Good sleep is just as important for your pets as it is for you. Here’s how to optimize their shut-eye.

By Hannah Harper
April 21, 2021
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How much sleep does your pet need?

You may have noticed your dog or cat sleeps a lot. Our pets need more sleep than we do, but they need it for the same reasons: It's critical for their overall health and well-being, as well as their ability to learn and absorb information. "Brain function is made better through sleep; it's very clear that learning, normal brain development, and even healthier aging are all helped by good sleep," says Joan Hendricks, VMD, dean emerita of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. So how much do we really differ? "People will sleep anywhere from about 6 to 8 hours per day, while dogs will typically sleep 12 to 14 hours a day and cats will sleep anywhere from 16 to even 20 hours a day," says Albert Ahn, DVM, veterinary advisor for Myos Pet. Dogs tend to be social sleepers, which is why your pup is likely to follow you to bed at night, nap while you're busy at work, and be ready for play at any time of day. Cats, however, are naturally nocturnal due to their hunter instinct; they will sleep a lot of the day and be alert and active at night.

Dog on a sofa in funny pose. Beagle tired sleeping on couch.Paws upwards on back. Yawning with long tongue out.
Credit: Getty Images

How can you help her get solid sleep?

Create a lifestyle for your pet that gives her the best chance for a healthy sleep schedule. Routines that include consistent feeding times, daily playtime, and regular exercise or walks (especially right before bed) will help your dog or cat be ready for sleep at the appropriate times. Designate a spot in a low-traffic area of the house that belongs to her and is meant for sleeping only. "Dogs like to have ownership of space, so a bed or crate they can call their own is very reassuring and comforting to them," says Dr. Ahn. Cats will appreciate somewhere warm and secluded, like a sunny spot near a window or a fleece-lined plush bed.

Do animals dream?

Research shows that it's highly likely. "When people go into dream sleep, their brains appear awake while their bodies don't. The exact same thing happens in cats and dogs," says Dr. Hendricks. Cats and dogs both experience rapid eye movements and facial twitching in deeper stages of sleep, which indicate dream activity. 

Dreaming is also an important tool for a pet's memory: "Some neurologists feel that dreaming allows pets to put the day's events into context and to properlycategorize those memories," says Dr. Ahn. Snapshots from your pet's day—chasing a squirrel, getting a treat, snuggling with you—are assigned to short- or long-term memories that then influence her future behaviors. As your dog continues to have positive experiences with you, those memories all get placed into a "folder" that lets her know she can trust you. 

This article originally appeared in the  May 2021 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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