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Everything You Need to Know About How Dogs Sleep

Picture of a Sporting Dog Sleeping on a Bed

Though the term “cat nap” was probably derived from the feline’s penchant for catching up on some zzzz’s, dogs like to do their fair share of sleeping as well. Many dog owners think installing a surveillance camera in their home is an excellent idea to keep on top of what Fido gets up to while they are away. However, for families who follow through on this plan, they are usually treated to many hours of their dog reclining in blissful slumber on whatever piece of furniture he finds most appealing. The truth is dogs do require a lot more sleep than their human counterparts. With sleep playing a vital role in a baby puppy’s physical and emotional development and in the restoration and healing process in older dogs, it is important for every dog owner to understand the role of sleep in their dog’s life and just how much their best canine pal needs each day to remain healthy and well. 

How Much Sleep Does the Average Dog Need?

Much like human beings and their age and growth rates, how much sleep a dog needs is often dependent upon other external factors. However, as a basic average, all dogs generally rest their bodies between 12 to 14 hours each day. Depending on a dog’s age, breed, and health condition, this time will vary some.

Here are some general guidelines which govern how much sleep most dogs require on a daily basis: 

  • Dog breed

In general, larger breed dogs tend to sleep more than their smaller counterparts. Though small to medium-sized breeds fall within the 12-14 hour sleep range, larger dogs often prefer to rest for up to 18 hours per day.

  • Activity level

The more a dog exerts himself through activity, the more energized the dog typically becomes, meaning he will need less sleep to restore his energy level to its normal capacity. Sedentary dogs require more rest than dogs who engage in a regular vigorous lifestyle. This concept seems counterintuitive to what should happen as a result of expending extra effort through exercise; however, research supports that dogs that are highly active also maintain the need for less sleep to fuel their energy.

  • Age

Both extremely young and extremely old dogs require more sleep than their middle-aged counterparts. Baby puppies often sleep up to 20 hours a day since rest is a critical component of proper physical and emotional development for them. Elderly dogs have reduced capacity to participate in exercise. Short walks are often sufficient to create fatigue, necessitating a greater need for rest.

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Sleep?

Though 12-14 hours is a good baseline for how much sleep the average dog needs on a daily basis, many dog owners wonder if their dog sleeps more than that should they be concerned? There are certain specific markers owners can look for to determine if their dog’s preferred amount of sleep is an indicator of a more serious health problem requiring veterinary intervention.

Among the symptoms owners should watch for are the following:

  • Extreme fatigue

Dogs who seem to have no energy in spite of lengthy rest periods may be struggling with an underlying medical condition. Any dog that struggles to remain awake on an ongoing basis after sufficient time spent sleeping to meet the average canine’s needs should undergo a thorough veterinary exam as a precaution.

  • Difficulty breathing

Some dogs experience breathing issues when at rest. Sleep apnea is particularly problematic for snub-nosed breeds and can indicate a more serious medical condition requiring the assistance of a veterinarian to obtain relief, eliminate risk, and improve sleep quality. 

  • Sudden changes in behavior or routine

If increased sleep is not the only change a dog is experiencing at one set time, it most definitely is an indication that something more serious may be going on with the dog. Some items of particular concern are more frequent or unusual bowel movements, loss of appetite, or greatly increased thirst.

  • Increased sleep becomes a regular routine

As with human beings, there will be times in a dog’s life when more sleep is required to fuel his body and replenish depleted energy stores. However, if excessive sleeping becomes a recurring pattern, it may be time to find out why.

Yet sometimes instead of experiencing a greater need for sleep, a dog will go the opposite direction and begin pacing at night and seemingly refusing to get appropriate rest. If any change in normal sleeping patterns is detected, it is important for the dog to visit a veterinarian as soon as possible to help ascertain if a more serious problem is at play.

However, changes in sleep patterns are not always of a serious nature. Here is a list of some of the most common reasons why dogs experience changes to their normal rest schedule:

  • A new routine

Dogs are creatures of habit, and thus, any change to their regular schedule can easily upkettle them. If the family has moved to a new home or changed Fido’s sleeping locale or even if one person is away or working an unusual shift, all of these things can cause a dog to experience unusual sleeping patterns.

  • Depression

Just as with human beings, dogs do experience emotions and can suffer from bouts of depression. When a dog is exhibiting signs of this condition, lack of energy or desire to engage in normal day to day routines are often evident.

  • Inappropriate nutrition or hydration

If for some reason, a dog resists eating their regular meals or refrains from taking in an adequate water supply, their energy levels will be greatly restricted. In dogs who normally eat and drink heartily, a lack of interest in food and/or water is of very serious concern.

  • Thyroid issues

When the thyroid gland is not functioning properly, it negatively impacts the quality of life for a dog. One of the most common symptoms of a thyroid disorder is lethargy.

  • Other health conditions

Veterinarians report that a number of different health problems present themselves via a penchant for extra sleep such as diabetes, parvovirus, and Lyme disease.

What are the Stages of Sleep for a Dog?

The old adage, “Let sleeping does lie” rings true for a number of reasons. Recent research shows that dogs experience levels of sleep similar to what human beings undergo each night. By acutely following the active brain waves of dogs at rest, scientists have been accurately able to determine that though man and animal are different mammals; their sleep patterns are distinctly similar.

Dogs experience the same two types of sleep as humans do: short-wave sleep (known as SWS) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM). During the SWS phase of rest, the dog’s body and mind begins to release the tensions and stress of the day to promote an atmosphere of restfulness. Once firmly entrenched in this stage, the dog rapidly progresses to the REM phase where the brain becomes more active, and dreams begin to materialize. Though both stages are important to proper rest, scientists believe it is REM sleep that plays the most critical component in restoration and recovery of the body and the mind.

When a dog progresses from SWS to REM, it is easily evident to an observer. Dogs enjoying REM rest will often make unusual sounds or even small muscle or eye movements.

Human beings rest best when they are allowed to enter a sleep period for a lengthy time without interruption. But since dogs pass more rapidly from SWS to REM, they can greatly benefit from short nap times throughout the day. Though human beings do not accumulate sleep through fragmented rest cycles, dogs can and do. However, this ability to pass through sleep stages quickly and to accumulate sleep time does mean that dogs are far lighter sleepers than humans and are quite easily awakened from their slumber. Couple this with the fact that many dogs were bred to serve as protection dogs, and the dog is fighting both his genetics and his natural sleep rhythm when it comes to obtaining an uninterrupted time block of sleep. While this pattern would be extremely detrimental to human health, it is quite normal for a dog.

Do Dogs Dream?

When an owner observes the gentle twitches of an eye or an arm or hears a soft little whimper or bark escape their dog’s lips, they can’t help but wonder what Fido is thinking about. The truth is yes, our dogs do dream. Unfortunately, we lack the ability to determine precisely what they are dreaming about, but we can draw some logical conclusions to help us better understand this phenomenon in our dogs.

We know that in human beings dreams occur during the REM phase of rest. The study of canine brain waves indicates an increase of brain activity during this same stage of sleep for a dog. It is unknown what a dog dreams about, but much as with humans, it is believed that canine dreams are simply an outworking of the dog’s interests or daily activities. Because dogs bear little memory of past events of insignificance, it is most likely that their dreams center around things like keeping his family safe, playing with his favorite toys, or chasing prey. Movement is often indicative of a dog dreaming about a fun activity such as running at the dog park, chasing a ball, or hopping over hurdles in agility class.

Though human dreams are often vivid and detailed, dogs tend to have much more abbreviated versions of them. This is in part due to the fact that the dog sleep cycle is often interrupted and is much shorter than what the average adult experiences.

What Can I Do to Ensure My Dog is Comfortable When He Sleeps?

There are many different positions dogs like to adopt to get a good night’s rest. Some of the most common positions dogs like to assume are:

  • The dog resting on his back with all four paws straight in the air

This position involves a degree of trust as dogs rarely like to leave their bellies, the most vulnerable portion of their body, exposed. In some cases, dogs will do this simply because they are too warm and want to release heat from the belly region.

  • The dog resting on his side with his legs stretched out

Dogs who favor this position are often communicating that they are comfortable, secure, and extremely tired. By leaving a portion of the belly exposed, proper air circulation permits cooling down of the dog’s body. 

  • The dog resting on his stomach

Dogs resting on their stomach are most often only entering the SWS stage of sleep. Once the dog progresses from SWS to REM, he will usually adopt a more relaxed position for the legs such as on his back or side. Some dogs prefer this position as it is easy to become alert and engaged in their surroundings with their legs and feet directly under their bodies.

As a general guideline, dogs who are tightly curled up are not completely relaxed or in a deep slumber. Once the body becomes more elongated, it is indicative of a release of the tension in the muscles and a shift towards REM rest.

In multi-dog homes, the positioning of one dog against another is also very telling. Dogs who sleep back to back with another dog in the home are expressing a bond between each other. This position requires deep trust and is indicative of great affection.

There are a few things dog owners can do to ensure their pooches get the best quality of sleep. They are:

  • Maintain consistent routines

Dogs thrive when their daily routine proceeds as expected. Though change may sometimes be necessary, it is important to a dog’s sleep schedule for things to remain status quo as much as possible.

  • Ensure regular daily activity

Regular, appropriate exercise on a daily basis will help keep a dog’s sleep schedule right on target. Consistent activity will maintain good health and promote a proper amount of rest.

  • Feed a high quality diet

It is difficult for a dog to sleep well if he doesn’t feel well. To ensure a dog’s daily nutritional needs are met, it is important to feed him a high quality diet that is properly balanced to promote optimal health.

  • Make Fido’s sleeping area comfortable

Just as human beings sleep best in a warm, inviting space, so too do dogs. For maximum benefits from Fido’s rest time, it is important to provide him with a space that he identifies as his own, and that is well-lined with the creature comforts he needs to fully relax.

  • Maintain regular veterinary care

Taking a dog for annual wellness exams at a minimum is an excellent way to ensure Fido remains in tip top form.

Yes, everyone benefits from a good night’s sleep, and Fido is no exception! Follow our top tips to help your pooch to enjoy fruitful shut eye every night.

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