Written by Anna Hollisey
Snoring, fidgeting, dream-running? Dogs are strange, and they’re even stranger when they go to sleep. Here are 7 facts – including at least one that we bet you didn’t know – about your snoozy pooch…
You might find yourself wondering… when dogs obviously have endless energy, why do they spend so much time asleep?!
Their sleeping habits are, in fact, similar to ours. The average dog sleeps for around 50% of the day (8-14 hours), and that increases as they get older. Larger and younger dogs usually sleep even more. It’s normal and it’s necessary: they’re active mammals and need to recharge during sleep.
How do they measure up to other household pets? Most cats sleep for 12-18 hours and, past the age of 11, 60% of them sleep even more!
If your dog’s sleeping routine suddenly changes, it’s wise to discuss with your vet – especially if they are showing other symptoms too.
All that sleep is important for dogs. They’re not just being lazy!
Sleep allows their brains to process information that they’ve collected during their busy hours. It enables the body to rest and process changes, which supports a healthy immune system. (That’s why lack of sleep can leave your dog – and you – susceptible to picking up a new illness.)
But there’s another reason for the saying, “let sleeping dogs lie”. In the wild, dogs’ ancestors (wolves) needed to act fast if they were disturbed by predators. Even though they’re domesticated, our dogs might still have the instinct to react to (and even bite) their disturber.
So if your dog’s in deep sleep, don’t wake them suddenly.
In scientific tests, dogs’ sleeping patterns are shown to be the same as ours. That means they’ll first enter a period of slow wave sleep (when they’re just starting to relax, but easy to wake up). After a while, the muscles really unwind and they’ll enter deep, REM sleep. This is the part where their minds are busy processing the day’s events.
REM sleep is when your dog displays flickering eyelids (eye movement), twitching paws (dream-running) and vocalization. Research has shown that their brain waves look like ours during these sleep phases, which suggests that dogs probably dream like us too!
As for what they’re dreaming about… so far, science draws a blank here. Experts theorize that they dream about their usual daytime exploits, so you might notice similar body language while they sleep. Are they catching rabbits? Meeting their pals at the park? Or hiding because they heard the word “bath”? Next time they dream, watch your dog for clues!
You’re attempting to enjoy a Saturday lie-in. But your dog’s not interested in that. They know it’s time for breakfast. How do our dogs know when it’s time for breakfast, dinner, or bed?
It’s down to circadian rhythm – which dictates daily activity and not just sleep. Common to most mammals, circadian rhythm is governed by daylight hours as well as feeding times, which affect the metabolism. That’s why it’s important to give your dog their meals at the right times of day.
Here’s a fun one. If you see your dog circling before they settle down for a nap – or sometimes scratching and adjusting their ‘nest’ – it’s basically because they are a bit weird.
It’s another inherited behavior which comes from their ancestors who lived in the wild.
Even though our beloved dogs now recline on fancy human-bought beds, they still act like they’re forced to make their own bed each night. Circling to check for predators, nestling into undergrowth, and flattening a patch to create the perfect sleeping place – that’s how they’ll keep the cold and dangers out.
(It’s okay, pooch. You do you.)
Are you forced to look at your dog’s genitals when they stretch out every evening? You should be honored. You’re part of their ‘inner circle’. When they’re feeling perfectly safe and secure, they’re happy to expose their bellies.
There’s another reason for this sleeping position – it enables them to cool down when their body temperature has risen, perhaps after a snooze curled up in a donut shape. Dogs can’t lose body heat through their backs due to all the fur, so they expose their paws to cool themselves down.
If you’re wondering whether you should let your dog sleep outside to stay cool, we don’t recommend it. Prolonged cold temperatures can mess up your dog’s health, and there could be visiting predators to worry about, too.
You walk past your dog and they’re stretched out, apparently snoozing, but with both eyes wide open. It’s always a bit of a surprise.
For some dogs, they’re just in slow wave sleep – the early stage of sleep, in which they’re not fully relaxed. They’ll probably wake up if you make a noise. If you leave them alone, their eyes will gradually close as their muscles unwind and they enter REM sleep.
Sometimes you’ll see an extra membrane (the nictitating membrane, or “third eyelid”) stretched across their open eye. It appears as a vertical line where the clear membrane has partially drawn across; like a car screen wiper, it also removes debris. In regular sleep, this membrane comes all the way across the eyeball, beneath the outer eyelid. It keeps the eye moist and can enable your dog to sleep with their eyes open.
So the next time your dog’s doing it, lean closer and take a good look!
If your dog is struggling to sleep at night, read about some common causes. Need tips? Watch veterinarian Dr Jamie Scott talking about helping your dog to sleep better. Find out why your brachycephalic dog sleeps with their head raised. Should you let your dog sleep on your bed, or your couch? Read all about dog sleep patterns.