New research suggests that dogs can be good night-time companions, just as long as they sleep in their own beds.
Approximately 44 percent of North American households own a dog, according to data available to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Roughly, this equates to 78 million pet dogs in the United States.
The benefits - especially the psychological ones - of owning a dog are well documented. For this reason, dogs are often used for therapy, since interacting with these lovable canines can alleviate stress and anxiety. Therapy dogs can also bring a renewed sense of independence and self-sufficiency to their owners.
For many, canine friends are more than just pets: they become valued family members in their own right. But just how physically close should we be to our dogs?
Dr. Lois Krahn, alongside other colleagues from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, have looked at a practice appreciated by many but whose benefits are also often questioned: sleeping with one's dog.
"Most people assume having pets in the bedroom is a disruption," Dr. Krahn explains, adding that despite this, she and her team "found that many people actually find comfort and a sense of security from sleeping with their pets."
The researchers' findings were published in this month's issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Bedroom yes, bed no
In the study, the researchers worked with 40 dog-owning adults who were healthy and had not been diagnosed with any sleep disorders. None of the dogs involved in the study were younger than 6 months old.
The study was conducted over 5 months, between August and December 2015.
Sleep practices and quality were recorded for each human and canine participant for 7 nights. For that purpose, both the dog owners and their pets wore activity-tracking devices called accelerometers.
The team's findings were twofold. Firstly, they confirmed that people whose dogs sleep in the same bedroom as them at night tend to benefit from good sleep quality. But the second finding indicated that people who allow their dogs under their bedcovers tend to have poorer-quality sleep.
In short: do let your dog sleep in your bedroom, but not in your bed.
"The relationship between people and their pets has changed over time, which is likely why many people in fact do sleep with their pets in the bedroom," Dr. Krahn says.
She explains that the busy lifestyles of U.S. individuals may not allow them to spend as much time with their pets as they would like to, so night-time often becomes an opportunity for them to seek comfort and cuddles from their furry family members.
Due to the results of her and her colleagues' study, dog owners will now be able to enjoy their pets' company at night without fearing discomfort - just as long as some boundaries are set, of course.
"Today, many pet owners are away from their pets for much of the day, so they want to maximize their time with them when they are home. Having them in the bedroom at night is an easy way to do that. And, now, pet owners can find comfort knowing it won't negatively impact their sleep."
Dr. Lois Krahn