Sleeping with pets is a lot more common than one may think. However, there are still plenty of people who don’t approve of the practice, citing health and hygiene concerns. While in some health circumstances, co-sleeping with pets isn’t advisable, for most people, including older children, health concerns are minimal. In fact, new research shows a number of potential benefits to sleeping with your pet. These potential benefits include important psychological benefits such as reducing anxiety and increasing feelings of security.
Pets Can Have Positive Impact on Health
The positive impact of pets on overall health and well being is already well established. Benefits to physical health include lower blood pressure, better cardiovascular health and healthier cholesterol levels. In addition, having a dog can encourage a pet owner to increase physical activity — an essential part of overall better health.
Walking a pet can help increase sunlight exposure and sunset light exposure, promoting a healthier circadian rhythm and better sleep at night. Having pets is associated with reduced stress levels, decreased depression and anxiety risk and can help reduce the risk of feeling lonely. Pet walking can also increase social interaction, another important means of improving overall mental health and well-being.
Benefits of Sleeping With Your Pet
Sleeping with a pet can promote better sleep by increasing feelings of security and comfort, as well as by helping to increase oxytocin levels. That, in turn, can promote the theta brain waves associated with REM sleep, which is essential to a good, healthy night’s sleep. Snuggling with a pet as you fall asleep can also help reduce stress, decreasing cortisol production.
Some studies show that sleeping with a pet can help in the treatment of insomnia and other sleeping disorders. The reduction in anxiety and stress associated with having a strong bond with a pet – often enhanced by sharing the bed with that pet – can even help to decrease nightmares and night terror incidents.
Children Co-Sleeping With Pets
New research indicates that allowing children to sleep with pets doesn’t typically have a negative impact on health or sleep quality. In fact, in older children, it can improve both. For example, numerous studies indicate that early exposure to potential allergens such as pet dander can reduce the risk of getting allergies by helping to strengthen immune system function.
The recent study, conducted by Concordia University researchers in Montreal, showed that children sleeping with pets reported better sleep quality. According to the researchers, this is probably the result of the positive emotional and psychological benefits the children receive from being close to their pets.
While older children may benefit from sleeping with pets, it is not safe to allow infants and toddlers to sleep with pets. Babies can accidentally be smothered by a pet if they are trapped underneath a pet without the strength or dexterity to get out from underneath them. Babies and toddlers can accidentally be hurt by pets or, in the case of small pets, can accidentally hurt the pet. Small children should never, ever, be left alone with pets.
Sleeping With Pets Isn’t for Everyone
People with severe allergies and certain other health conditions probably should not be sleeping with pets. Those that rely on oxygen machines and other types of essential medical equipment that could cause a health crisis if unplugged or knocked over should think very carefully about co-sleeping with pets.
Not every pet is a good bed partner. Some dogs are excitable and yappy, with every little thing in the neighborhood setting them off from the wind causing the tree branch to scrape the house to a car door closing down the street. That can make for a rough, sleepless night. For light sleepers, sleeping with pets can actually detract from their overall sleep quality.
Ways to Make Co-Sleeping With Pets Better
While there are a few diseases that can move from pets to humans, this phenomenon is very rare when pets are well cared for. If your pet is going to be sleeping with you or your child, be vigilant about fleas, ticks and worms. However, you’ll also need to be selective in your means of treating such pests to make sure you don’t expose yourself or your child to hazardous chemicals.
Make sure your pet is well trained and thoroughly housebroken or litter box trained to avoid messy and unpleasant accidents. Do not allow a dog that is territorial about his space or a dog that is a resource guarder to sleep with a child. A territorial resource guarder always has the potential to be dangerous.
The Old Ways Can Make Modern Sense
Sleeping with pets is nothing new. Aside from physical protection, some indigenous cultures believed that sleeping with pets offered spiritual protection as well. As the origin of the phrase “three dog night” indicates, in the days before central heating, dogs were welcome bed warmers for many living in cold climates. In many parts of the world, sleeping with pets was once a cultural tradition. For an increasing number of modern pet owners, those old pet co-sleeping traditions make practical sense.