On average dogs sleep for around 14 hours a day; this is usually dependant on the breed of your dog and whether it is a working dog or house pet. Larger dogs require more sleep than smaller dogs as it takes longer for the body to repair and replenish itself. Dog sleep is generally similar to humans; we have a sleep position we feel comfortable in, just like dogs and a dog’s sleep cycle almost mimics a human sleep cycle. Let’s take a look at some interesting facts about your dog and sleep.
The different sleep positions
There are four main positions that your dog may sleep in; once you know what these are you will easily know whether your dog is taking a nap or if they are in a deep sleep:
#1 the side sleeper and on belly - When your dog sleeps on its side or belly with their paws stretched out in front this usually indicates that your dog is taking a nap. Some dogs can fall into the deeper stages of sleep in this position; you’ll be able to tell this if they twitch and kick their legs.
#2 the back sleeper – we bet you’ve caught your pooch lying on their back with all paws dangling in the air and thought how is that comfortable? Well in fact this position is mainly when your dog is in their deepest stages of sleep. All of the muscles are completely relaxed which explains why your dog may make random movements such as kicking, whimpering and wagging their tail; these are part of the rapid eye movement (REM) stage which is where most dreams occur.
Unlike humans, dogs only sweat through the pads on their paws. Exposing their stomach helps to keep them cool as the fur is usually not as thick compared to their back. Furthermore their paws are exposed to air resulting in comfort while they sleep.
When dogs sleep on their back they show that they feel safe and trust their owner. In the wild, the stomach is a very vulnerable area to predators; vital organs can easily be punctured if attacked as there is little bone protecting the stomach area and the fur is usually a lot thinner making this area an easy target. Furthermore when ancestors, such as the wolf, lie on their stomach they are showing deference to the alpha male; in a dogs case this is usually the owner.
#3 the curled up in a ball sleeper – this position is usually associated with nap time as the muscles are not fully relaxed due to the curl in their body. However, following in their ancestors footsteps, this position is thought to protect their vital organs from predators and also helps to keep them warm in the cooler months.
#4 the back-to-back sleeper – when your dog lies back-to-back with another pet or yourself, they are showing you affection and protection. They feel safe around you and see this position as ‘bonding time’. As with the side and belly sleeper, your dog may just be snoozing or they could fall into a deep sleep.
Sleep pattern almost similar to humans
A dog’s sleep cycle nearly mimics a humans; they go through three phases during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and also go through the REM stage – the dreaming phase. However, a dog’s sleep cycle is a lot shorter than a humans; where a human goes through an average of five cycles a night, a dog can go through 15-20 cycles.
During the first phase of NREM your dog’s muscles become relaxed which is why you may sometimes see a slight twitch; this stage is classed as a light sleep as your dog can easily be awakened from this stage.
Phase two of NREM is usually the longest out of all the stages; it can take up 45% of the total sleep period. Although some brain activity remains during this stage your dog is very relaxed and calm.
Phase three of NREM is also known as slow wave sleep (SWS) and only usually lasts between 10 and 15 minutes per cycle. During this stage heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature all decrease and breathing slows right down; you may find that your dog does not react to noises or anything that is going on around them.
REM sleep is when most dreams occur and where the random movements occur; the brain is highly active processing memories and learning. A dog only spends between 10-15% of their sleep cycle in this phase although a puppy spends longer as they are still going through the developmental stages.
Factors which influence your pooches sleep
There are similar factors which influence your dog’s sleep just like your own. Some of these are:
Room temperature – dogs get hot and cold too; whippets are more prone to feeling the cold as they have very little fur whereas St. Bernard dogs may overheat quickly. Ensure that the room temperature is set to suit your dog’s needs as well as your own.
Sleep environment – the area your dog should sleep in should be clean, comfortable and spacious. Leave a few blankets and place the dog bed in one corner of the room; your dog can then decide where it wants to sleep within the room. You should never force a dog to sleep in a confined area as it may associate this area with stress which can then lead to sleepless nights and future health problems.
Daytime naps – some dogs take regular naps throughout the day and this is usually dependant on what type of dog they are. Are they a working dog such as a police dog or sheep dog or are they just a general house pet? If they are a working dog you will find that they work for most of the day just like a typical human so naps will be limited. However, for a house dog, one of the key factors down to naps throughout the day could be boredom so ensure you give your dog a lot of your time, toys to play with and possibly a companion such as another pet or a house visitor if you work throughout the day.
Safety and security – wild dogs usually sleep in packs so one of them can be ‘watch dog’ while the rest catch up on their needed sleep. This trait runs with your dog too; they prefer sleeping around you so they feel safe and protected. Your dog may find it difficult to relax if you leave them in a room alone at the other end of the house; follow this few tips if you feel your dog’s sleep is suffering:
Let them sleep with another family pet
Put their comfort teddy/toy in their sleep area with them
Let your dog sleep outside your bedroom or even in your bedroom so they can smell and sense that you are close. Find out more here if it’s ok to sleep with your pets.
Stress and your canine friend
It can be funny watching your dog chase its tail and can be put down to a number of reasons such as exercise, curiosity, fleas (see your vet!) and most importantly stress and anxiety. Stress in dogs is very similar to humans; the longer your dog carries the stress the more serious the health conditions are going to be. So, what causes stress in dogs? Usually stress comes from an environmental change, some examples are; new home/owner, boredom, loneliness, a new pet/family member or using transport. Some dogs are clever and sense that getting in the car means a trip to the vets. Furthermore, you need to take into consideration the breed of your dog – what is its nature? For example, a Border Collies natural instinct is to herd sheep throughout the day; if it’s not getting a lot of exercise daily the dog can start to become stressed.
There are various things you can do help reduce/keep your dog’s stress away, some of these are:
Spend more time with your dog as they may just be lonely. Remember you are one of the only friends that your dog has; if you feel you can’t dedicate enough time to your dog then maybe having a dog as a pet is not for you.
Increase your walks with your dog to give them more exercise. Take your dog to new and exciting places where they can socialise with other dogs; this will help tire your dog out so they fall into a deep sleep later in the evening.
Communicate and train your dog daily. Speaking to your dog will remind them that you do care and teaching your dog the basic training will reward you both in the long-run. However, never punish your dog, this only adds stress to your dog and they may become fearful of you.
A dog’s eyes contain a special membrane called the tapetum lucidum; this allows your dog to see at night. If your dog detects any light (even very low intensity) the membrane reflects the light back through the retina, which increases the amount of light to the photoreceptors. This allows the retina to have two chances at catching some light.
Remember, if you feel like your dog’s sleep pattern has drastically changed over a short period of time or their behaviours change then please visit your vet; it could be a symptom of an underlying health issue.