A Good Night’s Sleep

by Ava Frick, DVM, CAC

Nothing is better than a good night’s sleep.  Right?  Well, for some pets that means day and night. Aside from looking out the window longingly, eating if they can find something, or grooming themselves, what do they do while you are at work?  Sleep.

Depending on who you are quality of sleep can be even more important than quantity of sleep.  Smaller animals, which often have higher rates of brain metabolism, tend to require more sleep, while larger animals generally get less sleep.  Herbivores and land-grazing animals use so much time eating they don’t have much time left for sleep.

A lot of research is spent studying sleep patterns in animals.  “The only way to understand human sleep is to study animals,” says Jerome Siegel, PhD, professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA Center for Sleep Research. “If we could better understand animal sleep, we could better understand the core aspects of sleep.”

Rapid eye movement (REM) and the brain wave pattern during REM sleep are similar in animals and humans.  REM is the sleep state that is associated with dreams.  Both humans and all other mammals display the same level of brain activity and increased heart rate variability during REM sleep. You have probably seen your dogs bark or twitch their legs while sleeping.  That is REM sleep.

Then there’s the biological clock. Much of the sleep pattern – feeling sleepy at night and awake during the day – is regulated by light and darkness. Light – strong light, like bright outdoor light (which is brighter than indoor light even on cloudy days) – is the most powerful regulator of a body’s biological clock. The biological clock influences when one feels sleepy and when one feels alert.  As a result, finding the balance of light and darkness exposure is important.


Light – For diurnal creatures light during the day sets the internal clock for the night’s rest and repair.  Make sure to expose yourself and your dog to enough bright light during the day.  Find time for sunlight, take the dog for a walk or ride the horse.  Infrared sauna is good for this too. Then before bedtime start dimming the lights in the house so that by bedtime all is dark.  Cats are somewhat nocturnal so who knows what they will decide to do!

Noise – Animals are even more tuned in to changes in sounds around them than humans are.  Avoid a lot of commotion when it’s sleep time.

Temperature – Better to be a little cooler than too hot.  The internal thermostat lowers as sleep ensues so a bit cooler environment will accommodate that natural effect.

Age – Along with the physical changes that occur as everyone gets older, changes to sleep patterns are a part of the aging process. The older one gets the harder it can be to fall asleep and more trouble staying asleep than when they were younger. However, sleep needs remain constant throughout one’s life.  Medical problems and physical illnesses tend to increase with age and the effects of medication on the body can further aggravate sleep disorders.  Arthritis can make it difficult to get comfortable and then stay asleep.  Cognitive dysfunction in dogs typifies sleep disorders in the elderly.

Surface – Nobody likes to be cramped.  It is clear that the sleep surface plays a role in getting a good night’s sleep. The bed needs to provide good support.  Research on patients with back pain found a supple comforting mattress may lead to better sleep.  If your dog has allergies you may also wish to purchase hypo-allergenic covers designed to protect from possible allergic triggers such as the dust mite.

I have found a revolutionary new dog (and cat) mattress based on superior science.  The Underdog Comfort Rest System is the only brand of dog mattress that uses Comfort Float Technology™ to provide medically-proven, therapeutic benefits.  Based on 35 years of science applied to humans restricted to wheel chairs and bedridden, this system uses a network of soft, flexible air cells interconnected by small channels that allow air to flow from one cell to another at a controlled rate.  Infrared thermography has proven that the pressure points are protected when a body lies on this type of cushion or bed.  The liner and cover are hypoallergenic, durable, and easy to clean.  You can find more information at www.moxiusa.com/forpets .

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America poll, 67% of respondents reported that their bed partner snores.  It didn’t say if that partner was an English Bull Dog or a Pug.  Sweet dreams!

Ava Frick, DVM, CAC, Animal Fitness Center in Union, MO, PH: 636-583-1700, www.avafrick.com and www.animalPainVet.com.