A-Z of dog wellbeing: Quiet time and sleep

Sleep helps a dog’s brain development, memory, and learning capacity.  All day long, electrical activity is happening in their brains, with information stored in disorganised places. Sleep helps them sort through those thoughts -it’s very therapeutic, and if you deny dogs that, they’ll suffer for it.

So how much sleep does your dog need?

Dogs often spend 50% of the day sleeping, 30% lying around awake, and just 20% being active. But unlike humans, who rest best when they stick to a regular schedule, dogs are flexible sleepers: A dog living in a home as a pet will sleep more than a dog that works for a living – like a search and rescue dog, or a dog working on a ranch or farm. Dogs are able to adjust their sleep pattern so that they can be awake when there’s something to do, and can easily sleep the rest of the time.

Puppies, who expend a lot of energy exploring and learning may need as much as 18 to 20 hours. The average adult dog sleeps for about 12 to 14 hours per 24-hour cycle. Older dogs also tend to need more rest, as do certain breeds.

Technically, both small and large breeds can be long sleepers, but it tends to be the big guys, like Newfoundlands, Mastiffs and Leonbergers who nap the most.

When your dog first goes to sleep, it enters the slow wave or quiet phase of sleep. It will lie quite still and is oblivious to its surroundings. The breathing slows, the blood pressure and body temperature drop, and the heart rate decreases.

After about ten minutes, your dog enters the rapid eye movement (REM) or active stage of deep sleep. Its eyes will roll under its closed lids, and it may bark or whine or jerk its legs. During this stage, the brain activity is similar to that seen during the dreaming phase of human sleep, and many vets and pet owners agree that this is evidence that dogs have dreams. Adult dogs spend about 10 to 12 percent of their sleeping time in REM sleep. Puppies spend a greater proportion of their sleep time in REM.  Twitching, tail wagging, leg kicks, and occasional barks or grunts are common. This is a good time to let sleeping dogs lie, as this stage of sleep is very restorative and good for their health

Because they spend less time overall in REM sleep than humans do, dogs need more sleep overall to get adequate rest.

Where does your dog sleep?

 It’s important to give your dog somewhere quiet to rest and snooze during the day so that they can get the quantity and quality of sleep they need.  If their bed is in a busy area such as the kitchen, or a thoroughfare like the hallway where you may be pottering around, perhaps with children running around all day, then they may not get enough sleep so consider giving them a quieter space to disappear to for that all-important rest time.

If you want your dog to sleep on your bed overnight then that’s fine (mine do occasionally), but just make sure that they don’t disrupt your sleep as that’s important too!

The effects of lack of sleep

Dogs that don’t get enough sleep might become more sluggish during the day or seem more disoriented when performing normal tasks. Sleep deprivation can cause a build-up of stress hormones, increased aggression or other behavioural problems, and also weaken a dog’s immune system, increasing the risk of disease.

If your dog is having trouble sleeping, regulating his exercise and stress levels can help. Getting a solid walk in during the day and avoiding excitement before bed helps with the sleep routine. Increasing the amount of physical activity and mental stimulation a dog gets during the day will help many dogs sleep at night.  It may also help to have a herbal-self-medication session to allow them to pick gentle herbs and botanicals that help them de-stress and relax so that they are able to get a good nights sleep.

While there can be a lot of variability in dogs’ sleeping habits, the one thing to keep an eye out for is a dramatic change. If your usually active dog is suddenly sleeping all the time—or the reverse—it’s never bad idea to touch base with your veterinarian to make sure that your dog isn’t experiencing any health problems. The answer could be something as complex as treating a heart condition or thyroid problem, or as simple as tweaking their diet.