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Sleeping with Pets

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Jay Summer

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Dr. Nilong Vyas

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People with animal companions often enjoy their pet’s company so much that they like to share the bed with them at night. With small animals like gerbils and chinchillas that like to nibble on things, might run away, and are not easily potty trained, sleeping together may not be a good idea. With larger animals, the question of whether to share a bed or not is less clear-cut.

Research shows 56% of people report sleeping with a pet in their bedroom, and nearly 35% of children share their bed with a pet at night. Co-sleeping may even be preferred by your pet, with over 86% of puppies choosing to sleep near a human when they have the opportunity.

You might wonder, should I let my dog or cat sleep with me?  We explore the benefits and drawbacks of sleeping with a pet, along with tips on how to best sleep with your pet.

Should I Let My Pet Sleep With Me?

Choosing to sleep with an animal is a personal decision. Pets offer comfort and security, but they may affect sleep quality or trigger allergies for some people. Whether the benefits outweigh the risks depends on you, your pet, and your unique situation.

Benefits of Sleeping With Pets

Research and subjective human experience suggest sleeping with a pet can provide a variety of benefits.

Comfort and Security

Some people choose a pet, particularly a dog, for safety and protection. Having a dog in the home might objectively increase security by deterring property crime. A dog’s presence can also provide subjective feelings of safety. For example, in a study of American women, those who slept with dogs reported feeling more comforted and secure.

Service dogs can also impart a sense of comfort and security to people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when they experience a nightmare. PTSD service dogs are trained to identify physical signs that indicate a person is having a nightmare, so they can disrupt the nightmare by waking them up. In a study of veterans with PTSD service dogs, 57% stated that their dog helped ease their nightmare problems.

Improved Mental Health

A meta-analysis of 17 studies concluded that pets are generally a positive force when it comes to human mental health. For many people experiencing long-term mental health problems, dogs form an integral part of the support network even if they are not official service dogs.

Having a pet can reduce worries and loneliness, distract from mental illness symptoms, help regulate emotions, and add to a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Positively interacting with a dog increases oxytocin levels in adults and reduces cortisol levels in children. Increased oxytocin and reduced cortisol levels are associated with relaxation and stress reduction.

Most of the studies conducted on the mental health benefits of having a pet were conducted when participants were awake, so it is not clear whether these benefits apply when people sleep with their pets. However, the relaxing effect of interacting with a pet appears to be at least partially due to physical touch. If sleeping with dogs involves snuggling up and making direct physical contact, it might result in less stress and increased relaxation.

Many people claim that sleeping with their pet benefits their sleep, and an older study found that people with pets were less likely to take sleep medication than people who do not have pets.

Improved Immunity

The presence of dogs or cats significantly influences the makeup of bacteria found in a home, which in turn impacts the immunity of humans living there. Researchers hypothesize that exposure to a diversity of microorganisms benefits human health and immunity, and a lack of diverse exposure might be to blame for a rise in allergies and autoimmune disorders. Past research shows that petting a dog increases an immune response, so the close contact of sharing a sleeping space may benefit the immune system more than simply having a dog in the house. More research is needed, however.

The immunity advantages pets provide is likely even more beneficial for children and infants, as they have developing immune systems. Living with a cat in a person’s first year of life has been found to halve the risk of becoming allergic to cats by age 18. For males, living with a dog during the first year of life similarly reduces the chance of becoming allergic to dogs. Being exposed to two or more dogs or cats in the first year of life may also reduce a person’s likelihood of developing other allergies, such as to dust mites, blue grass, and ragweed.

Improved Health

Pets are demonstrated to improve human health in many ways, such as by decreasing cholesterol and triglyceride levels and lowering blood pressure. Owning a dog is correlated to a reduced risk of death, likely because of these positive effects on the cardiovascular system. Early research on this topic found that petting dogs, in particular, reduces blood pressure and heart rate. If touching your pet is part of the key to gaining health benefits, cuddling up together at night might help.

    Risks of Sleeping With Pets

    Although sleeping with pets brings many people joy, sleeping with an animal may come with risks for some people.

    Allergies

    In the United States, millions of people who have pet allergies live with a pet regardless. However, for people with pet allergies, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences advises against allowing pets into your bedroom, even during the day, to avoid exposure to their hair and dander as you sleep.

    Although exposure to pets in infancy makes a person less likely to develop pet allergies, research suggests that having a pet for the first time in adulthood may make a person more sensitive to pet allergens. Having a cat for the first time in adulthood was also found to be associated with eczema, an allergy-related skin condition. If you believe your pet might be provoking allergy symptoms, you may want to visit your doctor to request an allergy test.

    Germ Exposure

    The fact that pets bring more microorganisms into your home has benefits and drawbacks. On one hand, exposure to a greater variety of bacteria and other microbes may help strengthen the human immune system. On the other hand, pets can bring in harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites as well, putting the families they live with at risk for zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic diseases, also called zoonoses, are infectious diseases that animals spread to humans.

    Researchers say it is uncommon, but possible, for people to catch a sensitive to pet allergens from sleeping with a pet. People who are more prone to infection, such as young children, those who are immunocompromised, and those who have an open wound, might want to avoid sleeping with pets.

    Pet owners should note that allowing your pet to kiss or lick your face increases your risk of a variety of diseases.

    Decreased Sleep Quality

    Some people experience disturbed sleep as a result of allowing their pet in their bed at night. In one study, 20% of participants labeled their pets as disruptive when sleeping in the same room as them.

    People also might lack awareness of a pet’s impact on their sleep. When a dog moves in bed, the human sharing the bed is three times as likely to move as well, even though they may not notice. Humans are also over four times as likely to be awake while a dog they share the bed with is active.

    The sleep quality ramifications of sharing a bed with your dog are likely relatively mild. However, if you would like to minimize sleep disturbances, researchers have found that having the dog sleep elsewhere in the bedroom does not impact sleep to the same extent.

    Sleep disturbances when sharing a bed may depend on the type of pet. In one study, women who shared a bed with a dog reported less disturbed sleep than those who shared a bed with a cat. Another study found a connection between having a cat as a pet and not obtaining the recommended seven hours of sleep per night. However, more research is needed before it can be concluded that cats are more disruptive to sleep.

    Since animal sleep patterns differ from human sleep patterns, it makes sense that sleeping with a companion animal could cause discord at times. If you feel sharing a bed with your pet disrupts your sleep, consider designating a sleeping spot for them near your bed or outside of your bedroom.

    Potential Aggression

    Bites from your pet can spread infection and cause injury, and dogs may be more likely to bite when woken from sleep.

    One study found that 6% of dogs that bit someone were sleeping or resting immediately before the bite. Research on dog bites in Jamaica found that dogs who slept in a person’s bedroom were more than twice as likely to bite someone compared to those who slept outside the bedroom, though no such connection was found for dogs in San Francisco.

    Children are more likely than adults to sustain a dog bite requiring medical attention. This trend could be because they are not as good at reading signs of fear or aggression, or because they are more likely to get very close to a dog’s face. This is not to say that children can never sleep with a dog, but parents might not want to allow children to sleep with dogs that have shown aggression before, or with large dogs that can do more damage with a bite.

    Tips for Sleeping With Your Pet

    If you do decide to sleep with your pet, try these tips to help your shared sleeping experience go smoothly:

    • Use a Properly Sized Mattress: To reduce disturbances when switching sleeping positions, make sure your mattress is large enough to adequately accommodate you, your pet, and anyone else who shares your bed.
    • Wash Sheets and Bedding Regularly: Good hygiene is key to preventing the spread of unwanted germs. Regularly wash your bedding, as well as any pet beds or blankets you bring into your bedroom. If your pet spends time outside, you might also consider wiping down their paws and coat to keep dirt, pesticides, and outdoor allergens out of the bedroom.
    • Stay Up to Date on Vet Visits: Keeping your pet free of disease protects you, as well. Make sure your pet is current on the recommended vaccinations for their species, and maintain the flea and tick treatments and deworming schedule outlined by your vet.
    • Do Not Let Them Lick or Kiss Your Face: If possible, avoid letting your pet lick your face or any open wounds, as they could potentially transmit an illness to you.
    • Walk Your Pet Before Bed: Taking your pet for a walk before bedtime allows them one last chance to go to the bathroom and might help burn off excess energy, so they move less and cause fewer sleep disruptions.
    • Keep a Consistent Bedtime Routine: Like humans, animals have a circadian rhythm that governs when they feel tired and when they feel awake. Going to sleep and waking up around the same time each day may help you and your pet stay on a relatively similar sleep rhythm and protect against restless nights.

    Even though companion animal sleep patterns differ from our own, many people are able to successfully share a bed with their pet by making some adjustments. To ensure a positive sleeping experience for all parties, be aware of overheating or any other signs that your pet might not be sleeping well. Small children and small pets should not share the bed with others, due to the risk of injury.

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    About Our Editorial Team

    author
    Jay Summer

    Staff Writer

    Jay Summer is a health content writer and editor. She holds a B.S. in psychology and master's degrees in writing and public policy.

    author
    Dr. Nilong Vyas

    Pediatrician

    MD

    Dr. Vyas is a pediatrician and founder of Sleepless in NOLA. She specializes in helping parents establish healthy sleep habits for children.

    About Our Editorial Team

    author
    Jay Summer

    Staff Writer

    Jay Summer is a health content writer and editor. She holds a B.S. in psychology and master's degrees in writing and public policy.

    author
    Dr. Nilong Vyas

    Pediatrician

    MD

    Dr. Vyas is a pediatrician and founder of Sleepless in NOLA. She specializes in helping parents establish healthy sleep habits for children.

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