Don't Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

At least not on your bed, study says

THURSDAY, Feb. 21, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Letting Fido sleep with you may set his tail to wagging, but it could leave your tail dragging in the morning.

That's the word from a Mayo Clinic sleep expert, who discovered that almost half the pet owners in his study got woken up regularly at night by a beloved pet.

And the reasons included the pet's snoring, or making noise moving around at night or taking up too much room in or on the bed.

"People love their pets just like they love their kids, so they will tolerate a certain amount of sleep deprivation from their pets," says Dr. John Shepard, the medical director of the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center in Rochester, Minn.

Shepard has been in the sleep disorders field for 24 years but never considered the impact of pets on sleep until about a year ago.

He was then interviewing a woman about any possible sleep disruptions. She told him she got up every morning at 4 o'clock to let her dog out and spent 15 minutes waiting for the dog to finish its business.

That gave Shepard pause for thought.

So between February and September 2001, he surveyed 300 people who came to the center for a routine consultation. He found that 157 of them had pets. Of those, almost 60 percent let their pets sleep in the bedroom.

Cats were more likely than dogs to be allowed in the bedroom and on the bed. But when a dog was allowed in the bedroom, it had a 57 percent chance of cozying up on the bed with its owner.

Among these pet owners, 53 percent considered their sleep to be disrupted by their pet to some extent every night. However, only 1 percent felt their sleep was disrupted for more than 20 minutes a night on average.

Snoring was reported in 21 percent of the dogs and 7 percent of the cats allowed in the bedroom.

(Cats and dogs, however, weren't the only slumber stealers in Shepard's survey. There was a ferret implicated in a series of bite-by-night toe attacks.)

Shepard suspects the pet owners may suffer significantly more sleep disruption from their pets than they admit. But he has no scientific data to prove it.

One thing is certain. Pets can be a factor in sleep disruption. Shepard says your sleeping environment -- sound, movement, light, temperature and humidity in the bedroom -- has a significant role in the quality of your sleep.

"Pets are just another one of those environmental factors that does contribute to sleep disruption," Shepard says.

So what to do if Spot or Fluffy is prone to disturbing nocturnal noise emissions or takes control of two-thirds of the bed?

Well, the obvious answer is that it's time to consider new sleeping arrangements.

But Shepard says many people are so attached to their pets that they're willing to sacrifice some sleep so that their pet can bunk with them.

One of the men in Shepard's survey slept in the same bed with three cats and two dogs. Once in a while, the man's girlfriend managed to find a spot in the bed too.

"I don't think I've been able to convince anyone to have their pet leave the bedroom," he says.

As for further study on the matter, Shepard says that's probably a dog that won't hunt.

"If I sent in a grant proposal to study the effects of pets on sleep, they'd just laugh at me," he says.

What To Do

For more information about sleep, go to the National Sleep Foundation.

You should remember that allowing pets to sleep with you or your children can aggravate asthma and allergies. To learn more, go to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

One way to avoid losing sleep to your dog is through crate training.

SOURCES: Interview with John Shepard, M.D., medical director, Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, Rochester, Minn.
Consumer News