Sleeping With Your Dog: Good for Pain, Bad for Sleep?

Patient Expert

Studies have found that as many as one in five adults suffer from chronic pain — and this is having a negative impact on our sleep and our overall health. One study found that up to 90 percent of those with chronic pain experienced sleep problems such as:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Frequent nighttime awakenings
  • Difficulty staying asleep during the night
  • Short sleep duration
  • Low sleep efficiency
  • Poor sleep quality

Those who live with sleep disturbances tend to report more severe pain, longer pain duration, and greater levels of anxiety and depression compared to good sleepers. Research also suggests that insufficient sleep can even make us more susceptible to pain.

So, if you are living with chronic pain and poor sleep, what is the solution? A 2018 study suggested that going to bed with your dog might be the answer.

The Canadian study asked participants who had been living with pain for at least eight years about their experience of living with chronic pain, and how having a dog affected how they experienced and managed chronic pain.

The benefits of sleeping with your dog

Over 80 percent of the collected comments reflected a belief that owning a dog had a beneficial effect on sleep for reasons such as:

Although these benefits of dog ownership should be recognized for their therapeutic potential, the fact of the matter is that sleeping with your pet is probably more likely to disrupt your sleep than improve it.

Indeed, this study only involved seven participants — and although most comments were positive, two of the seven participants mentioned that their sleep was actually disrupted by their dog.

Furthermore, the study didn’t investigate the potential reasons why sleeping with a dog could help relieve pain or improve sleep — it simply collected anecdotal feedback from participants.

How sleeping with your pet can harm sleep

Sleeping with a pet can interfere with sleep in a number of ways. First of all, animals have their own sleep/wake cycle — and this can be very different from our own. As a result, your pet might wake during the night and interrupt your sleep, or wake early in the morning and wake you before you are ready to start your day.

Just as we cycle in and out of REM sleep during the night, so do our animals. This can lead to twitching, sudden jerks, and yelping at random times during the night — all behaviors that are unlikely to help you sleep soundly through the night!

Our pets may also snore, moan, and even groan during the night and disturb our sleep. In addition, other issues such as allergic reactions, asthmatic responses, or even flea bites can disrupt sleep.

Another issue with dogs, in particular, is that they might bark if they hear a sound that may not have otherwise caused you to wake during the night. A cat collar fitted with a bell can also interrupt your sleep should Kitty decide to engage in a middle-of-the night cleaning session!

Is it time to kick Fido out of bed?

If you currently sleep with your dog, cat, or other animal, you certainly aren’t alone (it’s thought that as many as half of all pet owners share their bed or bedroom with their pets).

If you feel as though you are sleeping well and wake feeling energized and refreshed, there is no need to change what you’re doing. Indeed, for many pet owners, the benefits of sleeping with a pet can outweigh the potential downsides.

However, if you are struggling with sleep, wake feeling unrefreshed, or regularly feel tired or fatigued during the day, it might be a good idea to try transitioning your pet out of your bed.

A 2017 study found that individuals who slept with a dog in their bedroom had good sleep efficiency but this decreased significantly when dogs shared the bed. This suggests that simply moving your dog from your bed to an alternative area in the bedroom may still provide you with all the benefits associated with sleeping with your pet, but with fewer of the downsides.

See more helpful articles:

The Importance of Sleep Hygiene

12 Ways to Sleep Better With Low Back Pain

Sleep Problems Associated With Back Pain (and How to Fix Them)