Lead author Dr. Lois Krahn, of Mayo Clinic’s Center for Sleep Medicine in Scottsdale, AZ, and colleagues publish their findings in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
It goes without saying that the US is a nation of animal lovers; almost 65% of American households own a pet, the most common companions being dogs and cats.
There have been numerous studies hailing the benefits of pet ownership. A recent study, for example, found that children with pet dogs experience less stress.
But according to Dr. Krahn and colleagues, there is limited quality research on how the presence of a pet in the bedroom may impact an owner’s sleep.
To address this research gap, the team surveyed 150 patients at the Center for Sleep Medicine, of whom 74 reported owning at least one pet – mostly dogs and cats.
The researchers gathered various information, including whether they allowed their pet to sleep in the bedroom and on the bed, and whether their pet is disruptive to their sleep.
Around 56% of pet owners reported allowing their pets to sleep in the bedroom or the bed.
Disruptive behaviors – including wandering, whimpering and snoring – were reported by 20% of owners who allowed their pet to sleep close by.
However, 41% of owners said their pets were not disruptive, with some – particularly individuals who were single – saying their presence even helped them sleep by providing security, companionship or relaxation.
One woman described her two small dogs as “bed warmers,” while another woman described her cat as “soothing” when it slept on her bed. A single 64-year-old woman said she felt more content when her dog slept under the covers by her feet.
“The value of these experiences, although poorly understood, cannot be dismissed because sleep is dependent on a state of physical and mental relaxation,” say the authors.
These findings may help doctors counsel patients with sleep problems, according to the researchers:
“Health care professionals working with patients with sleep concerns should inquire about the home sleep environment, and companion animals specifically, to help them find solutions and optimize their sleep.”
The authors note some limitations to their study. For example, they did not gather data assessing whether individuals being treated for sleep disorders – such as sleep apnea – find a pet sleeping nearby beneficial or more disruptive.
Additionally, the team notes there may have been some response bias from pet owners. “Respondents appeared eager to disclose whether they owned a companion animal and where it slept but seemed more reluctant to reveal any undesirable consequences,” they explain. “This response bias may have resulted in these data underreporting the frequency of disrupted sleep.”
Still, the researchers conclude further research investigating how having pets in the bedroom impacts a person’s sleep is warranted.