Should You be Sleeping With Your Pet?

Should You be Sleeping With Your Pet?

Lots of people let their pets sleep in bed with them. Is that a good idea?

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Illustration by Goodloe Byron

When Potomac’s Joey Baroni picked up his golden retriever puppy, Rosie, from a breeder last August, he was determined to keep her off his bed. He even set up a cozy corner for Rosie in the living room with soft blankets and toys.

Rosie, apparently, wasn’t impressed.

On her first night home with Baroni, she whined and yelped in the living room for what felt like hours. Baroni finally caved in. Just this once, he thought to himself, she could curl up in bed with him. Tomorrow, things would be different; he wouldn’t let her break his resolve.

Seven months later, Rosie, now quadrupled in size at 53 pounds, still sleeps in his bed every night.

“Rosie refuses to sleep anywhere else,” Baroni says. “Even as she gets bigger, she doesn’t seem to care how much space there is. She just wants to cuddle at night.”

A recent Today show poll of more than 32,000 pet owners found that 86 percent of them allow their pets in their bed at night—a statistic that stands in contrast to conventional wisdom espoused by sleep experts.

Standard sleep recommendations have long suggested that pets should be kept out of the bedroom. Dr. Lois Krahn, a specialist at the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine, co-authored a study in support of keeping pets out of owners’ bedrooms in 2013.

In the study’s abstract, Krahn wrote, “a pet in the sleep environment creates the potential for disruptions that compromise sleep quality.”

Emily Kramer, a Silver Spring resident, remembers letting her cat, Morgynn, on the bed one night while her boyfriend was out of town. Almost immediately, Kramer says, Morgynn began fidgeting, even kicking her in the face several times. After stumbling over the cat in an attempt to get off the bed and get a drink, Kramer had enough. “I scooped him up and put him back in his kennel,” she says. “I barely got any sleep that night.”

But the research on how pets affect sleep may be changing. In a follow-up study published in December 2015, Krahn found that more than half of all pet owners who came through the sleep clinic last year allowed their pets to sleep in their bedroom. Of those, 41 percent reported that having a pet led to better sleep, while 20 percent said that their pets disturbed their sleep in some way.

Former dog trainer Steven Mulder of Rockville is not surprised that the research can be contradictory. “It really comes down to the person and the pet,” he says. “Sometimes my dog sleeps in bed with me, sometimes she will sleep with my kids. But we’ve never had any issues.”

For light sleepers and people who have trouble falling asleep, Mulder recommends keeping pets out of the bedroom. But Krahn’s 2015 study found that for some people, especially those with anxiety disorders, sleeping with a pet can reduce stress. “Some respondents described feeling secure, content, and relaxed when their pet slept nearby,” the study said.

“This appears to be especially true for single sleepers.”

Sharing your bed—whether with a pet or a person—may mean sacrificing some sleep. Erin Morrison of Rockville says her boxer mix, Chester, sometimes wakes her up in the middle of the night—but so does her husband. “My husband is often more trouble in bed than Chester,” Morrison jokes. “They both snore like truckers, so I’ve learned how to make do.”

Renee Klahr is an editorial intern.

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