Do you allow your fur baby to curl up with you in bed? If not, you might want to reconsider (just in time for May, which is Better Sleep Month).
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Sleep Medicine in Arizona discovered what pet parents have known all along: that having a pet as a bed mate is a doggone good way to get a better night’s sleep.
That’s good news for many. Nearly half of dogs and 62 percent of cats spend comfy nights snuggling with their owners, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.
The study looked at 150 people, with just under half of the subjects having pets. After surveying the individuals, researchers discovered that 41 percent of pet owners said having their animal in bed either helped them sleep better or didn’t make any difference at all.
So, is it healthy to have an animal sleeping in your bed?
Experts note that if you and your pet are healthy, there’s really no big issue about having Fido or Fluffy share your bed.
“It’s really an individual choice,” says Dr. Bradley S. Gray, owner of Brandywine Veterinary Hospital in Chadds Ford, Pa. “The benefits go both ways, but primarily to the owner.”
(Just for the record, Gray does not sleep with his pets, which include two cats and three dogs, the smallest of which weighs 80 pounds.)
Most owners don’t need reminding, but there are lots of ways a pet can improve sleep.
1. Pets help us relax. Sleeping with a pet reduces anxiety and can help contribute to a restful night’s sleep. A pet’s rhythmic breathing, heartbeat and soft fur induce a feeling of calm, helping owners fall asleep fast.
2. Pets are warm. Cats and dogs, with their body temps three to six degrees higher than that of humans, make great bed warmers on a cold winter’s night. In fact, the term “three dog night” is said to have come from the practice of taking your dog to bed with you to keep warm on a chilly night. A really frosty night might require the services of three dogs.
3. Pets make us feel safe. Dogs can alert their owners to potential threats, scare off would-be intruders, physically attack dangerous people and still provide companionship. Cats have also made headlines by saving their humans from danger or death. Additionally both dogs and cats have responded to owners’ medical crises.
4. Pets are good company. Pets add companionship if you are single or in a bad relationship. The highest percentage of people found sleeping with their dogs are females between the ages of 18 and 34. Nearly 6 out of 10 women in this group reported allowing their dogs into their beds, according to the Mayo Clinic study.
5. Pets are good for our brain chemistry. The mere act of touching our pets raises levels of oxytocin in our bodies. Oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle chemical,” increases feelings of relaxation, trust and psychological stability.
Still there are some downsides to consider before inviting your pet into your bed.
1. Pets can disturb sleep. Oddly enough, the current study touting the benefits of sleeping with pets runs contrary to what the Mayo Clinic researchers found three years earlier, when 10 percent of pet owners reported that their pets had in fact disturbed their sleep. “Some dogs are bed hogs,” says Gray. Moreover, unlike humans, pets rarely sleep through the night. They often wake up to scratch or groom, which can break your sleep.
2. Pets can aggravate allergies. If you have asthma or allergies, you’re better off without an animal in the house, says Gray. But if Fido or Fluffy are already there, or if a member of the family has fallen in love with an adorable fur ball, designate your bedroom a pet-free zone and install a high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filter to clear the air and give your nose a break.
3. Pets spread disease. The chance of contracting a disease from your pet is extremely small, says Gray. Still, dogs walk outside on the street with their paws and often roll in the grass when out on walks. They also pick up fleas and ticks. Make sure your pet is always treated for parasites to ensure that none make their way into your bed and onto you.
4. Your pet will think it’s OK to jump on all your furniture. If you allow your pet to jump into bed with you, you’re sending the message that going on the furniture is OK. If there’s a particular chair or couch you love, don’t be surprised if he takes that over as well.
5. Pets can interfere with intimacy. Pets can come between you and your partner. If you share a bed with a furry roommate, this may need to change for relationship needs, says Gray.