Sleep. We all need it, humans and animals alike. Humans need between 6-8 hours per night. But have you ever thought about dogs? How much sleep DOES a dog need? Do they have the same type of sleep as a human or is it different?
Believe it or not, sleep remains a neurological mystery. No one knows exactly why mammals sleep. What we do know is that sleep is consistent across the mammalian and avian species. Though there are approximately 5,400 mammal species on earth, the patterns of sleep, including rapid eye movement (REM) and slow-phase, are markedly similar amongst them. So too are the patterns noted on an EEG (electroencephalogram)—a machine that records brainwaves.
Sleep needs change throughout life. This is true for our canine friends, as well. Puppies sleep more than adult dogs. Elderly dogs will also tend to sleep more. Why do these changes occur?
Puppies are growing rapidly. Growth requires intense bursts of energy, after which the body needs to recover. It is normal for puppies to sleep up to 20 hours a day. On the converse, elderly dogs sleep more because of a slowing metabolic rate. This is a normal part of age. However, it is important to note that “slowing down” with old age can also be a sign of underlying conditions like arthritis or cancer. This is why it’s a good idea to have annual examinations (or even every 6 months) with your veterinarian to ensure that your dog doesn’t have any physical problems. Early management of arthritis and other conditions can dramatically improve quality of life for senior dogs.
Activity can also affect sleep time for dogs. Working dogs sleep less than inactive dogs. Inactive dogs also may have unusual sleep/wake cycles. This might be because many dogs are home alone during the daytime, and thus, they sleep. When owners come home, the dog becomes active. This daytime inactivity can lead to wakefulness at night, when the rest of the house is asleep. It’s a good idea to leave interesting toys for your dogs when you are gone for the day. Daily exercise for at least 15-30 minutes also promotes healthy sleep patterns…in everyone!
Breed and size can affect sleep too, but the reasons are less clear. Large and giant breed dogs in general seem to sleep more than their smaller counterparts (think Chihuahua versus Mastiff). This might be due to higher energy demands for bigger muscles and internal organs.
Much about sleep remains shrouded in mystery, but one thing is clear: we all need it!
Does my dog need a bedtime?
We all know that as humans, if we don’t get enough sleep, our cognition suffers. Here’s the beauty about being a dog—you can sleep anywhere, anytime! Like all animals, dogs do require a certain amount of sleep, but since they aren’t reading, writing, driving, or otherwise operating heavy machinery, you don’t need to worry about setting a bedtime for your canine companion. He will do that for himself. Maybe us humans should take a page from our dog’s playbook and rest when our body demands it!
My dog sleeps all day. Is this normal?
The truth is, sleep varies dramatically between individual canines, just as in humans. There may be correlations between breed and size, but in the end, each dog is unique. Dr William Thomas, a veterinary neurologist at the University of Tennessee, estimates that dogs sleep anywhere from 48-58% of the time. If your dog is active and alert when awake, has a good appetite, and seems otherwise normal, then perhaps your dog just needs the extra Zzzzzzs. On the other hand, if your pup is exhibiting lethargy, decreased appetite, or any other unusual signs, it is time for a check-up.
Here are some recent survey results on over 10,000 dogs’ sleeping habits.