Health & Wellness

Should your pets sleep in the bed with you? A new study's surprising answers

Do you ban your dog from the bed in the hopes of getting a better night's sleep?

It may be time to beg your pooch’s forgiveness and hope he’ll join you at bedtime, after all.

A recent study found that sleeping with pets actually helps some people sleep better because it gives them a sense of security — and despite what sleep experts have said for years, pets don’t really disrupt our sleep.

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How bad is it if your dog likes to sleep in your bed with you?

“I’m not sure that there’s a hard and fast rule about pets [in bed]. My community of colleagues do think that it is just always a risk,” said Dr. Lois Krahn, a sleep medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine in Arizona, and one of the paper’s authors.

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The study’s findings are good news for many. Half of American households own pets and half of those pets sleep either right in the bed with us or somewhere in the bedroom.

To conduct the study, Krahn asked 150 respondents fill out a sleep questionnaire that included questions about their companion animals. It asked for details about the type and number of animals in the home as well as what their sleeping habits were. During a subsequent interview, respondents were asked where the pets slept, how the pets behaved, and whether or not pets affected their own sleep.

While 20 percent of the study’s 150 respondents reported sleep disturbances because of pets, 41 percent believed having a pet in the bedroom led to better sleep.

“[Some people] find that sleeping with their animal actually helps them feel cozy. One woman said her two small dogs kind of warmed her bed. Another person felt her cat who was touching her during the night was comforting and soothing,” says Krahn.

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These findings seem contrary to sleep recommendations, and they even differ from what Krahn observed in an earlier paper. In 2013, an estimated 10 percent of people who visited the Center for Sleep Medicine reported that their pets disturbed their sleep, a 1 percent increase from 2001. However, that study found that most people with complaints lived with more than one pet.

“I think from a sleep standpoint, multiple pets…increase the risk [of bad sleep],” she says.

Do certain pets help us settle in at bedtime?

A smaller dog probably creates less of a disturbance than a Great Dane, but Krahn doesn’t have evidence supporting that. She suspects cats wander more at night, while dogs cuddle up in bed.

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“If the owner is quiet, the dog is quiet,” she says. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if dogs follow their humans, and cats do what they want.”

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While many sleep experts say never to sleep with pets, others say it depends on the person and pet.

“I don’t have a problem sleeping with your dog until you complain that sleeping with your dog is problematic,” says W. Christopher Winter, a sleep medicine expert at Charlottesville Neurology & Sleep Medicine in Virginia.

If your pet is a bad bedmate, Winter suggests having the animal sleep in a crate or a pet bed in the room with your — just not on the bed. That could still boost the emotional connection without all the tossing and turning.

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Dr. Charles Bae, a sleep medicine expert at Cleveland Clinic, agrees that people need to evaluate whether sleeping with pets makes sense for them.

“Pet owners can do a personal inventory,” Bae says. If they sleep better without their pets, for example, then it might be time to boot the pets from bed. But if sleep quality seems the same no matter who is in bed, he sees sleeping with pets as having real advantages.

“Pets can help people with anxiety and help people relax,” he says. “I can imagine some human bed partners that are more disruptive than smaller pets.”