Why Do Dogs Sleep So Much?

Photo by Sabine, Marina del Rey

Adult dogs sleep at least half the day away. And (queue spooky music) no one knows why

In fact, that’s the case for humans as well, and for all mammals: No one can say exactly why we sleep, but we definitely need to do it. Sleep affects our hearts, lungs, brains, mood, metabolism, immune function, and disease resistance. Sleep is a need—and dogs need plenty of it.

How Much Should Dogs Sleep?

How long a dog sleeps depends on her activity level and her age. On average, adult dogs sleep 12 to 14 hours per day. Old dogs sleep more than that. And puppies sleep about 18 to 20 hours out of every 24. All that growing is a lot of work!

If your dog suddenly starts sleeping more than usual, a trip to the vet may be in order. Excessive sleepiness can be a symptom of medical problems like hypothyroidism or diabetes.

Otherwise, if your dog is sleeping a lot—even if it seems like she’s sleeping all day—you don’t need to wake her up and get her moving just because. Do make sure she has enough exercise each day, but compared to people, dogs just sleep a lot. 

Why Do Dogs Sleep So Much More Than People?

One theory behind why dogs spend more hours sleeping than humans is that they spend a smaller percentage of their sleeping hours in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Dogs spend only about 10 percent of their sleep in REM, whereas humans spend about 25 percent of sleep time there.

Why the difference? Humans are naturally diurnal (awake during the day and asleep at night) and we have inborn circadian rhythms. We are primed to enter deep sleep and stay there for hours at a time. By contrast, dogs aren’t set up as strictly nocturnal (awake at night) or diurnal. Instead, they’re social sleepers. They can fall asleep easily and wake up easily based on what is going on around them. Spending less time in REM sleep might help make that possible.

When Dogs Don’t Sleep Through the Night

A dog who is active at night can affect the entire household. We humans need those precious continuous hours of sleep. 

Dogs who don’t sleep through the night come in three flavors: pups, seniors, and everyone in between.

When Will My Puppy Sleep Through the Night?

As a general rule of thumb, a puppy can “hold it” for a number of hours that equals her age in months, plus one. So your three-month-old pup can probably hold it for only four hours. The math says you’re going to be getting up to let her relieve herself during the night for a few months. 

To make the nights as smooth as possible, establish this routine: Keep your pup crated next to your bed—even if she will eventually sleep somewhere else—so that she feels secure that you are near. Do a final playtime, snuggle, and potty right before bed. When she wakes up to go out at night, make the trip matter-of-fact and brief. Put her right back in her crate afterward and shut the door with the same amount of drama you use to shut a cabinet. If she fusses, dangle a hand down to let her know you’re right there by her… and currently in “off” mode. When she wakes up bright and early in the morning, your day has begun. (Pups, like human kids, seem to be early risers.) 

How Can I Help My Older Dog Sleep Through the Night?

Many years after the puppy stage come the golden years, and you may find your senior dog waking your household at night. There are different ways to help your older dog sleep through the night depending on why she is waking. (She’s not doing it to bother you. Promise.) Possible reasons for an old dog waking up at night include:

  • Cognitive decline: This condition is like human dementia, but in dogs. The sleep disruption that comes with cognitive decline may be treated with anti-anxiety medication.
  • Discomfort: Arthritis pain, cancer, or difficulty with heat and humidity could make it hard for your older dog to stay comfortable. Discomfort may be treated with appropriate medication and a comfortable sleeping environment, including helping her stay cool and giving her an orthopedic dog bed.
  • Other medical problems: An older dog might need to go out more if she has a urinary tract infection (UTI), a bladder infection, kidney disease, or diabetes. 

If your older dog is waking a lot in the night, don’t just shrug it off as an unavoidable part of aging. Talk with your vet about what is going on, and he or she will be able to help determine what might help.

My Medium-Age Dog Will Not Sleep Through the Night.

First, ask: Has there been a recent change in the household that is affecting your dog? Is the sleep environment quiet and dark? Is your dog healthy? If you need to, help your dog through life transitions, fine-tune her sleep environment, or take her to the vet. 

Next: Exercise her twice a day, the second time a couple of hours before bedtime. And if she’s sleeping the day away because her daytime is boring, she may have plenty of wakefulness left at night. Give her a puzzle toy or a frozen food-stuffed toy to work on during the day.

Which Dog Breed Sleeps the Most?

Giant breeds are known as the biggest sleepers. Newfies, Mastiffs, St. Bernards, and their ilk are known for their epic size…and their epic naps.

Can Dogs Have Sleep Apnea?

It’s not exactly the same, but brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds like Pugs, Bulldogs, and Pekingese can suffer from brachycephalic airway syndrome, in which the airway is obstructed. The condition interferes with the dog’s breathing during waking time as well as during sleep. Dogs with this condition may prefer to sleep on their backs. Brachycephalic airway syndrome can be helped with surgery, especially while the dog is young. 

Do Dogs Sleep With Their Eyes Open?

As a rule, no. Some individuals might. The upside-down, one-eyelid-half-open, lips-flopping-onto-the-floor sleep style is unaccountably popular with some dogs.

A dog’s eyes do tend to stay open while under anesthesia at the vet; the staff will apply an ointment so her eyes don’t get dry.

Can a Dog Sleep With an E-Collar?

Yep, dogs can sleep in a cone. 

The first two hours with the e-collar are harder than the next two, and the first 24 are harder than the next 24. Be on hand to help her navigate her environment at the beginning, and leave the cone on. She’ll get used to it.

Dogs are nappers by nature. Next time you need a little natural help settling down for a midafternoon nap (human circadian rhythms make us most tired between about 1 and 3 p.m., and 2 and 4 a.m.!), maybe settle in for a quick 20 minutes with your nearest and dearest snoozy pooch.

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