Pet ownership is becoming more common than ever. In the U.S., more than 60% of households have at least one pet. Traditional pets like cats and dogs often form strong bonds with their owners, with 53% of American dog owners even saying that their dog is like a member of the family.
When pet owners feel that close to their pet, it’s not surprising that they often let their cats or dogs sleep in their bedrooms, and sometimes even on their beds. But does allowing an animal in bed affect the quality of a pet owner’s sleep?
How Common Are Animals in Bed?
More than half of dog owners, around 56%, sleep with their dog in the same room, with 50% of them allowing them on the bed. Among dogs who share beds with their owners, 62% are small dogs, but 41% are medium-sized dogs, a size category which generally includes dogs weighing 35-55 pounds, and 32% are large dogs, generally weighing 60 pounds or more. Sharing the bed with an animal that large means a sleep disruption is likely.
Many cat owners also let their pets sleep with them. Though cats are usually smaller animals, many cats are active during the night, especially if they are outdoor cats or were stray cats in their past. Even a small cat can easily wake an owner during the night if they move around a lot at play or make noise.
Problems With Allowing a Pet in the Bedroom
If you let your pets stay near you during the night, they may unintentionally cause disruptions to your sleep by moving around or making noise. Most adults need seven or more hours of sleep each night to maximize their health and sense of well-being. In addition to having low energy or problems with work performance, adults who regularly sleep less than this are much more likely to experience chronic health conditions than those who get at least the recommended amount.
Due to their growing bodies and brains, adolescents need even more sleep than adults, with the recommended amount being at least eight to ten hours each night. However, more than two-thirds of high school students in the U.S. report getting less than eight hours on school nights. This lack of sleep can affect school performance and even impact growth and development.
For adults and teens who are not getting the recommended amount of sleep, a pet in the bedroom could be part of the problem, especially if it doesn’t stay quiet and still long enough during the night. People also tend to sleep more soundly when temperatures are cool, and though a pet cuddled up with you might feel comforting at first, it’s likely that the extra warmth may also lead to poorer sleep quality. If you have a pet in the bedroom and you’re noticing disturbed sleep, it might be wise to try a few nights without them to see if your sleep quality improves.
Disturbed sleep isn’t the only risk that comes from allowing an animal in bed. Scientists have shown a link between an increased risk of zoonotic diseases, or diseases that are transmitted by animals, and letting a pet sleep with you at night. The closeness and duration of time involved in sharing a bed make it more likely that any germs or pests plaguing your pet will have an easier time infecting you too.
Zoonotic diseases can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Some examples include:
- Bubonic plague (spread by fleas)
- Cat-scratch disease
- Lyme disease from ticks
Allergies are also a consideration when you have a pet in the bedroom. Even if you’re not allergic to your pet, chances are you may be sensitive to the pollen, dust, or other contaminants your furry friend may have on its coat or paws. Again, because you are spending time in the same space all night long, your allergies are more likely to be triggered if you have a pet in a bedroom, and especially in the same bed.
Finally, there is an increased risk of a serious bite or other injury caused by a pet when it is allowed to sleep in the same room as the owner. Though it’s hard for many pet owners to imagine that their beloved dog or cat would injure a family member, keep in mind that during sleep or in a dark space, it’s easier for an animal to become confused or act in a way they normally would not. Pets may sometimes become more territorial about their sleeping space, which can lead to more aggressive behavior. For example, in a review of fatal dog attacks in the United States from 1989-1994, 57% were of children under the age of 10, and 11 of these tragic cases involved a sleeping infant. Given these risks, dogs and cats should never be permitted to sleep in the same room as a child or infant.
Tips for Better Sleep if You Decide to Allow a Pet in the Bedroom
Even with all the downsides mentioned above, many pet owners will still decide to let their pets sleep in their bedrooms. It’s understandable; pets can provide psychological support, reduce stress levels, create warmth and closeness, and even give owners a sense of security that is especially welcome at bedtime.
To achieve the best sleep quality and enjoy your pet’s company at the same time, here are a few tips:
- Stick to one pet. Allowing only one pet in the bedroom reduces the chances that your sleep will be disrupted.
- Keep them off the bed. Research shows that a pet in the bedroom is less disruptive to sleep if it doesn’t sleep on the bed.
- Provide a safe sleep space for your pet. A dog or cat bed will give your pet its special sleep territory, letting you relax and rest peacefully — and will be more comfortable than the hard floor.
- Keep your pet healthy. Make sure you are taking your pet to the vet regularly and providing any necessary medications so that you and your pet both stay well.