Many dog owners remain split on this decision: whether or not to allow their wet-nosed pal to sleep in the bedroom. For some, sleeping with Fido is comforting and soothing, while for others, the priority is on keeping the bedroom free of pet hair—and, therefore, Fido. A recent study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings has found a dog's sleep position (whether on the bed or on the bedroom floor), can affect an owner's sleep quality and health.
The researchers, a team of pulmonologists, statisticians and psychologists from the Mayo Clinic, observed 40 healthy adults without sleep disorders, who all slept with dogs either on the bed or somewhere else in the bedroom. The participants were evaluated for a total of five months, but for seven nights, they and their dogs wore activity trackers to monitor their sleeping habits.
Although sleeping with dogs led to waking up throughout the night, sleeping with a human partner did not. In fact, sleeping with a human partner led to better sleep efficiency than sleeping alone.
The researchers first looked at sleep efficiency, the percentage of time in bed actually spent sleeping. Here, the difference between bed-sharers and bedroom-sharers wasn't obvious. People with dogs in their rooms, but not in their beds, had an 83-percent sleep efficiency level, and people with dogs in their beds had an average sleep efficiency rate of 80 percent. Neither of these rates is alarming: 80 percent is considered satisfactory sleep efficiency; 85 and 89 percent is normal; and above 90 percent is very efficient sleeping.
But a deeper probe revealed some problems with human-dog co-sleeping. This arrangement led owners to wake up more throughout the night compared to their counterparts. Previous research has found an interrupted night of sleep is similar to only having four hours of consistent sleep. Fragmented sleep can have negative effects on mood, attention span, and cognitive ability.
Lois Krahn, study author and a sleep medicine specialist at the Center for Sleep Medicine on Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus, and her colleagues stress that having pets in the bedroom is not a disruption as long as they don't sleep on the bed. This provides solace for pet owners who partake in human-pet bed sharing and "find comfort and a sense of security" from their presence, she said, in a statement.
Krahn also acknowledges dog owners may share a bed with their dogs as a means to spend time with them. “Today, many pet owners are away from their pets for much of the day, so they want to maximize their time with them when they are home. Having them in the bedroom at night is an easy way to do that. And, now, pet owners can find comfort knowing it won’t negatively impact their sleep," she said.
The research does have some limitations. There was no control group (sleepers without dogs in their bedrooms or their beds); most participants were healthy, middle-aged women; and the sample size was small. Because of these limiting factors, the results cannot be generalized to other populations, and no insights can be gleaned about whether the dog's breed or size could have affected the findings. The study, say the researchers, does warrant further investigation into the relationship between a pet's sleeping position and the pet owner's sleep quality.
Research has previously shown some health risks attached to sleeping with your pet. A study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases found the young, elderly, and those with compromised immune systems, including transplant patients, people with diabetes, and those who are HIV-positive face a greater risk of becoming ill after sharing a bed with a pet. Although contracting a disease from a family pet is rare, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes about 60 percent of all human pathogens can be transmitted by an animal.
Co-sleeping with pets could provide benefits for some owners. But people vulnerable to health issues—or light sleepers—could benefit from leaving man's best friend outside the bedroom.