Understand how sleeping with your pet can affect you

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In the quest for better sleep, people often ask if they should share a bed with a pet. Before we get to that, let’s take a moment to reflect on the flip side of this question: Is sleeping with you good for your pet?

“I love to turn the issue around,” said Dana Varble, Chief Veterinarian of the North American Veterinary Community. “In general, it’s great for animals to sleep with their guardians.”

Pets that share a 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,” Varble said.

“Dogs and cats that are more closely linked to their humans gain additional health benefits, including increases in beneficial neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and dopamine, the wellness hormones,” she added.

Are only dogs and cats that benefit from human bed partners? Yes, said Varble, 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. “It’s a domestic pig called Norbert – potbellied pigs are almost like dogs because they are sociable.”

Pros and cons for humans

With that important issue resolved, let’s turn to humans – is it okay for you to sleep with a pet? Experts traditionally say no, because you may not get quality sleep.

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

These “micro-awakenings,” which can happen without your awareness, “are disturbing because they pull you out of deep sleep,” said Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “They have been linked to the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can make sleep worse.”

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

“People with depression or anxiety can benefit from having their pet in bed because the pet is a big pillow, a big blanket, and they can feel that fluffy furry creature eases their anxiety,” said sleep expert Raj Dasgupta , assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

Data collected in 2017 from the Sleep Medicine Center at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix revealed that more than half of pet owners seen at the clinic allowed their pets to sleep in the room – and most considered their pet “a mild disturbance or, in some cases, even beneficial for sleep”.

About 20%, however, believe that their furry friends make their sleep worse.

Another 2017 study placed sleep trackers in dogs and their humans to measure the quality of sleep for both. People who had their dogs in their rooms got a decent night’s sleep (and so did the dogs), the research team found.

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

Children can also benefit from sleeping with a pet. A 2021 study asked teens ages 13 to 17 to wear sleep trackers for two weeks and then pass a state-of-the-art sleep test. About a third of children slept with a pet, the study noted, which did not seem to affect the quality of their rest.

“In fact, people who slept together often showed sleep profiles similar to those who never slept with pets,” the authors wrote.

“All of this suggests that having pets in bed or in the bedroom is not necessarily bad,” said Dr. Bhanu Prakash Kolla, a sleep medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic’s Sleep Medicine Center in Rochester, Minnesota.

“There can be significant psychological comfort in having your pet around, which can help initiate and maintain sleep,” Kolla said.

“However, if patients report that the pet’s movement or other activities are disruptive to their sleep, then we advise them to look for alternative arrangements for the pet at night and see if this helps with their sleep,” he added.

A setting for success

Sleeping together with your pet has a lot to do with how deeply you and your pet sleep, says clinical psychologist and sleep expert 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 full night, but cats can be very nocturnal,” Breus said, adding another factor. “It’s how much you two move, as the animal’s movement can wake up the human and vice versa.”

“Hello, I’m Lynx (center and right), a 2 year old Siberian. I must sleep with one of my humans so I can walk or sit in them or try to smell their breath. I also like to wrap my two-foot-long Body across my neck around 3 in the morning. My sister Luna (left) likes to sit upright and bite them at night.”

Pets, like people, can also snore and sleep, so take this into account, Breus said. Small dogs and cats often like to snuggle under the covers with their people, but this can raise their body temperature and disrupt their sleep. (The best temperature for sleeping is a little cool, 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18.3 degrees Celsius.)

If you’re thinking about taking your furry baby to bed, Breus suggests that you experiment for a few nights to not condition your pet before deciding if it’s right for you.

some of us should abstain

Despite the new science, many of us still need to think twice about putting our dogs, cats or house pigs in our beds.

“It’s particularly harmful for people with insomnia or patients with other sleep disorders – patients with a delayed sleep phase (night owls) or even people with sleep apnea, who wake up from the interruption of breathing and cannot go back to sleep,” said Polotsky .

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

“The insomniacs are the most susceptible,” said Polotsky. “Sleeping with pets doesn’t necessarily predispose or precipitate insomnia, but it can perpetuate it.”

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

The “sweet spot” for adequate rest is when you can nap continuously through 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 reach this goal.

Chronic lack of solid rest, therefore, affects your ability to pay attention, learn new things, be creative, solve problems, and make decisions.

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

Breathing problems

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

“My patients with asthma or COPD, they always say, ‘Doctor, don’t worry, my dog ​​doesn’t shed hair,”‘ said Dasgupta, who is also a pulmonologist.

“And I tell them, ‘Yes, but remember, the allergens are in the saliva, they’re not in the dog’s skin. Then you will be exposed to allergens for eight hours at night and have watery eyes and a stuffy nose. This, along with the animal’s movement, may very well prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep,’” he said.

Some pets shouldn’t join the family bed “obviously, puppies or young dogs that are working with behavior problems – it might not be good for them to sleep with you,” Varble said. “If you have a dog with anxiety, we teach that kennels are a safe space.”

“Kennels make them feel like they just need to ‘protect themselves’ from an angle. We want to teach them that there is a safe place in their home,” she said.

And there are some pets, Varble said, you should never invite to bed to eat.

“I work with exotic pets and many of them have very specific health and safety requirements, including being indoors,” Varble said. “So, although I know people who are very close to their ferrets and their guinea pigs, they need to be in their enclosure for their health at night. These aren’t animals we’d like to have in bed with us.”

Reference: CNN Brasil

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