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Frank Bures: Bowser in your bedroom ... good or bad?

November 25, 2018

Dr. Frank Bures

Is having Bowser sleep in your bedroom good or bad for your slumber?

A study from the September 2017 Mayo Clinic Proceedings attempts to answer that question from a medical standpoint. The authors cite the longstanding, accepted medical attitude that pets should not be allowed into the bedroom to share your nocturnal moments in the land of nod because they disturb your rest. True or not? Perhaps the docs and not the dogs are barking up the wrong tree/hammock?

The authors from both Mayo Rochester and Scottsdale Clinics found that 43,346,000 American homes (36.5 percent) have dogs, and 63.2 percent of owners think of their pets as family members. (No report about who they resembled most, Dad or Mom.)

The practice of sharing hours of somnolence with Fido has existed for centuries. One study surveyed 300 patients. Fifty-two percent had 1 or more pets, mainly cats and dogs. Sixty percent slept with a pet in the same room, and 53 percent felt it disrupted their sleep somewhat. Another study questioned 150 patients who had one or more pets, 56 percent of whom permitted pets in the boudoir. While 20 percent felt the pets disrupted their sleep, 40 percent thought the pets were beneficial to it.

The authors sought to pursue the answer doggedly and objectively. They enrolled 40 volunteers from the Arizona site. They kept the number of dogs to one per room and older than 6 months (i.e. not a “poopie”) and excluded people with sleep disorders. The humans were outfitted with an Actiwatch 2 activity monitor for seven (not necessarily consecutive) nights. It measured both movement and light activity as an accelerometer. The doggies wore a Fitbark (yup, that’s the name) validated accelerometer on their collars. The Fitbark detects only movement. The people, not the canines, kept a sleep diary.

Of the people, 35 were female, and 36 were Caucasian, with 22 having a human bed partner. The dogs’ breeds and sizes varied greatly. The results showed human sleep efficiency, or not moving, averaged about 81 percent. It was better if the dog was in the room but not on the bed. It didn’t vary with the dog’s size. Human sleep was better as well with a non-canine bed partner. Things didn’t make much difference to the dogs.

Another study of human sleep measured by actigraphy, a widely accepted method of sleep assessment in a home environment, with no other confounding factor involved, found a mean sleep efficiency of 81 percent in a community sample of 669 healthy adults. To date, there have been no published norms of dog sleep measured with accelerometry.

Perhaps the authors’ reaction to the results was, well, we’ll be doggoned. According to the paper, “These data suggest that a single adult dog in the bedroom may not markedly disrupt sleep for middle-aged, healthy women. However, a pet owner’s sleep may be more compromised if the dog shares the bed.” They readily acknowledge the limitations of the study, particularly the small sample size of 40 folks, and having almost all female participants with no control group (a big scientific comparison).

Their final idea was maybe Bowser in the bedroom, but not on the bed, is not disturbing, as has been surmised and taught intuitively before. They also acknowledge very likely that dog owners disregarded the advice anyway. Are you going to kick a family member out of your bedroom? Is the summary best then to let sleeping dogs lie, if they are on the floor? Could you also say the Mayo Clinic “has gone to the dogs,” at least for this study? I also wonder whether feline fanciers might make some ”catty” remarks about this paper.

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