Your Dog Needs Sleep, Too
Have you ever heard the saying, “A tired dog is a good dog?” According to a new study, this may not necessarily be true. Dogs, like humans, require sleep to function optimally. Previous research in humans has found that chronic, inadequate sleep can lead to physical and emotional problems. Furthermore, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep helps improve memory and reduces stress, anxiety, anger, and impulsivity.
When it comes to our canine companions, there is limited research on the effects of sleep quality on their behaviors. However, there may be a correlation between anxiety disorders and poor-quality sleep in dogs. Dogs with poor sleep quality at night also tend to have less control over their emotional arousal and more difficulty identifying emotional states in humans. Furthermore, dogs sleeping alone tend to be more alert than those in a group setting, while REM sleep in dogs is often disturbed when they sleep outside of their home setting (e.g., in a boarding facility). These findings suggest that, like humans, sleep interruptions may affect a dog’s mood, arousal, and behavior.
In this study, researchers sought out a better understanding of dog sleep quality and duration in relation to problem behaviors. 1,330 dog guardians in the U.K. answered a survey about their dog’s estimated duration of sleep at night and during the day, how easily their dog is disturbed from sleep, how severe their dog’s problem behaviors are on a scale from zero to ten, and the dog’s typical response from different stimuli. It’s important to emphasize that the study relied on guardian observations and judgments of sleep quality and problem behaviors, which may not always be accurate.
In total, 50% of dogs were reported to sleep between six and eight hours at night (when their guardian is in bed). Around 55% of dogs were reported to sleep between four and eight hours during the day (while their guardian is out of bed). When given the option, most dogs chose to sleep within proximity to humans.
No relationship was found between problem behavior and a dog’s age, sex, neuter status, breed, or observed REM behaviors. Dogs who were reported to sleep less than eight to ten hours at night had an increased severity of problem behaviors according to their guardian. The less they slept, the higher severity of problem behaviors reported. Similarly, dogs more easily disturbed from sleep also had reports of increased severity of problems behaviors. Keep in mind, “reported” behavioral problems could be completely normal behavior perceived as a problem by the dog’s guardian. Future research using clinician assessment or independent observation may lead to more accurate results.
In conclusion, it’s dangerous (and arguably unethical) to assume that “a tired dog is a good dog.” While many animal guardians believe that tiring dogs out by increasing their activity levels is one way to combat problem behaviors, increasing the activity of a dog may not be appropriate for addressing problem behaviors if they’re being deprived of sleep. Although this study doesn’t suggest the optimal amount of sleep for dogs, it’s safe to say that daily, high-quality sleep may be just as important to dogs as it is to humans.