Does Your Pet Display Any of These Odd Sleep Behaviors?

dog and humans sleeping

Story at-a-glance -

  • Most pet parents don’t worry about the quantity and quality of their dog’s sleep, because most dogs are accomplished snoozers, logging 12 to 14 hours each day
  • There are factors that can interfere with your dog’s ability get the right amount of good-quality sleep, including breathing difficulties, narcolepsy, REM sleep behavior disorder, the aging process and even PTSD
  • Sleep is very important to your dog’s health and quality of life; it supports brain development, learning capacity, memory and the immune system
  • Tips for helping your dog get a good night’s sleep include rigorous daily exercise, mental stimulation, species-appropriate nutrition and natural calming supplements

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Is your dog getting enough shut-eye? Since most dogs spend a lot of time sleeping, most dog parents never even consider the possibility their pet isn't getting enough sleep. It's often only when a dog is sick or in pain, or an older pet develops restlessness at night that an owner begins to wonder about the potential for sleep-related health or behavior issues.

Since the right amount of good-quality sleep is just as important for your dog as it is for you, it's worth giving the subject some thought. Quality sleep provides both humans and dogs the opportunity to organize the day's input of data, which is very therapeutic. Sleep also supports your dog's brain development, learning capacity, memory and immune system.

How Much Sleep Does My Dog Need?

Most domesticated dogs sleep 12 to 14 hours a day. The average family dog in the U.S. spends about half his time napping, another 30 percent lounging around but awake and the remaining 20 percent being active.

There are several factors that determine how much sleep a dog needs, including age and size, breed and activity level, life changes and health status. Young dogs and seniors need more sleep than healthy adolescent and adult dogs. Puppies spend their awake time exploring, playing and growing, so they need as much as 18 to 20 hours of sleep each day to recharge their batteries.1

Older dogs typically need more sleep because like human seniors and the elderly, day-to-day living presents more challenges and they tire more easily. Big dogs tend to need more sleep than the little guys, probably because large and giant breeds age more quickly and have shorter lifespans.

Another factor in how much sleep your dog needs depends on what she was bred to do. Dogs bred to work, for example, the Border Collie, tend to sleep less because they have evolved to do jobs that require attention and dedication.

At the other end of the snooze spectrum are dogs with no work history. Breeds that have never had a job to do other than sit on their human's lap are more likely to excel in the "hours slept per day" category. And, of course, dogs who are kept busy and on the move by active owners naturally sleep less than dogs belonging to more sedentary people or families who aren't home during the day.

Factors That Can Affect Your Dog's Sleep

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

If you have a brachycephalic (flat-faced) breed such as a Pug or Bulldog, he probably has some degree of brachycephalic airway syndrome, which can include narrow nasal openings, a thin windpipe, a long soft palate and extra tissue that can block the larynx. Dogs with this syndrome typically have difficulty breathing, which can take the form of sleep apnea.

When a human with sleep apnea stops breathing, he or she is prevented from entering deep dream sleep. However, dogs who stop breathing while asleep continue dreaming, and the apnea can last for a much longer period of time. As a result, dogs with the condition are harder to wake up than humans with apnea, and they also tend to be sleepier during the day.

If you have a brachy who snores loudly while asleep, there's a high likelihood he's experiencing doggy apnea. Make an appointment with your veterinarian to have him examined, diagnosed and treated, if necessary. Difficulty breathing and poor sleep quality can compromise your dog's health and quality of life.


Rarely, but just like humans, dogs can suffer from narcolepsy, which is a neurological disorder that affects the brain's ability to control sleep-wake cycles. Dogs with the condition fall asleep very suddenly and at weird times, such as when they're eating or playing.

Fortunately, some dogs with narcolepsy experience a lessening of symptoms as they age, and treatment is usually not recommended unless the dog is having multiple episodes each day.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

According to veterinary behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman, professor emeritus at Tufts University:

"When mammals sleep, they have two phases. In one, the body is somewhat active, but the mind is idle. In the other, it's reversed. Normally, muscles are paralyzed during dream sleep. When that doesn't happen, individuals may act out their dreams."2

For dogs with the disorder, it can mean a lot of noise and activity during sleep, including howling, barking, growling, chewing, biting or violent movement of the limbs. Obviously, if your dog is displaying any of these behaviors while asleep, you should have her seen by your veterinarian.

Age/Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Older dogs, like older people, sometimes have more trouble getting to sleep than their younger counterparts. They can also develop the canine version of "sundowning," a term that describes Alzheimer's patients who become confused and restless as night falls. They pace and can't seem to settle down.

It's also important to note that military and police dogs, and any dog that has experienced significant trauma can suffer from PTSD, which can cause difficulty sleeping. Again, if your dog is older and is becoming restless at night, or if you suspect your pet may be dealing with post-traumatic stress, make an appointment with your veterinarian for an evaluation.

7 Suggestions to Help Your Dog Sleep

Making sure your dog gets at least eight hours of deep, restful sleep in a dark room, followed by ample time outside, in direct sunlight, is critical for normal circadian rhythms and overall well-being.

There aren't many studies on sleep deprivation in dogs, but it's assumed they experience many of the same symptoms humans do, such as grumpiness, disorientation and an inability to focus or perform normal tasks. If you notice these or similar changes in your dog, I recommend making an appointment with your veterinarian. If your dog isn't sleeping well:

  1. Make sure he's getting plenty of rigorous exercise. In fact, let him tell you when he's had enough. For restless dogs, I recommend an hour a day, with at least one exhausting sprint. Put all of your dog's joints through their entire range of motion on a daily basis.
  2. Provide mental stimulation with puzzles, treat-release toys, hikes, swims and other outdoor activities that appeal to his natural instincts
  3. Consider enrolling your dog in an obedience class or an activity that helps her focus, such as nose work
  4. Feed a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate diet to avoid food intolerances, amino acid deficiencies and allergies common in dogs fed low-quality commercial pet food (I think we tend to underestimate how much food sensitivity can contribute to restless behavior)
  5. Let your dog sleep in your bedroom; sleeping near his human can help ease any anxiety that is contributing to his nighttime restlessness
  6. Offer a grounding mat, which can help balance his circadian rhythm, and unplug all electronics and wireless routers where your pet sleeps to give him a break from the constant EMFs bombarding his body
  7. Talk to your integrative veterinarian about natural calming supplements such as l-theanine, melatonin, rhodiola, ashwagandha and chamomile

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