Many studies show that owning a pet can benefit us in multiple ways, no matter what our age. Pets provide companionship, motivation to exercise, a context for socializing, stress reduction and a powerful emotional boost.
But experts advise us that pet ownership is not a decision to make lightly, especially when we’re older. For some seniors, taking care of a pet can be physically difficult. A poorly trained dog, or a cat that’s always underfoot, can cause a fall. For people of every age, pets can sometimes interrupt sleep, which is an especially important issue for seniors, who have more trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
Mayo Clinic sleep medicine specialist Dr. Lois Krahn has conducted several studies on this topic. At the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, she noted that 10 percent of people with sleep problems who visited the Mayo Clinic Sleep Center reported that their pets sometimes disturbed their sleep—up from a much smaller percentage who were interviewed about the subject in 2002. Study subjects owned cats, dogs and birds, and the pet behavior that kept them up or woke them up included snoring and other noises, wandering about, medical needs, and of course, needing to “go out.”
Said Dr. Krahn, who is located at the Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus, “When people have these kinds of sleep problems, sleep specialists should ask about companion animals and help patients think about ways to optimize their sleep.”
In follow-up research conducted in 2017, Dr. Krahn and her team clarified something important for pet owners. Though the previous research found that pets in the bedroom could interrupt sleep, the team noted this was not always the case. The new study evaluated sleep quality in 40 dog-owning adults over a period of five months. Study participants and their pooches wore activity tracking devices all night to monitor their sleeping habits. The study found that many dog owners actually get a better night’s sleep if their dog is in the room.
“We found that many people actually find comfort and a sense of security from sleeping with their pets,” said Dr. Krahn. “The relationship between people and their pets has changed over time, which is likely why many people sleep with their pets in the bedroom. 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.”
But one group of study subjects did experience decreased sleep quality: those whose dogs slept in their humans’ beds with them. If your dog rummages around in bed, takes up half the space, snores in your ear or tunnels under the covers, gift them with a nice dog bed. Said the team, “Don’t let your canines crawl under the covers with you. Go ahead, turn your sheepdog into a sleep dog. Just make sure they are relegated to their own bark-o-lounger, rather than your bed.”
Source: The Mayo Clinic. Read more about the study and watch a video with Dr. Lois Krahn here.