Many dog owners have experienced this predicament at some point or another: Do you let your dog sleep in the bed or do you ignore their puppy eyes?
Part two of the predicament is also perplexing: Would you sleep better with your dog in the bed, or worse?
When Inverse took the question to Reddit, user high6ix replied: “Our dog ruins my sleep. Due to her size, it forces my partner to use more of the bed, which in turn ends up with me having knees in my back or feet pushing mine off the bed.”
But while their experience isn’t unique, it’s also not definitive. Studies, veterinarians, and other pet owners paint a picture of mixed benefits, depending on the dog in question and your living arrangement.
In this article, Inverse unpacks all your questions about the science of co-sleeping with furry friends, the pros and cons of sharing a bed with a pup, and tips on how to get your dog to sleep through the night.
Is it bad to let your dog sleep with you?
Research shows dogs are diurnal creatures — sleeping at night and romping around during the day — just like humans. Because dogs evolved alongside humans, a 2020 study suggests dogs likely adapted to human circadian rhythms of sleep, including features like rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and the period of deep sleep that occurs in both dogs and humans.
But when it comes to whether co-sleeping with dogs is better or worse for human health, it’s a bit harder to say.
Some studies point to the benefits of dog ownership for human sleep. A 2019 study found dog ownership improves the length of sleep that humans get, while a 2018 study found dog owners fall asleep more easily than those without pups.
It’s less clear when it comes to the benefits of a dog actually sleeping in your bed. According to a 2017 report published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, “a dog’s presence in the bedroom may not be disruptive to human sleep.” However, the researchers also write that this depends on whether the dog is merely in the room or sleeping on your bed — their findings suggest people slept less efficiently if the dog was on the bed versus merely in the room.
A 2018 study found co-sleeping with dogs results in “measurable, but mild reductions in overall sleep quality.” Dogs remained active for about 20 percent of the night and humans were 4.3 times more likely to remain awake when dogs were awake. However, the study still states: “This detrimental impact must be weighed against the benefits of co-sleeping” with dogs.
The benefits of sleeping with a dog in bed
The companionship of dogs brings numerous mental health benefits, especially during stressful times.
Dogs sleeping in bed can also provide a temporary sense of comfort when our normal human sleeping partners are away, Ryan Llera tells Inverse. Llera is a veterinarian at Kingston Veterinary Clinic in Ontario, Canada. He and his wife share a bed with his two dogs.
Pet owners Inverse messaged with on Reddit agree.
“There’s nothing better than sleeping with a dog in front and behind of you. Such an insane feeling of comfort and security,” user westcoastgirl55 tells Inverse.
Another Redditor agrees, describing how her dog stops her from worrying in bed: “I have some mental health issues so sleep and relaxing, in general, can be hard for me, but my dogs make all the difference.”
Reddit user CryptographerLost407 says their dog will often wake up first if there are any nighttime noises, which counterintuitively helped them sleep better: “I’m a very light sleeper, so this helped me quite a bit — not stirring at every noise.”
Reddit user GellieBean tells Inverse: “I get terrible sleep paralysis. For some reason, [dog] cuddling prevents me from having an episode.”
The cons of sleeping with a dog in bed
Users on Reddit’s r/pets subreddit highlight one big downside to sleeping with a dog in bed: the lack of space and the fact that dogs can make for a too-warm sleeping arrangement.
“I realized that if it was me, my fiance, and the dog — he’s a small beagle — there just wasn’t enough room in our full-size bed,” Reddit user Vieamort tells Inverse.
“It does have the potential to erode that bond.”
Starfishing, or dogs laying in the middle of the bed with legs splayed out, is a common problem for many dog owners. One Redditor, who described their dog as similar to a “fluffy hot water bottle,” reminisced on their dog gravitating to the middle of their king-sized bed.
Another Redditor asserted “if you want a good night’s sleep, no dogs in the bed” before adding that they still sleep with two dogs.
Is it safe to sleep with a dog in bed?
It’s not generally unsafe for an adult to co-sleep with a pup, Llera says. However, he adds one big caveat: the success of co-sleeping depends entirely on the dog’s temperament and whether they’re good with sharing space. Some dogs, for example, may get startled by disturbances during the night, leading to potentially dangerous encounters.
“If they get started easily when they are in a sound sleep, one of their reactions is to be alert, which might result in a growl or a snap,” Llera says.
If you have a tendency to kick in your sleep, physical separation between you and your pup during nighttime may be warranted, Llera explains. Sleeplessness — on either the human or dog side – may affect the bond between owner and pet.
“It does have the potential to erode that bond,” Llera says.
Other veterinarians point to the potential of dogs triggering allergies — they can bring dirt, pollen, and other allergens into the bedroom. If that’s a concern, Llera says co-sleeping with a dog may not be right for you.
Tips for sharing your bed with a dog
If you’re willing to make it work, there are a few tips to get your pooch to sleep more comfortably, giving you both a nighttime of quality sleep.
For example, your dog may jump into bed and seize your desired sleeping spot — a challenge that becomes even more cumbersome with multiple pets. Reddit user PetFriendlyNetwork suggests gently tricking your dogs with treats so everyone can find a spot on the bed:
“The challenge is finding a way to get into bed if the dogs are there first. To do that, I usually have them line up for treats across the room, and then I race to the bed to get there first!”
Twitter user @GrantLorrell suggests making a designated spot on the bed for your pooch so they’re not occupying your space: “My dog was an 80 pound American Bulldog, so I found that making them a spot on the bed made things much smoother.”
Llera agrees: “Training them to sleep on a certain spot on the bed can help.” Based on his own experience co-sleeping with a dog, he suggests putting a blanket at the foot of the bed to designate the dog’s sleeping spot.
“Buy a bigger bed.”
If you do let your dog sleep in the bed, don’t assume you’re going to get to cuddle it.
“I find most dogs don’t want to be cuddled or held down or anything like that — they find to be too warm,” Llera says.
If your dog is waking up or experiencing issues with sleeping, that will likely affect your human sleep quality as well. In this case, Llera suggests training your dog to sleep on a comfy dog bed on the floor rather than in your human bed.
What to do if your dog isn’t sleeping through the night
Some dogs snore, just like people. However, if your dog is experiencing persistent sleep issues, that could indicate more pressing health problems, Llera says. Dogs with heart failure or trouble breathing, such as asthma, may have trouble getting a good night’s sleep.
Certain brachycephalic dogs may also have trouble breathing at night due to airway problems related to their small nostrils, though Llera notes that issues can often be surgically corrected. These dogs include:
- Boston terriers
The Amherst Veterinary Hospital notes that trouble sleeping through the night could be a sign of bigger health problems like:
- Urinary tract infections
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Kidney disease
- Cognitive decline
If your dog is having regular trouble sleeping through the night, consult with your veterinarian about the appropriate next steps and whether your pet may have any health concerns.
Ultimately, sharing a bed successfully with a dog depends on the dog. Some will keep you awake with snores, while others will keep you cozy. More often than not, they’ll probably do both.
But if you’ve read all this and still have issues comfortably sleeping with your pup, then what should you do? Llera has a simple suggestion:
“Buy a bigger bed.”