As with humans, sleep is vital to the development, health and wellbeing of your dog - the main difference being that unlike humans dogs don’t have busy social obligations or work stressors and instinctively know to sleep when their body requires it - rather than ignoring signals telling them to rest.
Another key difference between humans and dogs is that they tend not to sleep in a single block of time - instead snoozing in phases throughout a 24-hour period (although this is a technique which is also known to benefit humans who struggle to sleep for extended periods).
Humans could learn a lot from dogs about how to get a good night’s rest - but how many hours do dogs sleep - and how can we ensure they are getting the rest that they need? Our guide to canine sleep behaviour and how to take care of your dog’s sleep needs can help.
How Much Sleep Do Dogs Need?
Sleep is important for your dog’s brain development, learning and memory as well as a healthy immune system and overall good health - so it’s important to make sure they are getting the rest they need.
Most adult dogs spend about 50% of their day sleeping, typically for around 12-14 hours per day - although a number of other factors can affect a dog’s sleep habits, including temperament (i.e. your dog’s personal preference). Other factors might include:
Whether they’re little or large, the size of your dog also makes a big difference to the amount of sleep they require, with bulkier breeds (such as mastiffs). Dogs with bigger bodies require more energy to move around, which all adds up to longer periods spent asleep.These larger breeds spend an average of 18 hours per day sleeping - with medium-sized dogs sleeping an average of 10-14 hours.
While you might expect smaller breeds to sleep fewer hours still, they actually sleep more than medium-sized dogs (an average of 14-16 hours). This is partly due to the nature of “lap dogs”, who may be content to simply relax around the house, unlike more active mid-sized breeds such as border collies.
Sleep needs also depend on the age of your dog: most senior dogs require additional rest to help their bodies recover from a day of activity (sleeping on average for between 18-20 hours a day).
In general, puppies tend to sleep more than adult dogs throughout the day due to short bursts of energy - around 11 hours a day on average.
Sleep is important for the healthy development of pups - and most need around 18 hours of sleep a day - so if your puppy is playing and suddenly requires a nap, it’s generally best to leave them to it.
If your dog is sleeping too much or too little, a number of factors could be at play. Age, health and activity levels all affect a dog’s ability to sleep, as do environmental factors such as noise. Pain can also disrupt sleep: for pets with conditions like arthritis, orthopaedic dog beds could help them to sleep more comfortably.
Other factors that can affect a dog’s ability to sleep might include changes in diet (which could disrupt your dog’s digestive system and lead to wakefulness), or an underlying health condition such as canine depression, obstructive sleep apnea or thyroid issues.
Disrupted toileting can also affect your dog’s ability to sleep (this may require an adjustment of their regular schedule). Pay attention to when they have their meals, as this can affect when they will need to go outside to allow them to relieve themselves.
Scheduling and Sleeping Quarters
For this reason, it’s important to set a healthy sleep schedule - not just for puppies, but for older dogs, too (especially if they have been adopted from a disruptive home).
While there can be some benefits to co-sleeping with your pet, it’s not always the best idea (you can find out more about this here). Ideally, your pet should have their own sleeping spot, with a dog bed that is the right size and construction for them.
Keeping meal and bed times consistent and ensuring your dog’s sleeping quarters are suitable, comfortable and free from disturbance are all key to setting a regular sleep schedule - as is ensuring your dog gets the right amount of exercise for their age, size and condition.
Signs of Sleep Disturbance
Dogs have a surprisingly good understanding of human language - but being unable to communicate with you directly, it can be difficult to know when they’re struggling.
As with most things, a good precaution you can take as a dog owner is to learn about canine body language so you can interpret what your dog is trying to communicate without words.
Signs of disturbed sleep might include:
● Behavioural changes,
● Night time urination indoors
● Excessive sleepiness
● Being slow or sluggish on waking.
● Heightened reactions to stressors
● Irritability and mood disturbance
● Poor memory
Behavioural changes also might include “sundowning” - a behaviour that tends to be seen in senior dogs with cognitive dysfunction where your pet may become more confused and restless at night.
Sleep Aids and Treatment
Your vet may advise you on supplements, medications or methods to help your dog to sleep - if you are considering one of these, always ask first for advice in case of any adverse interactions, including in cases where a sleep aid is labelled as “natural”.
If you notice any changes to your dog’s sleep, try to keep a regular log of your dog’s sleeping patterns and behaviour, then contact your vet for advice as soon as possible. They can then assess your pet’s sleep log to identify any underlying health concerns which may be disrupting your dog’s sleep, and provide appropriate treatment.
If you have read about human sleep patterns, you may be aware of something called sleep “phases” - this is where our brain oscillates between slow-wave and REM (or lighter) phases of sleep (the phase where we’re more likely to experience dreams).
In a similar way, dogs also tend to sleep in two separate phases: around 50% is a deep sleep, which is used to help restore the body and mind; while 30% tends to be spent snoozing (with ears pricked for anything that might potentially interest them).
While it remains uncertain as to exactly what dogs dream about, it’s generally thought that they are reliving everyday activities such as chasing, playing or socialising (this explains the amusing “galloping legs” you might see while your dog is dozing).
If your dog appears to become agitated or upset while dreaming, avoid waking them (as they may be startled and act out in fear). Instead, gently stroke their back and use a soothing, reassuring voice to lull them back to the land of nod.
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