As a species, our history of co-sleeping with our four-legged pet companions extends back into the distant past, well before the establishment of modern bedtime routines. While the origins remain somewhat unclear, it is evident that this practice predates the emergence of actual beds by around 4,000 years.
In contrast, the domestication of dogs commenced over 20,000 years ago, with these loyal animals serving as a dual-purpose combination of predator deterrents and natural sources of warmth, akin to hot-water bottles.
In contemporary times, the presence of wild wolves in our sleeping quarters has become exceedingly rare, and we have replaced their natural warmth with modern conveniences such as duvets and heated blankets. Consequently, it raises the question of whether allowing dogs, or even cats, to share our sleeping space may have adverse effects on our well-being instead of benefiting us.
There are some tiny risks
The brief response is: no, most likely not. However, while there are slight potential concerns regarding disease transmission or fleas, if you already coexist with a dog in your living space, permitting it to share your bed is improbable to increase these risks.
For individuals who are light sleepers, there might be some disruption due to dogs having distinct sleep patterns compared to humans. Dogs can be hyperalert, frequently listening for sounds, and occasionally, they may abruptly wake up, which can pose a challenge.
The extent of this sleep disruption’s impact is somewhat uncertain since there is insufficient research to offer firm recommendations, and study findings vary. A national survey conducted in Australia found that pet owners, including those with dogs and cats, were generally less likely to use sleep medication compared to non-pet owners. However, this survey did not delve into specific questions about co-sleeping, and the direction of causality remains unclear.
A more recent study that employed accelerometers to assess sleep quality in both humans and their co-sleeping dogs discovered that having a dog in the room had minimal impact on sleep, but having the animal on the bed led to reduced sleep efficiency for the owners.
Various surveys have produced mixed results, with some pet owners reporting their pets as disruptive while others found them to be beneficial. On the whole, the evidence remains inconclusive. If you do not notice adverse effects on a daily basis, there’s likely little to be concerned about.
However, what about the dogs? This is where the situation becomes more complex, as our loyal pets struggle to comprehend changes in sleeping arrangements and the reasons behind them.
It’s all about consistency
What’s essential to bear in mind is consistency. Once you start allowing your dog to sleep on the bed, you can’t expect it to comprehend when the rules suddenly change. If you decide to go ahead with it, you either need to maintain this practice consistently or instruct your dog that they can join you on the bed at specific times – perhaps associated with a particular cue, like a designated blanket.
Consistency becomes especially crucial if your relationship status undergoes changes – if a partner disagrees with your dog’s co-sleeping arrangement, you’ll need to gently retrain your pet accordingly.
It’s worth highlighting that as your dog grows older, its ability to get on or off the bed may diminish. To minimize stress in their later years, providing them with their own dedicated sleeping space is a wise idea.
Sharing your bed with pets and kids
It’s crucial to keep in mind that dogs and children should never be left unsupervised in sleeping areas. Regardless of how familiar a child is with dogs, and vice versa, it’s imperative for an adult to be actively present and provide close supervision whenever they are in each other’s company.
Co-sleeping with cats and reptiles
Now, what about cats? There is a relatively limited body of research in this area, mainly because co-sleeping with felines is less prevalent. Cats have undergone a briefer journey of domestication compared to dogs. Some might argue that dogs have co-evolved with humans to the point where they have domesticated us as much as we have domesticated them.
However, this doesn’t imply that cats are incapable of forming close bonds with humans. Many of the aforementioned recommendations still appear to be applicable when it comes to cats, and like dogs, they have the potential to lower the stress hormone cortisol. But when it comes to reptiles? The answer is a resounding no.