Sleeping With Pets

Sleeping with dogs is something humans have done, perhaps for eons.  Have you ever heard the saying “3 dog night”?  Back in the day, on the coldest of winter nights, the whole pack was invited into bed to keep everyone warm and cozy.


Now, we have climate controlled central heating, and fluffy 3 dog night down comforters for the coldest of winter nights.  But there is still a yearning for the fresh air of open windows and the comfort of cuddling with each other, humans and pets alike.



Contact with a pet can increase the flow of oxytocin, which has measurable results in decreasing depression and anxiety, and may help to lower blood pressure and decrease hypertension, resulting in better sleep.


Oxytocin is a hormone released by the pituitary gland, a tiny gland at the base of the brain. It's sometimes referred to as the  "love hormone," because it is released when we hug, snuggle, or hold hands (or paws.) Social bonding with other humans or animals forms neural pathways in our brains, connecting the reward of feeling love with the animal or person you are bonded with. Pets also show increased levels of oxytocin from contact with humans.


People who live with PTSD seem to benefit greatly from animal companionship. Having a dog or cat can help decrease loneliness and feelings of isolation. Some insomniacs report falling asleep easier when a pet is in the bed too, citing the pet’s calming presence helping to “turn off” their active brain or quell anxiety.


In short, if you sleep alone or with a partner, (as long as your partner agrees - if not, maybe it's time to sleep alone!) allowing your pet into your bed can add to your sense of well-being and security.  


When is it not OK to let the pets share your bed?

For someone who is a very light sleeper, or has health concerns such as allergies or immune conditions it may not be a good idea to co-sleep with your critters. The same goes for animals suffering from health conditions. Regular check ups at the vet will help identify any reasons your pet should not share your bed.


Younger pets may need training before they make good nap buddies. Small, fragile pets might be better off in their own resting spaces.


Some dogs may startle easily and can display aggression if they are suddenly awakened. Others are active dreamers who do a fair bit of thrashing about at night. Some cats experience nocturnal playfulness and might think the toes sticking out at the end of the bed make wonderful playthings. Some animals snore or move around frequently in search of a more comfortable position.


Small children who may poke a pet in the eye, pull a tail, or otherwise unintentionally bother it should not be allowed to co-sleep with a dog or cat until they are old enough to display consistent gentle treatment of animals.


How can we make sharing a bed with pets a great experience?

If you are among the many who do sleep with a pet, there could be ways to improve the quality of rest for both you and your furry friend.  Our dog, Omi, loves her down pillows. Of course, we have plenty to share. :)


Unsurprisingly, pets and people both rest better if they enjoy a healthy diet, an appropriate activity level, and a pleasant, secure place to get some shut-eye. You will enjoy it more if your pet receives regular grooming and baths.


Older animals may need additional considerations, such as a light to help them orient themselves upon waking if their vision is fading, or a soft pillow propped up against their back or hips, and of course, they love to cuddle with the warmth a down comforter provides. Younger pets that may feel anxious upon separating from their mother and littermates can receive comfort from the sound of a ticking clock, calm music or a metronome in the room.


My old dog taught me much about love, loyalty, and how quickly time passes when you’re not throwing a Frisbee for the one-thousandth time that day. I’m thinking of him as I write this, and missing him too. I’d gladly lug the vacuum cleaner around the house again every day for another twelve years with him if that were possible. In his last few years, I grew to love him even more than I knew was possible.


As his muzzle turned grey and his eyes grew cloudy, legs stiffened and he could not go for long walks any more, I spent every moment I could just being with him and trying to anticipate his needs and provide him some comfort. When he could no longer get on the bed, I’d sometimes sleep on the floor with him if he were having a difficult night due to Fourth of July fireworks or thunder.


The reality is that our time with pets is limited, and they rely on us totally, yet cannot communicate their needs in ways that we always easily understand. Love them while you can. Share your sleeping space with them if you want to.



Other Resources: Pet MD - Is it safe to sleep with your pet? | CDC - Healthy Pets & People



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