Whether or not you allow your pet to sleep in bed with you, the one thing that is clear is how strongly people feel about this topic. Some cannot imagine crawling into bed at night without Fido at their feet (or on their pillow, no judgment), while others view their bed as a dog-free zone.
Is it bad to let your pet sleep in bed? Or is it actually a good thing, like Fido thinks? We’ve turned to Tryon Medical Partners’ sleep medicine specialist Dr. Ehrlich Tan for his opinion on this divided topic, and his take on whether there is any merit to the old wives’ tales we’ve heard about sleep.
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie . . In the Bed?
Maybe. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, over 67% of homes in the United States include a pet and more than 50% of dogs actually sleep in the bed. Those who are pro dogs in the bed say that it helps them relax and they sleep better cuddling with their pup. For others who consider their bed off-limits, they think about their dog disturbing their sleep, fur in the bed and potential allergies. So is there a right or wrong answer here? Well, not really.
It seems that everyone has their own school of thought when it comes to pets in the bed, however, Mayo Clinic did try to come to a recommendation with a study they conducted called, “The Effect of Dogs on Human Sleep in the Home Sleep Environment.” In it, 40 dog owners and their dogs wore activity trackers for seven nights. Findings indicated that having a dog in the bedroom was not disruptive, but having a dog in the actual bed could be.
“If you find it comforting to have your pet in bed with you and don’t have sleep issues, I don’t have any problems with it,” Dr. Tan said. “It really all depends on if your pet will disrupt your sleep, whether it be from crowding you, walking around the bed or barking. The other thing to consider is if you have any allergies, since pet fur and the pollen from outside that can be trapped in their fur will now be in bed with you.”
All that to say, it’s fine to have your pet in bed if you’re not having any trouble getting your seven to eight hours of sleep at night. But if you find yourself waking up throughout the night, you may want to think about getting your pet their own bed and keeping yours for yourself.
Old Wives’ Tales About Sleep
We have heard them all before, but are the old wives’ tales about sleep really true? Dr. Tan is here to do some myth busting and provide more context around why they exist in the first place.
True. “The idea of counting sheep is not a bad strategy since it’s calming and relaxing, almost meditative,” Dr. Tan said. “When we talk to our sleep patients about ways to settle at night, we recommend the 4-7-8 breathing technique.” This includes breathing in on a count of four, holding for a count of seven, and exhaling for a count of eight with relaxed, slow breaths.
“Strategies like visualization, breathing or meditation can be helpful,” Dr. Tan said.
Drinking Warm Milk Before Bed
Maybe. “Drinking a warm beverage before bed, like milk, chamomile or Sleepytime tea may help some people wind down at night,” Dr. Tan said. “Whether it helps you or not, it isn’t something that should hinder your sleep, and you may associate it with bedtime.”
Having a Nightcap
False. “People think that since alcohol can make you feel drowsy, it will help you sleep,” Dr. Tan said. “But it actually leads to fragmented and disruptive sleep, which is why you should avoid alcohol before bedtime.”
Sleeping With the TV On
False. The answer to this one is kind of similar to whether or not your pet should sleep in bed with you.
“If you aren’t having any trouble sleeping with the TV on and it works for you, then it’s okay,” Dr. Tan said. “But generally, we recommend against using electronics in the bedroom and designating it as a place for sleep. TV is stimulating and often disruptive to sleep patterns.”
Dr. Tan adds that people can also develop sleep associations, meaning that once they begin going to sleep with the TV on, they can no longer fall asleep without it.
“This can be a problem down the road,” he said. “It’s generally a better idea to learn to fall asleep without relying on anything else. If you do keep a TV on when going to sleep at night, place it on a timer so it doesn’t wake you up in the middle of the night and disrupt your sleep. Establish a pre-bedtime routine to help you relax before bed, like reading a book or listening to an audiobook. Another good choice is a white noise machine or something that plays soothing sounds, like ocean waves, instead of the bright lights that a TV brings,” Dr. Tan said.
Catching Up on Sleep Over the Weekend
False. “This is just not a good long-term strategy for your overall health or work performance,” Dr. Tan said. “You want to aim for seven to eight hours of sleep every night. If this is not possible and you’re sleep deprived during the week, catching up when you can is better than not catching up on sleep at all. But a much better idea is trying to establish a consistent sleep routine, and this will be hard to achieve if you sleep the weekends away. Establishing a consistent bedtime and consistent wakeup time is most helpful.”
Eating Turkey Will Make You Tired
False. Everyone always blames the turkey for why they feel sleepy after their Thanksgiving meal, but it probably has more to do with the actual amount of food consumed, and the carbohydrate-heavy side dishes and dessert, instead.
“The lull of a big meal, combined with sitting around watching football or playing board games is generally what can be to blame for making you feel tired,” Dr. Tan said.
The truth is that turkey does contain the amino acid tryptophan, a building block for serotonin (that affects mood) and melatonin (that affects sleep cycles). However, turkey does not contain higher levels of tryptophan than other meats and we don’t talk about those making us feel drowsy when we regularly eat them.
Maybe. “Again, this is one that is more about personal preference,” Dr. Tan said. “If you are having trouble sleeping and try a weighted blanket and it helps, then this is a great option. Some people find that they don’t like weighted blankets, saying they’re either too warm or too heavy. Like everything, it takes trial and error to find what works best for you in helping you sleep well.”
Taking a Melatonin Supplement
Maybe. If you are already a good sleeper, there are no benefits to taking supplements like melatonin. But for those who are struggling with sleep, low dose melatonin can be helpful.
“Melatonin is primarily recommended for regulating circadian rhythms but often used for insomnia as well,” Dr. Tan said. “The recommendation for most sleep medicines is to take them as needed and not every night since the less you rely on a sleeping pill, the better.”
Purchasing Blackout Shades
Maybe. The recommendations for an optimal sleeping environment include a dark, quiet, cool and comfortable room, so blackout shades may be helpful for those who are sensitive to light. But for those heavier sleepers, regular curtains may do the job.
Don’t Rely on an Alarm Clock
True. If you’ve already established a consistent sleep schedule and you’re getting the recommended amount of sleep at night, your body should be able to wake up on its own, without the use of an alarm clock.
“I’m just not a big fan of the alarm/snooze approach,” Dr. Tan said. “It leads to a disruptive last 15-30 minutes of sleep, or for however long you decide to snooze. If you find yourself needing to use an alarm, set it for your actual wake-up time and get up when it goes off. Choose a pleasant sound, whether it be music or something soothing, so you start the day off on the right foot. Hearing an annoying, beeping noise first thing in the morning isn’t good for anyone.”
Being Overweight Can Lead to Snoring
True. One of the first things suggested to those who complain about snoring may be to lose weight. Added pounds can lead to extra weight in the neck area, pressing down on the throat when sleeping.
“The other thing to think about with weight gain, in addition to snoring, is the risk it can bring for sleep apnea, which is a sleep disorder where your airway closes off when sleeping,” Dr. Tan said.
Bringing up Sleep Concerns Will Lead to a Sleep Study Diagnosis
Not necessarily. “There are many different suggestions for establishing healthy sleep hygiene strategies,” Dr. Tan said. “We would recommend that you feel comfortable discussing any of your sleep issues with your primary care physician, who can also determine if you would benefit from seeing a sleep medicine specialist. While sleep studies can be very helpful, it is not the first thing we jump to before trying other things first.”
Sleep is important to overall health and quality of life so, if it’s something you struggle with, try to implement a sleep routine and incorporate some of the ideas shared above. Whether or not you’re sharing your top sheet with Fido or thinking about trying out a weighted blanket to help you settle at night, find what works best for you and stick with it.