Megan Brooks

June 06, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS — Sharing the bed with a pet may give individuals a warm, fuzzy feeling but not a good night's sleep, new research shows.

"If someone has insomnia, check if they have a pet and where the pet sleeps. If the pet sleeps in the bed, it may be a contributing factor to their sleep problems," Sowjanya Duthuluru, MD, from University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, noted in an interview with Medscape Medical News.

Hidden Cause of Insomnia?

The findings were presented at SLEEP 2014, the 28th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

"Previous studies have looked at the impact of infants and children sleeping in the parents' bed on sleep quality, but this is really the first study that has looked at pets," Dr. Duthuluru explained.

The investigators surveyed 298 consecutive adults in the waiting room of a family practice clinic about their pets and sleep quality.

Of the 148 pet owners, nearly one third (30%) reported being awakened at least once per night by their pet, Dr. Duthuluru reported.

More than half of pet owners (54%) said they shared their bed or bedroom with their dog (58%) or cat (42%). Fifty-seven percent admitted to sharing the bed with their furry friend, which is "quite a lot," Dr. Duthuluru told Medscape Medical News.

Three quarters shared the bed with a single pet and one quarter had 2 pets in bed with them. Most said they slept 1 night per week with their pet in the bed, but 8% did so 4 or more nights per week; these people had poor sleep quality as measured by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (P = .03).

Among all pet owners, 5% reported difficulty maintaining sleep or having trouble falling back to sleep after being awakened by their pet.

Dr. Duthuluru said asking about pet ownership during an insomnia history may reveal a "hidden factor behind insomnia."

Cute by Day, Annoying by Night

A related study reported at the conference also suggests it's best to keep the family pet out of the bedroom.

Lois Krahn, MD, and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine in Phoenix, Arizona, surveyed 110 consecutive patients about their pets as part of a comprehensive sleep questionnaire. They asked about the type and number of pets, where the animals slept, any notable behaviors, and whether the patients were ever disturbed by their pet at night.

They found that 46% of the patients had pets and 42% had more than 1 pet, most often dogs, cats, and birds. One household had 5 dogs and 1 cat.

They reported that 10% of pet owners surveyed reported being annoyed that their pets sometimes disturbed their sleep by wandering, snoring, whimpering, or needing to "go outside" during the night. One person owned a parrot that consistently squawked at 6:00 a.m.

"Sleep specialists should inquire about companion animals and help patients problem solve about methods to optimize their sleep," they conclude.

"From my perspective, patients will often say, 'I have this old dog that snores and has to go to the bathroom every 15 minutes, what should I do?' And my first thought always is, get rid of that pet," Christopher Winter, MD, who wasn't involved in the study, told Medscape Medical News.

Pets should not be a bed partner, said Dr. Winter, medical director, Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, and member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "We don't want kids sleeping in our beds, but for some reason some people think pets are different, but pets are probably worse than kids in a lot of ways," he said.

The study authors and Dr. Winter have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

SLEEP 2014: 28th Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. Posters 0540 and 0844. Presented June 2, 2014.  


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