Several surveys have shown that roughly 60% of all pet owners allow their fluffy loved ones to sleep on their bed with them. Pet owners give a variety of reasons for sharing beds with their companions, one of the most common being that cats and dogs are warm - it just feels good to snuggle up to a pet on a cold night. In fact, domesticated animals like cats and dogs have a body temperature three to six degrees higher than our own, making them our own little electric blankets.
Having a pet in the bed also seem to help us relax. An animal's rhythmic breathing, when one lies next to you, can help lull you to sleep. In addition, being near a pet increases our flow of oxytocin, a hormone associated with affection and happiness.
The quick, cuddly truth is there are several benefits to sleeping with your pup or pussycat - but depending on the circumstances, there are risks you might like to consider and mitigate.
A study found that 40 adults, all of whom slept with a dog either in their bed or elsewhere in their bedroom, did not necessarily have compromised sleep quality, as had previously been suspected. On average, people with dogs in their rooms (but not on their beds) maintained 83% sleep efficiency - a comparison of time spent asleep to total time in bed (80% is generally considered satisfactory).
However, something else to consider is how many furry friends you're keeping in your bed. When people have multiple pets, it multiplies the chances for disruptions - like when animals snore, move around or act out their dreams.
Cats and dogs also carry various bacteria and parasites - some of which can be transferred to humans. Staphylococcus (skin infections) and parasite diseases like round worms are some example health hazards associated with close contact between humans and pets. But those risks are low, particularly if the animals are kept clean and have routine vet checks - and if you're prone to allergies, it's a no brainer that keeping your pet close to where you sleep will only exacerbate your symptoms.
The disadvantages of human-animal co-sleeping are "small" compared to the social support and increased feelings of security it brings. Some pets may be even more disruptive to our sleep when not in the bed - for example, when scratching at doors or barking outside.
Ultimately, sleeping with your pet has psychological, social and cultural benefits, and low health and behavioural risks - most of which can be mitigated with care and training. The main recommendation is for people to take a look at their sleep sanctuary setup and carefully consider whether it is truly working with your own ritual - and don't allow loyalty to your pet to blind yourself to consequences that aren’t desirable for your sleep!
If you need help deciding what's best for your nightly rest, take a look at our Journal to discover how building your own perfect sleep ritual can help improve the quality of your sleep.