Making Sleep Your Pet Project
By Tamer Abouras
Pets — especially cats and dogs — occupy a special place in the homes and hearts of many, many people worldwide. According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the American Pet Products Association (APPA), an estimated 70-80 million dogs and 74-96 million cats are owned in the United States alone, meaning that approximately 37-47% of all American households have a dog and 30-37% have a cat.
Evidence suggests that pet ownership and even the concept of pets as companions dates as far back as 12,000-14,000 years ago — with one particular instance of a man having been buried with a dog (affectionately arranged with his hand resting on the animal’s shoulder) cited in an archived 1978 print article from the scientific journal, Nature.1 It’s noteworthy (if you’re an animal lover) to bring up the next time someone tries to argue that you’re too close to your four-legged friend.
Although our friendship with domesticated animals is something that predates even civilized humanity, we nonetheless continue to learn more about the complexities of those relationships and the ways in which we are of mutual benefit to each other.
While the positives we bring to the table are obvious — we feed, clean, shelter and exercise them, as well as take them out to do their business — animals are often couched within the context of how they can improve our emotional well-being. WebMD lists six other health benefits pets provide us with — chief among them their ability to lower our stress levels and blood pressure (tinyurl.com/nz43rjg).
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Now, a new study from the Mayo Clinic's Center for Sleep Medicine, led by Dr. Lois Krahn and published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, inquires about whether that lack of stress may contribute to improved sleep overall (contrary to previous research).
As Medical News Today notes, Dr. Krahn and her team “ … surveyed 150 patients at the Center for Sleep Medicine, of whom 74 reported owning at least one pet — mostly dogs and cats. The researchers gathered various information, including whether they allowed their pet to sleep in the bedroom and on the bed, and whether their pet is disruptive to their sleep.”
According to the results of the survey, “56% of pet owners reported allowing their pets to sleep in the bedroom or the bed,” with 20% saying their pets exhibited “disruptive” behaviors such as wandering, whimpering or snoring. “41% of owners said their pets were not disruptive, with some — particularly individuals who were single — saying their presence even helped them sleep by providing security, companionship or relaxation.”
The researchers themselves highlighted the potential positives of introducing pets into counsel and therapy for patients experiencing sleep problems, as they said, "Healthcare professionals working with patients with sleep concerns should inquire about the home sleep environment, and companion animals specifically, to help them find solutions and optimize their sleep."
They were cautious to point out the limited size and scope of this study, the lack of extensive research into this particular question (specifically with regard to data concerning pet owners who are also treated for disorders such as sleep apnea) and even alluded to some response bias on the part of pet owners.
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"Respondents appeared eager to disclose whether they owned a companion animal and where it slept but seemed more reluctant to reveal any undesirable consequences," they explained. “This response bias may have resulted in these data underreporting the frequency of disrupted sleep."
Still, the team is interested in continuing its work and exploring this topic further. Speaking on behalf of at least one ADVANCE editorial staff member, the results of this research definitely do not appear to be an anomaly. You really do rest easier with your best friend at your side.
1: Davis S.J.M., Villà F.R., 1978. Evidence for domestication of the dog 12,000 years ago in the Natufian of Israel. Nature 276, 5688: 608–610. http://tinyurl.com/zz9ajtu