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with Michael Breus, PhD, ABSM

This blog has now been retired. We appreciate all of the insights that Dr. Breus has provided to the WebMD community.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Fido or Tabby Got Your Sleep?

If you’re still scratching your head wondering why you’re not feeling as refreshed as you should in the morning, you may have overlooked a little furry sleep thief: your pet.

I get asked about pets in the bedroom pretty frequently, and it can be a hard to hear that pets in the bedroom can be problematic for sleep. Pets are like family members, and we don’t like to exclude them from snuggling with us when they show so much affection and beg to be with us at night. But they can be a major cause of poor and disrupted sleep.

Studies have demonstrated that a reasonable percentage of pet owners who allow their pets in bed have sleep problems. And if you think a cat is harmless, then look no further than a home video of what goes on in night when you think your furry friend acts like a stuffed animal. If only…

For starters, cats are nocturnal by nature. They typically won’t snooze with you for 7 or 8 hours straight. They may look harmless when you’re about to drift off, but a cat usually will get up, move around, play, and try to rouse you.

Dogs aren’t quite so nocturnal, but because of their size, every time they move or begin to scratch and groom themselves they can wake the soundest sleeper. They can also snore as badly as a human — ever listen to an Old English Bulldog?

How about a cat or dog bed? If you’ve already introduced your pet to your own bed, then it’s going to be pretty hard to get it to use its own special bed–no matter what the person at the pet store said or how fancy, fluffy, and “pet-friendly” the bed is. Fido and Tabby may turn their noses up at that and be in your bed faster than you can snap your fingers. To this end, let me offer some tips:

  • Everyone has a different tolerance level for pets in the bedroom, so both bed partners must agree on who gets to sleep where. If pets don’t disturb anyone’s sleep, then there’s usually no harm.
  • Understand that once you allow pets to share your bed, it becomes difficult to curb or stop the habit. To stop the habit, you’ll have to endure some heart-wrenching complaints from Fido or Fluffy until they learn that your bedroom is off limits.
  • Make sure that your intimacy needs do not suffer from sharing your bed with pets. Remember the bed is for both sleep and sex; do not trade one for the other.
  • Have your allergies checked. Over time it’s quite easy to develop allergies to pets and not realize it. If you wake with a stuffy nose every day, it could be time to find Fido or Fluffy its own space.
  • Review the habits of your beloved pet to make sure they’re compatible with yours: a snoring bulldog can be a bigger problem than you might think.

The good news is pets can’t hold grudges the way humans can. So even though you may have to practice some tough love for a while, you won’t risk losing your best friend.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM
The Sleep Doctor

This article about sleep is also available at Dr. Breus’s official blog, The Insomnia Blog.

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Posted by: Michael Breus, PhD, ABSM at 7:44 am

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