Should you let pets sleep in your bed?
Everyone says your dog will disrupt your sleep—but for most, the advantages outweigh any downsides.
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The close bonds between humans and domestic pets is an old and worldwide phenomenon. One aspect of this bond is co-sleeping, wherein your pet shares your bedroom, or even bed, with you. Co-sleeping with dogs in particular goes back many years—the Aboriginal expression, “three-dog night” is rooted in human’s history of relying on dogs for warmth on cold nights, says Bradley Smith, a psychologist and researcher at Central Queensland University in Australia who specializes in canines and their interaction with humans.
Now, most people don’t need three dogs to keep warm while they snooze. Yet estimates for the number of people who co-sleep with pets range from 30% of dog owners to 70% of pet owners overall. But even among pet owners, co-sleeping is a surprisingly polarized subject. Here’s what you need to know.
The benefits of pet-human co-sleeping outweigh the downsides
Though dogs and people have slept in the same space for centuries, it’s widely thought that dogs disrupt human’s sleep due to our different sleep patterns. Most people follow a monophasic sleep cycle—we sleep for one long stretch in the night, and are awake throughout the day. However, most other mammals’ sleep is polyphasic, meaning they have periods of sleep that are dispersed between bouts of wakefulness over the course of all 24 hours. Dogs aren’t an exception.
Despite mismatched sleep cycles, in one study, dog owners self-reported few to no disruptions throughout the night. Yet activity monitors used in the study found that the co-sleeping dog owners actually experienced a lot of arousals, Smith says. “Arousals don’t necessarily mean awakenings … the data shows movement, and that people are being disturbed [in their sleep], and the dog is the one causing the arousals.” In other words, even if your pet is causing you to stir, you might not actually be fully awoken. This could be the reason why pet owners’ self-reported sleep quality is higher than what researchers objectively measured.
So if people aren’t sleeping as well when their pet’s are in the room, why do many still insist on sharing a bed or bedroom? Co-sleeping pet owners “acknowledge that it kind of disturbs them,” Smith says, “but there are too many benefits for them to ever stop.” People who co-sleep with pets may report that it helps their bond and attachment with their pet, and that they feel safer when the pet is there, says Leanne Nieforth, a graduate student who researches service animals at the Purdue College for Veterinary Medicine.
For cat owners, the benefits and drawbacks aren’t as clear. “There’s not a lot of research on cats and co-sleeping, there’s only research suggesting that cats may sleep in beds more than dogs do… but there aren’t any studies that specifically look at cats,” Nieforth says.
You probably don’t need to worry about sharing germs
Since the COVID outbreak, you may have come across the term “zoonotic disease,” which refers to infections that can be transmitted between animals and humans. The good news is that letting your pet in your bed isn’t a huge risk in this regard. If you’re reading this article, chances are you care for your pet’s well-being. And among healthy pets and conscientious owners, zoonotic transmission is uncommon. What’s more, for better or worse, if your pet has something like fleas, they’re already in the home, says Leanne Lilly, a veterinarian and assistant professor at Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. Whether they’re on the living room carpet or they make their way to the bed, you have a risk of coming into contact with them, she says.
That said, COVID can complicate matters. To clarify, there’s no evidence that pets spread the virus to people, and only very rare instances of humans transmitting the virus to pets. Still, the CDC recommends you treat pets as you would any other household member if you are symptomatic, and “avoid direct contact ... including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, sleeping in the same location, and sharing food or bedding.”
Illnesses and pests aside, pets that go outdoors also just aren’t the cleanest. They can easily track in dirt among other things, so if you’re in the habit of snuggling under the covers with Fido or Fifi, you should plan to do laundry on a frequent and regular basis. Bathing your dog—who is more likely to roll around in the dirt than a cat, and isn’t as fastidious about self-cleaning—is also a good practice. As the experts said, you want a clean and healthy pet if you plan to co-sleep.
With dogs, it’s all about training, training, training
If you want to have your dog sleep in your room but not in your bed, training is essential, Smith says. Conditioning your dog to go to a certain place when it’s time to call it a night, like a bed or mat, a crate, or a spot on the floor, can help you both sleep peacefully and can mitigate issues if you and your partner don’t see eye-to-eye on co-sleeping arrangements. Make sure their bed is appealing and comfortable—something that’s adequately warm and sufficiently cushioned. One of our favorites is the K&H Pet Products Bolster Bed Cot. Once you’ve picked a bed, it’s simple target training, Smith says. Use a clicker and/or treats to positively reinforce when your dog goes to their bed or their place. With that approach, it should just take a couple nights, he says. Just be aware that consistency is key.
If you’re keen on snuggling with your pet most of the time but occasionally want to establish the bed as humans-only, the above training is a great plan. As dogs who are used to being invited into the bedroom and the bed may not take too kindly to a closed door (say, when you and your significant other want some alone time), employing a pet distraction technique may be in order. Introducing new toys on the regular, with the aid of a dog subscription box, could be just the ticket. Or get a tried-and-true Kong bell-shaped rubber toy and fill it with peanut butter or moist dog food and freeze it—basically every dog owner we know swears by them for hours (or at least a significant number of minutes) of entertainment.
To transition your dog into sleeping outside the bedroom, take it slow
Upsetting the applecart can be challenging for pets, who are very routine-driven. If you want to train your dog to sleep elsewhere than wherever they’re used to, perhaps because you have a new partner who doesn’t like sharing the bed with a dog, it will likely take time. One thing you can try is making the new place you want the pet to sleep as comfortable and appealing as possible, Lilly says. Consider the other spaces in the house where your pet likes to lounge and sleep throughout the day, and make a favorite one even better, she suggests. To create a positive association, try giving your pup new or special toys and treats on their new sleep spot, say a chew toy or the aforementioned peanut-butter-filled Kong. To get a dog to warm up more quickly to a new bed, consider putting a blanket that your dog’s already slept on top of it to make it smell familiar and comforting. Another tried-and-true technique: Wear an old t-shirt for several nights before putting it on the dog’s bed to make it smell like you.
Pets can also benefit from a gradual transition. If your dog’s used to sleeping on the bed with you, try putting their new bed onto your bed, and having them sleep there for a night or two. From there, you can “incrementally move [the bed] closer and closer to the door, until it’s outside of the room.” Lilly says. It can take time for pets to adjust, but “for many pets sleeping somewhere separate from their humans is no big deal, as long as they feel safe where they are,” Lilly says.
Keep the bedroom clean if you’re an allergy sufferer
If you’re allergic, there’s no sugarcoating it: The recommendation is keeping pets outside of your bedroom, or not having one altogether. But if you want to co-sleep or live in a studio apartment where such an arrangement is impossible, there are a few things you can do to mitigate your sneezing. Use a HEPA, which stands for “high efficiency particulate air,” air filter to help keep sneezes at bay. HEPA filters can be extremely effective at removing particulate matter from the air (think: allergens and pet dander), which could make all the difference when it comes to sleeping with your pet in your bedroom. In our testing, the Winix 550-2 and the Dyson Pure Hot + Cool Cryptomic HP06 performed well.
It’s also wise to launder your bed linens on a weekly basis. Experts recommend washing with good detergent and using high water temperatures to flush out as many allergens as possible. Vacuuming the bedroom regularly can provide some benefit, especially if you use a HEPA filter in your vacuum. One of our favorite vacuums, the Dyson V8 Absolute, has a HEPA-rated filter, and is a great option.
At the end of the day, there’s no one-size-fits-all plan
It’s impossible to make a blanket recommendation on having pets in your bedroom at night. With just one person and their pet there are infinite potential combinations of personalities and behaviors—then you add in partners, kids, and other pets and there’s even more to consider! Some people may loathe the idea of sharing a bed with their pet; others argue that a pet doesn’t belong anywhere other than the bedroom at night. As with most sleep-related topics, it all boils down to your personal preference and relationship with your pet. After all, you know them better than anyone else.