The Nature of Things

Cats or dogs: Who's a better bedmate?

There's a clear winner, but science suggests both may be disturbing your sleep

There's a clear winner, but science suggests both may be disturbing your sleep

Both dogs and cats move throughout the night: they snore, scratch their backs, clean themselves and fidget; all while you’re trying to sleep. This causes “micro-awakenings,” which you won’t remember in the morning, but will leave you less rested than if you’d had a full night’s sleep. (L: Boris Jovanovic, R: ktaylorg / iStock)

Do you let your cat or dog sleep in bed with you? 

If the answer is yes, you might be surprised to learn that one is a better bedmate than the other  — and that both may disturb your sleep more than you think!

Many pet owners say that they sleep better with their snuggly fur buddies tucked up beside them, but scientists have found that the opposite may be true. In a small study, Mayo Clinic researchers reported that having a dog in the bedroom helped some participants sleep better, but — and this is a big "but" — those benefits were lost once Fido started sleeping on the bed. 

"Sleep efficiency, which is just how much you sleep while you're in bed, [is] actually lower when a dog is on the bed," says John Peever, a biologist who specializes in sleep, in the documentary How the Wild Things Sleep from The Nature of Things.

"If a dog moves, the human moves like, 90 per cent of the time. But weirdly, when the human moves, the dog rarely moves in response to his or her movement." 

Both dogs and cats move throughout the night — they snore, scratch their backs, clean themselves, fidget, roll over, randomly dig at bedding and get up to go to the bathroom — all while you're trying to sleep. This causes "micro-awakenings," which you won't remember in the morning, but will leave you less rested than if you'd had a full night's sleep. 

"Sleeping with your cat's really interesting because they actually disturb your sleep more than if you sleep with your dog," says Peever. 

"They're predominantly active at dawn and … at dusk. And so obviously, at dawn, most people are sound asleep, and their cat is wide awake, jacked, ready to enjoy the world and, you know, jumping on you, playing with you, hounding you for a snack."

So when it comes to which pet will disturb your sleep the least: dogs rule.

Cats disturb human sleep more than dogs | How the Wild Thing Sleep

7 months ago
Duration 1:19
Most people who sleep with their pets say, "I usually sleep great." But that's often not quite true.

Dogs may even beat out other humans. In a study published in the journal Anthrozoös, women reported that dogs that slept on their bed were less disruptive than human partners (cats were said to be just as disruptive). 

Researchers aren't exactly sure why that might be. One theory from study author Christy L. Hoffman is that dogs could be better at accommodating their person's sleep schedule. Human bed partners often go to bed and wake up at different times, another culprit of those micro-awakenings. 

Animal companions have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in humans (at least when they're not ruining furniture or chewing shoes). So it makes sense to keep them close … just maybe not too close at night. 

Watch How the Wild Things Sleep on The Nature of Things.

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