Understanding Your Pet’s Sleep Schedules



sleeping with your petYou may wonder why your dog or cat seems to wander the house at night when you might expect them to be asleep. And what’s with those catnaps during the day? As it turns out, your pet’s sleep schedules are very different from your own. Understanding your pet’s sleep schedules is key to knowing whether your furry best friend is getting enough or too much sleep.

The Differences Between Human Sleep and Pet Sleep

Your sleep and your pet’s sleep do have some similarities. Dogs and cats also follow circadian rhythms when it comes to sleep. And, as mammals, they experience REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, during which a lot of brain activity occurs. But the similarities mostly end there.

While humans tend to need about six to nine hours of sleep in each 24-hour period, dogs and cats require far more. And they don’t sleep in one long session, as most humans do. Instead, your pets follow what’s called a polyphasic pattern when sleeping. They sleep in many short periods throughout the day and night, as you’ve undoubtedly experienced with your own pets.

Humans cycle through heavy, REM sleep and back to lighter sleep multiple times each night. Dogs, however, fall into REM sleep quickly during their shorter spurts of sleep, with their blood pressure, breathing and heart rate slowing down. They’re able to wake up almost instantly to alertness, unlike most humans. Cats also sleep in short spurts, but they tend to spend a greater amount of time in light sleep than REM sleep.

How Much Should Your Dog or Cat Sleep?

You can expect your dog to sleep nine to 14 hours each day. That sleep doesn’t happen all at once, of course. Your dog will take quite a few naps each day in addition to sleeping at night, perhaps because they’re matching their sleep schedule to yours.

Your dog’s sleep cycle moves from quiet, or light, sleep to REM sleep every 20 minutes or so, spending three-quarters of that time in light sleep. Dogs’ brains are as active during sleep as during wakefulness. Because dogs’ sleep cycles are so short, your pet is likely to go through more than 20 sleep cycles each night.

As for your cat — you only have to consider the word “catnap” to understand where your kitty is getting its sleep. Cats spend about 16 hours a day (two-thirds of their lives!) sleeping. In fact, only possums and some bats sleep more than cats do. If you have a cat, you know that your pet is capable of sleeping in almost any location or position.

Cats also cycle between light sleep and deep REM sleep, but in a slightly different way. A cat’s light sleep involves 15 to 30 minutes of “slow-wave sleep” brain waves that are irregular. Cats’ REM sleep is short, only about five minutes long, with the cat returning to that light, slow-wave sleep quickly. During REM sleep, cats’ brain waves look very similar to their awake brain patterns — and yes, they’re probably dreaming.

Both dogs and cats have the opportunity to rely on all these daytime naps because, by nature, they’re predatory animals. That means they don’t have to worry about their safety as they nap.

Factors That Influence Your Pet’s Sleep Schedules

The amount of sleep your pets require is based on several components, including their:

  • Daily physical activity
  • Breed
  • Size
  • State of health
  • Age

Working dogs — police dogs, herding dogs and guide dogs — often get less sleep because their active work schedule limits the time available for naps. It’s common for these dogs to sleep a great deal more than normal once they’ve retired.

Certain breeds of dogs experience sleep problems because of body design. In particular, flat-faced dogs, such as pugs, are prone to sleep apnea and snoring, which can disturb their sleep. In addition, larger breeds tend to need more sleep than smaller ones.

Not surprisingly, pets who are in ill health tend to sleep less. Unfortunately, that lack of sleep can exacerbate their health conditions. Pets with arthritis, anemia or thyroid issues tend to need more sleep, and pets with bladder issues lose rest by waking more frequently to urinate.

As pets get older, they tend to slow down and require more sleep. At the other end of the age spectrum, puppies and kittens often sleep up to 20 hours a day. You may have seen your kitten collapse in the middle of playing and fall asleep on the spot. This happens because so much energy is going into developing their brains and bodies, which occurs largely during sleep.

Your pet’s sleep schedule is also determined in part by your sleep schedule. In particular, dogs often want to mirror their humans’ sleep schedules, and they’re willing to be flexible to do this. Cats tend to want to play at night (which is when big cats hunt in the wild), so you may need to wear them out to get them to sleep through the night with you.

How to Help Your Pet Sleep Well

Providing a consistent routine helps both dogs and cats sleep well. Dogs may sleep better when they know what time they’ll be eating, going to the bathroom and getting their exercise. Some pets thrive well with designated sleep locations — though cats may want to choose a new sleep spot on a regular basis. Dogs should be allowed outside to eliminate before your own sleep time every night, and cats should have access to their litter box during the night.

If you notice changes in your pet’s sleep schedule or personality, a visit to the veterinarian may be in order. Sudden lethargy may indicate issues such as diabetes, hypothyroidism or depression, and an increase in restlessness may be a sign of anxiety or a need for more exercise. Pets who are in pain often can’t communicate their discomfort. The only sign may be an inability to get comfortable while sleeping. Your vet can help you determine the cause of sleep schedule disruptions and develop a treatment plan, so your pet continues to sleep well.

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