If a snuggle with your four-legged friend is one of your favorite things about going to bed, you’re not alone. According to a survey from mattress company Novosbed, almost three-quarters of pet owners in the United States hunker down in bed with their pets. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are doing your health — or your sleep — any favors.
In general, the rule of thumb for sleeping with animals, according to the Mayo Foundation, is that “the sleep of the pet owner takes priority over loyalty to the pet.” Here’s how to decide whether to keep calm and cuddle on — or to put the kibosh on nighttime trysts.
What are the drawbacks?
The cons of sleeping with animals is threefold: they can spread diseases, disrupt sleep and exacerbate asthma and allergies. Just like their human counterparts, pets can snore, hog the covers and twitch in their sleep. They also whimper, wander and have seizures, all of which can be difficult to sleep through.
When it comes to sleep disturbance, two pets in bed may be the tipping point. A 2013 study found that an estimated 20 percent of people who visited the Center for Sleep Medicine reported that their pets disturbed their sleep. Many people who complained, however, had more than one pet.
For the dander sensitive, consider banning pets if not from the bedroom, at least from the bed. Many immunologists believe that people who have respiratory issues should not sleep with their animals or even let them in their bedroom.
Finally, although the risks are rare, allowing pets to sleep in the bed can be dangerous by spreading zoonoses, pathogens that go from animals to people. (Licking can be a key vector of transmission.) The CDC says, “Every year, tens of thousands of Americans will get sick from … Zoonotic diseases, which are caused by harmful germs like viruses, bacterial, parasites and fungi. These germs can cause many different types of illnesses in people and animals, ranging from mild to serious illness and even death. Some animals can appear healthy even when they are carrying germs that can make people sick.”
The upside of sharing a bed with your pet
On the other hand, pets can make people sleep better because the contact makes them feel safe and secure. Close to half the people in the study thought that pets were beneficial to sleep. Skin-to-skin contact — human and otherwise — raises levels of oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, in the body.
Pets create a sense of contentment, an emotional balm that many people, especially the lonely, hunger for. A growing body of evidence suggests that relaxation and attachment can boost the immune system, lower stress and blood pressure and even increase longevity.
Other factors to consider
Still on the fence? Or maybe you’re struggling with whether you will be able to enforce a no-pet zone on the bed? Start with this personal inventory regarding your sleeping habits — and your pets’ — to find out if a sleep intervention is called for.
(Questions courtesy of the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
- How well does the pet owner sleep?
- How well does the bed partner sleep?
- Is the pet free of fleas, dirt, burrs, etc.?
- Any pet allergies?
- How large is the bedroom?
- How large is the bed?
- Does the pet sleep soundly?
- Is the pet quiet?
- How many pets?
- Does the pet sleep on the bed and, if so, where on the bed?
- Does excluding the pet from the bedroom work (or is the pet making noise for attention or is the home too compact to provide alternative arrangements)?
- Does the pet have any special needs (medications, voiding) requiring attention at night?
- Does the pet enhance a sense of security?
- Does the presence of the pet aid relaxation?
If you sleep better without your pet, it might be time to boot the pets from bed. You can still keep your pet in the room while you sleep. A new study from the Mayo clinic found “people with dogs in their rooms (but not on their beds) maintained 83 percent sleep efficiency.” Sleep efficiency is a ratio of time spent asleep to total time in bed, with 80 percent generally considered satisfactory.
The takeaway? Look at your setup neutrally and consider whether it is truly working — for the human side of the equation. Don’t lose sleep over an idea of being loyal to your pet. If it’s not working out, you can still come up with an arrangement that can meet all parties’ needs.