Today in the United States alone 72.9 million homes (62% of households) own a pet, of which 46.3 million have a dog and 38.9 million have a cat. There is no doubt that pets are great companions for kids and adults – they are a great source of love and friendship. Pets have become part of the family: they no longer live in the yard or in the garage; they live in the house and sleep in our beds. Such human–animal relationships can bring socialization, mental health, and even physical well-being. Researchers have shown that spending time playing with pets can relieve most of your tension and fatigue and decrease depression, anxiety and stress. On the other hand, a pet’s presence in the sleep environment is a potential for disruptions such as movements, crowding, temperature, odors, and allergens that might compromise sleep quality.
Pets and their effect on sleep
The different opinions on how house pets affect sleep are contradictory.
A research at Mayo Clinic’s Sleep Disorders Center found that nearly 60% of patients that had either cats or dogs allowed them to sleep in the bedroom and half of them allowed them to sleep in their bed. 53% of them reported that the pets disturbed their sleep each night. Pet owners reported that 7% of their cats and 21% of their dogs snored and disturbed their sleep1.
Another study among school children revealed an association between sharing a bed with a pet and waking up significantly more often during the night2. However, a recent study showed results that contradicted the presented above, where only 20% described their pets as disruptive, and more than 41% defined the pets’ presence as low-key or even beneficial to sleep3. Moreover, they described having pets sleeping in bed is actually beneficial, providing security, companionship, or relaxation that aided their sleep.
The effect of pets on allergy, asthma and sleep
The studies about the effect of pets on dermal diseases and the immune system are also contradictory.
There is a perception that having a pet in the house makes kids and seniors vulnerable to allergies and asthma. Pets shed a combination of dead skin cells and hair (or feathers), which can trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to the allergens4 5. Some health guidelines advise people who suffer from allergies or asthma to avoid keeping pets, especially cats, in their bedroom or bed. An increase in allergies or asthma is known to disrupt sleep6 7.
On the other hand, more new researches suggest that children growing with furry pets, cats, dogs and farm animals, are less likely to suffer from allergies and asthma8. It is also believed that having dogs in the house makes people less likely to have eczema. Pets, according to some studies, indirectly strengthen the immune system9.
The effect of pets on anxiety depression and sleep
As discussed in our previous column about sleep disorders and psychiatric diseases, individuals with depression, anxiety, or stress may suffer from a range of insomnia symptoms, including difficulty falling or staying asleep, unrefreshing sleep and daytime sleepiness10. Pets can play positively affect a person’s physical and psychological health. Some researches found that owning a dog can lower blood pressure11, reduce stress hormones, and relieve depression symptoms that may all help enjoy a good night’s sleep. Pets may serve as companions, as well as help decrease feelings of loneliness and depression in seniors and also provide a sense of comfort and a form of social support in older adults12.
If you suffer from insomnia, consistently feel that your sleep is not refreshing, or have other problems of allergy and asthma you should consider taking pets out of your bed. But if you are healthy, without any sleep problems, having a dog or cat sleeping with you might even improve your mood, help you relax and improve your sleep.