Why Your Big Dog Might Be Better Off Sleeping Without You

About 50 percent of pet owners in America sleep with their furry friend. And if you’re one of them, you know exactly why: Your dog (or cat!) is warm, cozy, and comforting. But what if this nighttime arrangement is actually harmful to your dog?

The fact is that a quality night’s sleep matters to your dog just as much as it matters to you. Your dog experiences the same stages of sleep that you do, and her body recovers from stress overnight, just like yours does. Much like you, your dog needs sleep to feel physically and emotionally healthy. And if your dog experiences painful joint conditions like arthritis, a full night’s sleep on a bed that is designed to support her body’s weight properly is crucial.

The unfortunate truth is, if you sleep with your dog, you may be keeping her awake without realizing it. Tossing and turning, visits to the bathroom, attending to babies and children, or sleepless nights for you can translate into sleep deprivation for your best friend, too. And that could have a serious impact on her health.

The Need for Sleep

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You undoubtedly have experienced sleep deprivation at some point in your life. Lack of sleep can make humans anxious and much more vulnerable to stress. Cognitive impairment, heart disease, depression, and weight gain have all been associated with lack of sleep.

As in humans, there’s a lot going on in your pooch’s body overnight. When your dog sleeps, particularly during the nighttime hours, her body releases the hormone melatonin. Melatonin protects the body’s cells, strengthens the immune system, and promotes restful sleep. Your dog also recovers from the stress of the day during her nighttime rest, since this is when levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol return to normal. If your dog is denied sufficient time to rest, especially for multiple days or weeks, stress hormones will build up in her body, and she will be more prone to aggression, overreacting, and compulsive behaviors.

As with humans, dogs experience sleep in 5 stages, from lightest to heaviest. Also like humans, dogs dream during the fifth and final stage, or the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase. In stage 5, a dog’s body becomes completely relaxed, but her brain remains very active. This is the dreaming stage of sleep during which a dog will often whine, bark, growl, and appear to run during her sleep. Dog experts believe that puppies process and assimilate everything they learn all day during REM sleep.

In short, your dog’s need for sleep is in many ways similar to your own.

The Most Vulnerable Dogs

When your dog is in pain or has health problems, a full night’s sleep matters even more.

One canine study of insulin and blood sugar has even shown that getting enough sleep is just as important to a dog’s health as maintaining the right diet[1]. In order for a dog to be healthy, her body must be sufficiently sensitive to the insulin in her bloodstream so that she can regulate her blood sugar. Research shows that depriving a dog of sleep for just one night is as detrimental to her insulin sensitivity as 6 full months of a high fat diet.

In addition, research shows that a sleep-deprived dog has a higher risk of becoming obese, which will clearly have a negative impact on any dog who has joint issues. An obese dog who loses sensitivity to insulin will eventually develop type 2 diabetes. Ultimately, diabetes can lead to additional serious health problems, such as heart disease. Therefore, adequate sleeping time is vital for a dog’s metabolism and protection against chronic disease.

And for dogs who experience arthritis or other chronic painful conditions, a supportive sleeping surface and a full night’s sleep are crucial. If their bodies don’t have time to rest and recover, this can perpetuate a vicious cycle where lack of sleep exacerbates joint pain, which in turn exacerbates the inability to rest fully and comfortably.

The Gift of a Good Night’s Rest

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There are several things you can do to promote a healthy night’s sleep for your dog.

Daily exercise—as long as she doesn’t have any conditions that preclude it—will ensure that she’s sufficiently tired at night. Make sure that you finish exercising your dog several hours before bedtime to give her enough time to calm down. Feeding several small meals per day rather than one large meal will ensure that your dog does not go to sleep on an empty stomach.

If your dog has arthritis or joint problems, an orthopedic foam bed is absolutely essential in preventing your dog’s joints and pain points from coming in contact with the floor. This is not to be confused with a memory foam mattress, which can trap heat and actually make it more difficult to sleep.

The best bed for a dog with joint problems is easy for your her to get in and out of. Therefore, the bed should be supportive enough to keep joints off of the floor as well as provide a firm enough surface so that she doesn’t have to struggle to lift herself when it’s time to get moving in the morning. Failure to provide an arthritic dog with comfortable bedding will increase pain and lead to grouchiness, irritability, stress, and sometimes even self-isolation.

Creating a comfortable place where your dog feels safe will help ensure that she is able to sleep deeply for uninterrupted periods of time. Your dog will be healthier and more energetic when she has good sleeping habits, and you will be able to rest better, too.

The Right Bed

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If you’ve decided to make a good night’s sleep priority for your best buddy, make sure that she gets the best. Big Barker beds are made using a scientifically calibrated, 3-stage foam engineering process to ensure the best night’s sleep possible. And because our foam is certified by Certi-PUR-US, you can be sure that your Big Barker is free of the toxic fumes and chemicals that can make your dog—and your family—ill.

[1] http://www.obesity.org/news/press-releases/one-night-of-poor-sleep-could-equal-six-months-on-a-high-fat-diet

Melissa is the Managing Editor at Big Barker. She is best friend to Phoebe (pictured) and Finian, both rescued Chihuahua mixes.