We hate to break it to you, but Spot may be depriving you of shut-eye, big-time. According to a recent Mayo Clinic study, 18 percent of pet owners felt that their animal disturbed their slumber. But the actual numbers are likely higher.
"I think many people don't want to admit that their cat or dog interrupts their sleep, because they're intensely loyal to their animals," said study co-author Dr. Lois Krahn, a professor of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorder Center. "But putting up with poor sleep just because you love your pet can negatively affect things like your mood, memory and, in extreme cases, even your heart."
Fidgety, noisy pets—who toss, turn, lick and scratch in bed—can keep you from falling or staying asleep, the same way a snoring husband can. Even if you're not consciously waking up, your dog or cat could be causing "microarousals," or mini wake-ups, throughout the night, which also disrupt your sleep cycle, noted Krahn. And that can leave you constantly tired (and confused as to why).
Sound familiar? Then it's time for tough love. "People ask me what to do about a cat or dog who hurts their sleep, but when I tell them to kick him out of their bedroom, they'll say, 'Oh, I can't do that—it will traumatize my pet,'" said Dr. Meir Kryger, a professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine.
Good news: "If you go about it the right way, your pet probably won't mind," said Ellen Lindell, VMD, a veterinary behaviorist in New York City. Use these pointers to relocate your pet and get a doggone good night's sleep.
Retrain your pet
Keep your dog from curling up by buying him his own plush bed and rewarding him with treats and scratches when he rests there at any time of the day, Lindell said. Then, at night, move his bed next to yours, and reach down and pet him so he knows he's being a good pup. If your dog is too loud to be so nearby, get a gate you can put in your door that allows him to see in but blocks him from entering the room.
As for cats, they love having lots of warm, soft sleeping options, so you may simply need to provide yours with more.
Teach a new family member good habits
"It's easier to create and enforce rules early on than after bad habits develop," Lindell said. For dogs, consider crate training from the start—many pups see their crate as a safe den for sleep. Place the crate outside your room so his scratching and licking won't wake you.
New cat owners should create lots of comfortable sleeping spaces—and get your kitty to use them by keeping the bedroom door closed at night.