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Let sleeping dogs lie! How much sleep do they need?

Sleep is often taken for granted.  We assume because they’ve slept through the night that they’ve had enough…..but have they?

Like with us, sleep, real sleep is important for their ability to adapt, learn and cope. Its important for health, learning and memory and a lack of sleep can influence their ability to cope with their environment or changes to it.  During sleep energy stores are replenished, memory is consolidated and integrated, and their brains get a chance to ‘cleanse.’ 

On average dogs spend 12-14 hours a day sleeping, or should do. This won’t always be in one chunk, they are able to fall into a deep sleep, far quicker than we do.  But, dare I say it, they do need their cat naps!  This blog is mainly focused on dogs over 1 year old, but similar things apply to those who are younger. Remember, its a general guide, every dog is unique to their situation.

Puppies sleep far more, probably nearer 20 hours a day!  Obviously it does vary with age, breed, activity levels and so on, this is just a general guide.

Not getting enough sleep can impair their physical and mental abilities, impact their immune system, exacerbate pain sensations and can even increase the risks of obesity and heart disease……..just like with us! When they don't feel well they'll sleep more, and if they are injured they will rest. They need sleep, and unlike us, they know how valuable it is!

People often think a sleeping dog is bored. A dog that sleeps is not bored!  They are relaxed, happy and chilled.  A bored dog, is often the opposite - loud, destructive and does a lot of attention seeking. (Obviously, if its excessive, or it suddenly has increased (or decreased) you need to speak to your vet!)


What does sleep in a dog look like?

Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep – is the first stage of sleep, here they are in a light sleep and can be easily awakened.  Their breathing and heart rate slow down and their muscles relax.  This part of their sleep is important for physical and mental restoration.  If your dog is like a tightly wound spring, you may find they suddenly jump out of this stage.  Its really important to address this.  How can you make the environment more dog friendly? If they are noise sensitive, this will affect their ability to relax.

Rapid Eye Movement sleep- This is the second stage.  Here they are in a deeper sleep and their eyes (as the name suggests) move quickly.  You may see their toes twitch, and even hear them chasing rabbits.  This is where they dream, and is very similar to us when we dream.  It is really important for cognitive restoration.

The third stage is Wakefulness, and as the name suggests they are fully awake and alert. 


What do their sleep behaviours mean?

Dreaming.  Its cute isn’t it.  That little cheek puff, whimper, their little legs twitching.  Some dogs even howl.  I love watching them during this stage.  To see them dream means they are completely out for the count and able to relax enough to switch off.  Try to avoid waking them during this stage as it can be disorientating for them.

Twitching.  Its common, and generally a sign they are in a lovely relaxed sleep. Its especially common in developing puppies.  However, if the movements are large or excessive catch it on video and check with your vet.  I had an old collie who in sleep would do very large jerks, which were pretty scary.  Sadly this was due to the damage caused by the excessive use of a corrective collar when he was young, before I took him on, which led to laryngeal paralysis.  The twitches were the first big symptom I saw. Interestingly, in the IVDD warriors I've helped, I often see little twitches in their back legs or rump as they sleep. I often wonder if this is like newborn puppies where the nerves are growing and developing (or regrowing).

Snoring.  Yep, dogs snore. You should hear Chelly when she’s drifted off.  Its hilarious.  Generally its harmless but like us they can get things like sleep apnea, so again, if its excessive its best to record it and show your vet. 


When is it more than sleep?

If their sleep seems ‘odd’ or your instincts are poking at you, you should always have a chat with a veterinary professional.  But these are some common things that may crop up:

Excessive sleepiness.  If they are sleeping more than usual, or suddenly appear to be tired it could indicate an underlying health issue.  Vets may suggest blood tests to identify common markers for common illnesses.

Insomnia. If your dog is struggling to sleep it could indicate discomfort.  It could suggest they are struggling to settle in the environment and/or have some anxiety.

Restlessness: If they don’t appear to be able to get comfortable, or are restless it could indicate discomfort.  Again, catching it on video helps your vet understand whats going on.

Snoring: if its excessive, especially if there are other issues, it might need checking out.

Changes in sleep patterns: If their pattern of sleeping changes suddenly it could indicate something is going on.  This is really common in aging dogs, and one of the first clues to dementia.

Sleep aggression: Some dogs will wake suddenly from a sleep and fire out with teeth.  It may be completely out of proportion.  But this does need veterinary intervention.  It may be linked to their overall behaviour during the day, but similarly there may be underlying issues and these need ruling out and addressing.  A dog waking suddenly from sleep will be disorientated, and if they are an anxious soul this could mean they are quick to use their teeth.  Don’t let this one simmer, address it sooner rather than later.

How do I know if they aren’t getting enough sleep?

Dogs generally adapt to most situations, although admittedly dachshunds can struggle with change, especially ones who have underlying anxiety issues.   Dogs who sleep during the day have been found to be more relaxed and happier generally, rather than just a long sleep at night.

There isn’t much research into the consequences of a lack of sleep in dogs, so I am speculating based on my own research and experience. But, there is no reason to assume the affects a lack of sleep can have differs from humans, specifically children.

  • They may have more intense reactions to stressful stimuli, noises, visitors, dogs, even birds in the garden.

  • They may be “moody” and “irritable.” Puppies can get what I call gremlin face, or "landshark" where they get very bitey and often draw their lips up when they are mouthing (this also happens when they are hangry!)

  • They may forget things quickly.  I can’t learn when I am tired, and research has shown dogs are the same as us.  Their memory is impacted if they are tired.

  • They may not sleep deeply, causing a vicious cycle. 


Improving their sleep quality

1.        Dogs like somewhere safe, and secure to sleep……and comfortable of course.  Make sure the bed is appropriate to their needs and encourages rest rather than stimulating them (that super fluffy bed may not be a ‘calming’ influence on them).

2.        Put their bed in a quiet area of your home.  If they like a kip on the sofa, that’s great, but don’t encourage them to lie on the back so they can stare out of the window guarding the house or watching those pigeons.  That would be like reading a challenging book before sleeping.  If they doze off “wired” it won’t encourage a calm sleep.

3.        Make sure they are getting enough exercise for their needs.  Dogs who are fit and active will need more sleep than those who are more sedentary.  This doesn’t mean you need to do LOADS of exercise, but you do need to make sure their needs are met.  Doing the same walk around the block every day won’t supply that as their muscles get used to that.  You need to vary their activities each day. 

4.        Make sure after exercise you give them something calming to do, something that can help them unwind and relax.  If you’ve ever been to the gym, or done a power walk, your body feels invigorated afterwards, dogs are no different.

5.        Make sure they are on a high-quality food, not an expensive one full of fillers.  Hungry dogs do not sleep and can appear to be high energy and are highly sensitive (like humans!)

6.        The majority of daxies love the sun and heat, strategically placing their bed or a mat in a sun spot will usually draw them to that spot.  In cooler weather, try a heat pad under their beds.  Some dogs like a dark den to curl up in.

7.        Think about where they sleep.  Mammals’ circadian rhythm (body clock) is influenced by light.  Think about those of you who suddenly had issues with the dogs waking earlier when the birds came back.  Was it the birds waking them? Or the day starting?

8.        If you are going away, think about how to create a safe sleeping space for them with familiar smells.  I love a material dog crate for this, they flat pack so are easy to transport and I can pop them up in a hotel, if I pop to a friends for an afternoon or even in a pub. This one is similar to the ones I have, I like the carry handles and the roof zip.

9.        Make sure they are getting enough exercise for their needs.  But also, remember if you are doing more exercise than the norm, make sure you increase their food (unless you are trying to get them to lose weight that is).

10.   Personally I love to snuggle up with mine at night, but do make sure you are not interrupting each others sleep.  If you are prone to tossing and turning, or they are, is sleeping with you beneficial to them?  Not sure? Try one of those sleeping apps.  Compare how you sleep with them vs without them. Is it better or worse? Chances are the dogs will mirror your sleep patterns.  This includes your partners too and potentially other dogs in the home. Would they sleep better separately? (Mine like to bundle together).


Sleeping dog rules

The age old saying, let sleeping dogs lie stands!  Leave them alone if they are resting.

Teach the children not to disturb them.  I know it seems obvious, but my first bite was when I was 11 years old.  I knew better and yet I still was a kid.  I came home from school, ran up to our old, deaf boy Brandy and yep, I launched a big hug on him.  I had a lovely bite just next to my lip.  I did indeed get a firm telling off by my parents….and yes, I should have known better. Kids are impulsive, and don't think things through, and like me, make mistakes. But it is important to learn from this......I certainly did. This many years later (nope not telling), I remember that event very clearly.

Here's the thing though, we should be making this very clear to children….but as adults….do we live by the same rules? If someone kept moving or touching you when you were asleep…..would you welcome it? Not sure I would. If they are sleeping, let them sleep!

Big thanks to Fiona with Benji and Lulu for the supply of sleeping pictures. Who else has a phone full of sleeping pics like Fiona?! (I do!). Big licks to Lulu, who isn't feeling great today so is having a snoozy day under the blankets.

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