Sleeping with your "Furry" Friend

Patient Expert

Don't get me wrong. I love animals. I have two cats, and I'd be lost without them. However, All Headline News (AHN) tells us that: "Children who are exposed to pet dogs, cats or other furry friends at home can develop problem snoring when they grow up, a new study has revealed." Heavy snoring can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and may be the harbinger of sleep apnea.

Lisa Shives, MD, medical director of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Ill., however, doesn't see the relationship of pet ownership and snoring. She reminds us that the two main causes of snoring are obesity and the structure of the throat in individuals.

Sometimes I have to get up 2 AM to let my cats out. They have a perfectly good litter box, but would much rather use the great outdoors as a bathroom. I live in northern Canada. At times, the temperature early in the morning can drop to twenty degrees below zero or colder, too cold to leave my pets outside for four or five hours. So I wait up. Of course, they have to do a bit of exploring, and sometimes as much as a half hour passes before they return.

Edith C. sleeps with her cat. She says she often gets muscle cramps because she hesitates to roll over or change positions during the night. It might disturb her pet, you see.

This reminded me of a news articleI read recently. Dr. John Shepard, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center had a patient tell him a story very similar to mine. He began to wonder just how many people with sleep problems shared their lives with pets.

Between February and September of last year Dr. Shepard questioned 300 patients at the clinic and found that many of them shared their bedroom with their cats or dogs. As a result of the survey, Dr. Shepard reported that:

  • 157 of 300 patients (52 percent) had one or more pets, primarily cats and dogs.
  • Nearly 60 percent of the patients with pets slept with their pets in the bedroom. When a dog was permitted to sleep in the bedroom, it had a 57 percent chance of being allowed to sleep on the bed.
  • Of the pet owners, 53 percent considered their sleep to be disrupted to some extent every night, but only one percent felt that their sleep was disrupted for more than 20 minutes per night on average.
  • Snoring was reported in 21 percent of dogs and seven percent of cats.
  • Cats were more likely to be allowed in the bedroom and on the bed.

Dr. Shepard, in research done in 1999, reported that bed partners lose an hour of sleep per night due to a snoring spouse. Now he has added pets to the list, and of course, pets do disturb our sleep, especially if they share the bedroom and/or the bed. They want out, they snore, cats claw or pounce on feet moving beneath the blankets, dogs bark at imagined intruders. And even pets snore.

But there are many things that can disturb the sleep of a light sleeper. Some people can slumber away through almost anything. Others are snapped awake a dozen times a night by things like a noise, movement or a partner who snores or tosses around in his or her sleep. Other sleep disturbers are a room too hot or too cold, high humidity, dreams, or even one's own snoring. Other contributing factors are stress, worry, illness or medication.

Sleep is a precious and sometimes elusive commodity. Do your best to get enough to live a healthy and productive life. Practice good sleep hygiene, and try to eliminate anything that disturbs your sleep.

Personally, I have always enjoyed sleeping with a cat nearby. A warm, furry body and a gentle purr can be soothing at times. But, if your pet is preventing your proper sleep night after night, it may be time to consider banning your pets from your bedroom.

Of course, if you suffer from an allergy to pet dander, it is imperative that you eliminate close contact with your dogs or cats.