs were fitted with monitors to track their activity for seven nights. Results showed that dog movement was a significant precipitator to human movement (with the dog usually moving about two and a half minutes before the human did). Dogs were active for roughly 20% of the night, with humans 4.3 times more likely to wake up and experience sleep disturbances during the periods of dog activity than periods of inactivity.
- A 2017 study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings (9) revealed that, while sleep may be compromised with your dog in your bed, the same results aren’t seen when the dog is in the bedroom in his/her own bed (that’s not yours).
- Interestingly, self-reported data in several studies on sleep quality and dog behavior contradicts the objective findings, with dog owners generally unlikely to associate poor quality sleep with their dog’s nighttime activities (movement or snoring), even if that’s what the data showed. (10)
Unfortunately, if you’re experiencing symptoms such as sneezing or red, itchy eyes, that may be a sign you’re allergic to dogs. While allergen levels differ among dog breeds, all types (even hairless pups!) can trigger allergies from dander and saliva, (11) in which case it is not recommended to sleep in the same bed as your dog.
Even if you’re not specifically allergic to dogs, prolonged close contact can mean that dust and pollen, which cling to fur, exacerbate human allergies. If you suspect this is a problem but don’t want to switch up your sleeping spots, more frequently bathing your dog, using HEPA filters, and regularly washing your sheets can help with allergen reductions so you can both get a good night’s sleep.
If you routinely sleep in bed with your dog, s/he may develop separation anxiety when you’re away, causing behavioral issues (and restless nights) for whoever it is that’s watching your dog—a downside that should be considered when evaluating sleeping arrangements.
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