August 3, 2023

Should You Be Sleeping With Your Pet in Bed?

If they affect the quality of your sleep, keep your pets out of your sheets

Person sleeping with dog in bed on starry night background.

Dogs and cats are warm, cuddly and oh-so-lovable. They make hearts melt with every little tail wag or purr. These household pets are so much more than animals. They’re members of the family.

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But when it comes to finding a place to sleep … well, maybe it’s best to give our furry friends a little space.

In general, sleeping with a pet isn’t recommended if you’re looking for a solid night of ZZZs. Of course, that doesn’t stop people from doing it. Online polls show that more than half of pet owners share a bed with their pets.

There are pros and cons to that sort of nighty nite setup. Let’s take a closer look with sleep medicine specialist Nancy Foldvary-Schaefer, DO, MS.

Reasons not to sleep with your pet

Living with a pet can offer numerous health benefits, but that doesn’t mean everything about sharing your home with an animal is hunky-dory. (There’s an awful lot of butt scooting on the carpet, for instance.)

When it comes to letting a pet spend the night in your bed, here are five concerns:

Sleep disturbances

Sharing a bed leads to a shared sleeping experience. So, if your dog wiggles around at night while dreaming of chasing squirrels, that nocturnal activity may be just enough to interrupt your own dreams.

“Many people wake up repeatedly during the night because a pet is repositioning or barking or needs to be taken outside,” notes Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer. “It can be a big component of sleep disruption.”

Someone who wakes up in the middle of the night may end up staying up, too — and few people can afford to lose those precious minutes (or hours) of rest. Research shows that 1 in 3 adults in the United States doesn’t get enough sleep.

Don’t minimize what that loss of sleep means either. Over time, it can be a BIG deal. Consistently falling short of ZZZs can increase your risk of developing conditions like:

Allergies and asthma

Studies show a strong connection between sleep troubles and allergies. Ditto if you have asthma. Adding a pet to the bed can escalate those breathing issues.

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Sleeping with a furry friend exposes you to allergy and asthma triggers (such as pet dander) for multiple hours in close quarters. “There’s a real chance your allergies or asthma can be activated,” says Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer.

Creepy-crawlies

Fleas and ticks have been known to hitch rides and hang around on dogs and cats. If those parasites are on your pet when they jump into your bed at night, they very well might end up on you by morning.

Flea bites can leave you with itchy and irritated skin that can be very annoying. In a worst-case scenario, the bite of a disease-infected tick could make you seriously ill.

Tick bites can cause diseases such as:

Diseases

Not to gross you out, but animals can potentially spread A LOT of germs. Aside from the conditions listed above, there are about 100 other zoonotic diseases — including cat scratch fever — that can s­pread from animals to people.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers details on all these diseases. To be fair, not all conditions on the CDC list involve household pets. But a good number do.

Bottom line? “There’s certainly potential exposure to germs when we have pets in the bed,” says Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer.

Bite and scratch potential

Dogs and cats often don’t take kindly to being disturbed during a slumber. Their instinctive startle reflex may include using their claws or sharp teeth to send a message to the sleepy time offender.

Any bite or scratch brings a risk of infection. (Here’s what to do after being bitten by a dog. And if you tangle with a cat, here are some treatment tips.)

Reasons to sleep with your pet

Many of the reasons why we adore our pets serve as the very reason why we make room for them in bed. The list includes:

Happiness

There’s a reason why we often feel better after hanging around with a pet. A little one-on-one time with an animal friend can decrease stress-related hormones and boost your mood, reports the National Institutes of Health.

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“A lot of people are just happier being around their pet — and that includes when they go to bed,” notes Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer.

A feeling of security

Pets can alert you when something isn’t quite right in your home. In some cases, pets can even offer comfort and protection. “People often feel more secure in their environment with a pet around,” she adds.

Warmth

Those fuzzy coats on our pet friends can come in handy while cuddling on a cold night. It’s also worth noting that dogs and cats run a few degrees hotter than humans.

Tips for sleeping with your pet

So, if you’re leaning toward spooning your dog or cat while you sleep, these six tips from Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer may help you sleep a little better:

  1. Use an air filter. Want to minimize allergy and asthma issues? A high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter can help remove more than 99% of pet dander and other allergy and asthma triggers swirling around your bedroom.
  2. Wash your sheets more often. Pet dander and “fungal organisms” can come with dogs, cats and other furry friends. Tossing your bedding in the washing machine more regularly — target once a week — can keep that icky stuff from accumulating.
  3. Pet bath time. A clean pet is less likely to bring germs, fleas and ticks to your bed. Get ‘em in the tub!
  4. Defined sleep space. Keeping your pet in bed with you doesn’t mean they have to be right up against you. Consider setting them up in a different part of the bed so they’re close but maybe not TOO close. (A bigger bed may be worth considering, too.)
  5. Plan ahead for disruptions. If your pet often wants a late-night snack or regularly answers nature’s call at 2 a.m., build that into your sleep routine. Going to bed a little earlier may allow you to get up with them and still get enough hours of sleep.
  6. Be consistent. Set limits and boundaries and then stick to them. “Consistency can lead to standard practices that your pet learns to adhere to — and that may allow everyone to sleep better,” advises Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer.

At the end of the day

Snuggling your pet in bed at night could lead to problems getting a restful night of sleep. Or you may curl up next to your dog and cat under the covers and never miss a wink.

So, which way is right? There’s one surefire way to decide.

“If your sleeping with your pet is affecting your sleep quality and you’re waking up tired every morning, it’s probably best to look at a different sleeping arrangement,” says Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer.

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