Nothing keeps people awake at night quite like – well, not sleeping. The struggle to fit those crucial eight hours a night is real. Meanwhile, your dog happily naps the day away. Then they have the nerve to sleep through the night! (And people claim cats are lazy) Have you ever stopped to wonder how many hours a dog sleeps every day? Or if your dog’s sleep needs change as they move from a puppy to a senior? Maybe you’ve looked at your own sleep disorders and wondered if they can affect canines. As you sit up counting sheep (or asking yourself these questions), we’ve hunted down all the answers to dogs and sleep, just for you.
Dogs and Sleep: The Cycle
The next time you find yourself with a day completely free of responsibilities, watch your dog. Their day’s actually not as interesting as you might think. On average, dogs only spend 20% of the day playing and moving around. The remaining 80% is divided between sleep (50%) and an alert but resting state (30%). This is why every time you glance over, your pup seems to be sprawled on their bed. And the older – or larger – your dog, the more time they spend in that relaxation mode. If they don’t need to make a trip outside for a bathroom break, they’re not getting up.
It sounds like quite the life, doesn’t it? In truth, it’s not the dream it appears. Dogs invest more time in sleeping due to the WAY they sleep. So before you turn in your resignation at work so you can become a full-time dog, let’s compare sleeping patterns between humans and canines. (You’ll stop muttering under your breath about all of those doggie naps – trust me)
Dogs and humans follow a standard sleep pattern:
- Short-Wave Sleep (SWS): Breathing slows down, heart rate slows, and blood pressure drops.
- Rapid Eye Movement (REM): Eyes roll under the lids, paws (or hands) twitch, and you may hear whimpers. This is when dreaming occurs.
SWS is the DEEPEST portion of the sleep pattern. It allows the body to recover, helps the immune system regain its footing, and allows for growth. REM sleep helps the brain. It’s what keeps the memory, your learning centers, and creativity functioning properly. (Two other sleep stages happen before SWS and REM, but these are the most critical stages)
Humans (those who have a healthy relationship with sleep) spend the first half of the night in SWS, followed by 25% of the night in REM. But dogs? They get about TEN MINUTES in SWS and only spend 10% of their time in REM. Why the difference? Because of the difference in our behavior. We stay awake all day and then sleep all night (if you’re one of the lucky ones). Dogs space their sleep throughout the day. This means their brains are wired to doze off at the drop of a hat AND wake just as quickly. But those “power naps” aren’t very restful. YOU get a better recovery with your sleep pattern. Dogs and sleep SOUNDS better when you see that 80%, but breaking it down looks MUCH worse.
Dogs and Sleep: The Count
So how many hours of sleep are dogs REALLY getting spaced out like that? If you add up all of the individual naps (plus the overnight hours), you come up with 12-14 hours, on average. However, you see variations from dog to dog. Different breeds need different amounts of sleep. Age also plays a big part when it comes to dogs and sleep. And if you have a dog that punches the clock? You’ll see a completely different pattern.
Puppies are exactly like small children. They run around and play until they drop wherever they’re standing and nap. All of that energy requires additional sleep to fuel their growth. So puppies sleep for around 18-20 hours a day. Yup that means almost ALL day! It’s a lot of recharging time with a few breaks to eat, play, and potty-train. It’ll seem like you have a furry whirlwind racing through the house at all times, but you’re actually only seeing tiny blips on the puppy radar. Most of the time, your puppy is sound asleep.
The main driving force in how long your puppy sleeps are those crucial bathroom breaks. YOU need to keep track of how often to interrupt nap time and establish a potty-training schedule. In general, you can follow the “plus one” rule. Add one hour to every month of your puppy’s age. So if your puppy’s six-months-old, their bladder should hold for seven hours before they need a puppy pad. As they age, you can stretch the clock more and more. You’ll also notice your pup sleeping a little less.
Dogs with established jobs develop patterns similar to ours. After all, they’re working throughout the day. These include service dogs, herding dogs, and guard dogs. They stay awake through an average dog’s napping hours. So these dogs and sleep follow a human’s pattern. Then they wake up the next morning, ready to get to work all over again.
It’s not as strange as you might think. Staying alert is a necessity in a working dog. They can’t allow a sheep to wander away from the flock. Nor can a service dog lose focus from their person. And a guard dog who dozes on the property allows a stranger to sneak into the house. These dogs have adapted to staying awake during the daylight (or evening – depending on the guard dog) hours. They can always rest when they’re off-duty.
As our dogs go into their twilight years, their bodies start to wind down. Even their usual routines become more demanding on their energy levels. As such, they need to recharge more often. Seniors regress toward puppy sleep levels. It’s not uncommon to find older dogs sleeping between 16-18 hours a day. This allows your pup to conserve as much energy as possible. It’s also a healing process. (Remember, SWS allows the body to restore itself). So those frequent naps are keeping your dog in shape.
You should still continue to offer the same level of exercise you did in the past. Just don’t be surprised if your dog heads to their bed as soon as you get back in from the walk. And if you have one of these breeds, they’re known to top the list of dogs and sleep:
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
Dogs and Sleep: Sleep Disorders
Sleep disorders are the bane of humans. If you’ve ever struggled to fit so much as four hours of rest into your evenings, you know how frustrating they can get. (I speak from a position of authority: I battle insomnia AND sleep apnea) So it may surprise you that dogs and sleep disorders are a real concern. Some owners overlook these problems as lethargy at first. But as the excessive sleeping (or other symptoms) pile up, things get concerning.
Hollywood likes to make fun of narcolepsy, but the genetic condition is far from a laughing matter. Hypocretin is the chemical in the body responsible for alertness and normal sleep patterns – in people AND dogs. And if the levels of hypocretin are LOW, you get narcolepsy. Dogs with narcolepsy spontaneously fall asleep, usually while engaging in activity or when excited. What’s scary is syncope – a fainting spell related to cardiac disease – behaves the same way. Narcolepsy ISN’T life-threatening, but syncope IS. You want to get your dog into the vet to determine which condition your dog has, so you can figure out how to manage the triggers. The most common breeds affected?
- Doberman Pinschers (who ALSO get syncope)
- Labrador Retrievers
If you have a brachycephalic breed – such as a Bulldog or Pug – odds are you’re familiar with sleep apnea. The crazy anatomy in these dog’s airways, or a dog with excessive internal fat, can lead to the temporary collapse of the airway during sleep. And if you obstruct dogs and sleep, they’ll jolt awake. This interrupts both SWS and REM sleep, interfering with the ability to RETURN to sleep. (It’s the same process in humans) You’ll often find sleep apnea in dogs that snore. (Something that ISN’T necessary in people. For instance, I don’t snore, but my tonsils obstruct my airway)
Obese dogs are encouraged to lose weight. For the poor flat-faced dogs, you can run steam humidifies to help, but odds are you’re looking at surgery in their future. Unfortunately, they’ve yet to develop CPAP machines for dogs. And since dogs and sleep can occur anywhere at any time, it’d be tricky to get your pup hooked up all the time, anyway.
“Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”
It often seems like ALL our dogs do is sleep. (I know our Greyhound always has her butt parked on a couch) But when you take a closer look at HOW dogs and sleep work, it’s not as great a life as we might think. They bounce from nap to nap, never enjoying the long stretch of uninterrupted sleep most humans get to enjoy. When you parcel out sleep in tiny dollops, you NEED to spend more time working to recoup your energy. And depending on your dog’s age or breed, they may need more rest than another.
So while it’s tempting to poke them awake, we should give our poor pup’s a break. They deserve all the sleep they can get.