Calm Down, Everyone. It’s Okay To Sleep With Your Dog

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Sa'iyda Shabazz

When my ex and I got our dog, I remember my mom distinctly telling me, “Do not let the dog sleep in the bed with you.” So we went out and got a squishy little bed all ready for our pup’s arrival. She wasn’t interested in the dog bed, so we decided to let her sleep on the couch instead. She’d wake us up with her howling. “Let’s try bringing the dog bed into the bedroom,” I suggested.

Well, she wanted no part of it. Exhausted, we just said “fuck it,” and let her get in bed with us. She snuggled right in and passed out. She’s six, and she still sleeps in bed with her people.

But contrary to what some may believe, having your dog sleep in bed with you isn’t a bad thing. It actually doesn’t affect your sleep in a negative way at all.

In a recent study by the Mayo Clinic, the myth that dogs sleeping in their human’s bed has a negative effect on sleep has been debunked. This surely is a relief to those of us who let our furry companions in for a cuddle. For the study, 40 dogs (none of whom were under six months old) were observed for seven days. They were outfitted with a Fitbark (basically a Fitbit for dogs that tracks them at rest and at play) and people wore an Actiwatch 2, which records whether or not they are having a restful sleep. In addition to the trackers recording everyone’s movement every minute, the humans in the study kept a sleep diary.

All of the participants in the study were adults with no sleep disorders, and 88 percent of them were women with an average age of 44. The dogs had an average age of five. If the dog slept in the bed with their human, the average sleep efficiency (amount of time asleep in bed) for the person was 81 percent, which is considered satisfactory. People slept slightly better when the dog wasn’t in the bed, but still in the room. The dogs had an average sleep efficiency of 85 percent no matter where they slept, as long as they were in the bedroom. The study only focused on having one dog in the bed, but Dr. Krahn told the New York Times that she’d like to expand the study further in the future.

See? Having your dog sleep in your bed with you isn’t going to disrupt your sleep in any truly meaningful way.

Dr. Lois E. Krahn, psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist at the Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic, and senior advisor of this study told The New York Times that her 6-year-old golden retriever Phoebe sleeps on her bedroom floor regularly. During colder months, she gets in bed with Dr. Krahn and her husband, and they all sleep “fine.”

I actually prefer sleeping with my dog to sleeping with a human. She is the perfect bed companion; she likes to be close, but she will give me space to at least be able to roll over (something my kid does not do). When I was pregnant, she loved to curl up in the space behind my knees.

With a dog, you don’t usually have to worry about fighting over the blankets, and even though I do know some dogs who like to get cuddly, they usually have their own blanket. My dog does have a thing for sleeping on my pillow, and she is definitely a spot stealer — if I get out of bed, she’ll go right to the warm spot and curl up. But it’s actually kind of endearing.

Sa’iyda Shabazz

Of course, there are some dogs who may not be the best at bed sharing. Veterinarian and director of animal behavioral science at Penn Vet in Philadelphia, Dr. Carlo Siracusa explains, “There are dogs that tend to be more reactive to stimuli. So, for example, if the dog is on the bed and the owner turns and inadvertently hits the dog with the leg, some dogs will get startled and react out of fear,” in a conversation with the Times. He adds, “If there are no problems and the owner is happy with letting the pet in the bedroom, or on the bed, it’s fine with me.”

But if you as the owner are not happy with having your pupper in bed with you, you can rectify the situation. Dr. Siracusa explains that the transition must be gradual, just like if you’re trying to get your kid out of your bed (which we all know is no easy feat). Comfort is key, so figuring out what your dog likes about your bed, whether it’s pillows or blankets, or the warmth of another body is the first step.

Then you can replicate that comfortable space in an area that is more beneficial to you. Maybe they don’t like sleeping on the floor. Elevating them off the ground may be tricky, but it might be worth it not to wake up to dog breath in your face. And who knows? Maybe your dog doesn’t want to sleep in your bed because you’re an annoying sleeper. Nothing clears my dog out of bed faster than a fart.

So, if you love having your pup in your room, fear not. You’re not creating any sort of bad habits for them — or making the night less restful for you. “Dogs can distinguish between the relationship with its human fellows and other dogs, and the way in which they regulate their interactions with humans in the house is not trying to establish a hierarchy,” explains Dr. Siracusa.

You just have to do what’s best for you, your family, and your dog. At least when they drool, they’re cute.