When you crawl under the covers at night, does Fido curl up at the foot of the bed or find a spot between the pillows? If Fido’s in the bed, you’re not alone: More than 55% of pet owners allow their pets to sleep with them.
A cat walking across your face in the middle of the night or a dog taking up maximum mattress space can disrupt your sleep, but there are at least four science-backed reasons to cuddle up with your four-legged family members.
Whether you share your bed with a German shepherd or a Chihuahua, a 2018 study found sleeping with a canine companion helped women feel more secure. Researcher Christy Hoffman, PhD, associate professor at Canisius College, suspects dogs are apt to alert their owners to potential threats, and their barking might scare off a potential intruder.
“The dog may allow humans to relax and feel the need to be less vigilant,” she says.
Women who shared a bed with their dogs also tended to go to bed earlier, wake up earlier in the morning and sleep better than those who slept solo. Sleeping with a cat or human partner did not provide similar benefits.
Cuddling with a dog releases oxytocin and dopamine, chemicals in the brain that promote bonding and positive emotions and reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. (Stress can take its toll on sleep with 43% of Americans reporting worries caused them to lie awake at night, leading to sleep deficits.)
The reductions in cortisol that come from bunking down with a four-legged bedmate, “result in a much more relaxing and potentially sleep-inducing situation,” says Michael Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist and sleep disorders specialist. “Much the same way getting a hug from someone you care about makes you feel good, sleeping next to your pet could have the same effect.”
Letting your “fur babies” curl up with your children could keep them from developing allergies. Research found children who lived with dogs had better immune function and fewer allergies and those exposed to dogs and cats had a lower risk of asthma than those who lived in pet-free homes. If you have allergies, consider banishing your fur babies to their own beds.
“[Your] pet-related allergies may outweigh any psychological benefits associated with co-sleeping with a pet,” Hoffman says.
A dog that snores or a cat that engages in middle-of-the-night grooming could cause you to wake up more often, but most pet owners sleep better if their pets are nearby. In a 2018 study, researchers put movement detectors on humans and dogs to monitor sleeping patterns and found that though pet owners who slept with their dogs woke up more often during the night than those whose dogs slept elsewhere, the quality of their sleep did not suffer.
If your pet prefers snuggling up with you to stretching out in its bed on the floor, go ahead and make room; science approves.