Written by Ella White
If your dog won’t sleep, you probably won’t either. From whining to tip-tapping around to sneaking into your bedroom in the wee hours, a dog that won’t settle at night can be disruptive for everyone. The good news is, there are plenty of ways to help your dog settle. But first, you’ll need to understand the potential reasons for them avoiding sleep in the first place.
In this article, we’ll look at why your dog isn’t sleeping and how you can fix the issue.
Many pet dogs lead a pretty relaxing life, especially compared to their working dog counterparts. But that doesn’t mean the length and quality of their sleep isn’t just as important as it is for hard-working humans. Puppies and dogs of all ages need between 9-14 hours of sleep every day to help keep their brain, body, immune system, and memory functioning healthily.
In puppies and working dogs that exert more energy, the number is even higher. 18 to 20 hours of sleep and rest should be allowed to help them rejuvenate, and prevent illness and infection. So, if your dog’s not settling at night it’s not just annoying for you as their owner, it could be detrimental to their own health, too.
There are a number of reasons that dogs can struggle to sleep or refuse to settle at night. Some are easier to identify and cure than others, but whatever the reason, it’s important to get to the bottom of it so you can help your pet (and your family) get the quality sleep they deserve.
Throughout their lives, dogs will need different amounts of sleep. Younger dogs that need more sleep might struggle to fall into a slumber because they’re feeling energetic in the evenings. New puppies can also suffer from nightmares when they’re new to a home.
As they get older, dogs are likely to suffer from cognitive dysfunction which can make it hard for dogs to stay asleep through the night. It causes confusion and can be hard to spot. If you think this is the cause of your senior dog’s restlessness at night, look out for other symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction, including shaking and swaying, falling, and reduced vision and smell.
There are a number of situations that can trigger anxiety in dogs, just like in humans. And some pups that are fine during the day can feel anxious at night which can result in a lack of sleep. Some of the main causes of anxiety in dogs include new environments, separation, fear, aging, and under-stimulation.
So it’s important to make sure your dog is well exercised both mentally and physically, and feels safe in the space where they’re expected to sleep. Age, social fears, and separation anxiety can be harder to cure quickly, and might require behavioral training or supplements to help them settle at night.
Any kind of change, from bringing your puppy home for the first time to moving home to introducing a new member to the family can cause stress to dogs. In turn, this stress can keep them awake at night. It’s similar to anxiety but hopefully easier to overcome as your dog settles into their new surroundings.
If you’re traveling with your dog or know they will be expected to sleep in a new setting, do your best to make it feel like home by bringing their bed, toys, and anything else that might help them settle into the change.
We all know how it feels to be kept awake by noise and other distractions at night – and these same things can stop our dogs from sleeping too. While we might lie in bed feeling irritated by the noise outside, dogs have it in their nature to want to investigate.
So, if a fox runs across the yard in the night or the neighbors are having a party, your pooch will probably be trying to find the source of the sound. It can be hard to train dogs out of this instinct, but many are settled by white or pink noise machines that help get them used to different sounds so they’re less keen to investigate distractions during the night.
One of the main reasons that toilet training is important for dogs isn’t just to protect your flooring – it’s so they know when they should be going, as well as where. So if your dog hasn’t gone to the toilet before bed, they might end up needing to go in the night.
If they’re trained well enough to know not to go inside, holding it in can stop them from settling. Similarly, puppies that need the toilet more frequently might wake up multiple times to go in the night. While getting up to let your dog outside in the middle of the night might not seem like an ideal solution, it could be the only way to get them to sleep. So work on training them to go at set times – and not at 3am.
If your dog is in pain, it could be keeping them awake at night. This could be caused by an existing or underlying health issue, or an injury. Whatever the cause, it’s important to look out for symptoms of illness during the day, as ignoring them could lead to an unsettled night's sleep for both of you.
Remember, it’s a natural instinct for many dogs to try and hide their pain so look out for more subtle signs. Dogs that have a more placid nature will lick their lips in an attempt to self soothe rather than yelp or growl.
If you know your dog is in pain and they are being treated for an illness or injury, make sure they have a comfy bed and vet prescribed painkillers to help them sleep.
We’ve already mentioned that separation anxiety can stop dogs from sleeping. But even dogs that don’t mind being left alone during the day can feel stressed about being separated from their pack at night.
When the household closes down for the night and the family goes to bed, your dog can feel restless and overexcited, or sad to see you go. This is especially common in puppies that don’t yet understand their new environment and routine.
You’ve probably noticed that some of the reasons for dogs becoming restless at night are easier to correct than others. But once you’ve defined the problem, it’s time to work on it for the sake of both you and your dog’s sanity!
These are some of the best ways to help your dog sleep at night. You might find one that works wonders, or you might need to combine a few to achieve perfect relaxation.
Nobody likes to sleep on a hard, uncomfortable surface. And the same applies to your dog. Sure, they don’t need a luxury mattress (although they are available in doggy sizes!), but a comfy, padded bed that they love to lie on can help them get a good night's sleep.
Even if your dog likes to nap on the floor, they should still have access to a bed that fits their size and contains blankets and pillows that they can arrange just how they like them.
As much as we humans like a nice fresh set of bedding, your dog isn’t so keen. Unless it’s walking itself to the washer, don’t keep throwing your dog’s bed in the wash every week. When it’s reached the point where a wash can’t be avoided, try not to use heavily scented products.
Once their comfy bed is complete, it needs to be situated in a dark, peaceful area of the house. If your dog can’t get to sleep due to noise or other distractions it won’t matter how soft their bedding is – they still won’t settle.
What this space looks like will be unique to your home, and if you live in a loud, busy area you might want to invest in a white noise machine to create a more peaceful environment that’s conducive to a good night’s sleep.
If your dog is waiting for someone to walk through the door that you know won’t be coming home that night, try to ease the dog to bed. Let them focus on your presence and comfort until they stop focusing on the individual that isn’t home. The dog may feel more comfortable sleeping in your room or bed.
If your dog isn’t sleeping because they need the toilet throughout the night, limit how much they drink in the evenings. If they’re gulping down the majority of their daily water intake after dinner, it’s no surprise that their bladder will be full when they’re trying to sleep.
Encourage your dog to drink as much as they want throughout the day, then reduce the amount of water they have access to during the evening once they’ve already had enough to remain well hydrated. This will help them get used to drinking in the day so they aren’t thirsty in the evenings.
Dogs thrive on routine so taking them for a quick trot round the block or a couple of minutes in the garden before bed can be helpful. They’ll not only void their bladders, but they’ll soon learn that after evening empties, it’s time for bed.
If your dog is drinking excessively and their drinking habits have changed suddenly, it could be a symptom of another condition like Cushing’s disease.
Some dog owners are resistant to the idea of crate training as they think it’s ‘cruel’ to have a dog ‘cooped up’ in a cage. However, by nature dogs are den animals that actually thrive and are able to rest more easily in the secure environment that a crate can offer.
It’s important to get your dog used to their crate and to present it to them as their own sanctuary where they can relax, rather than a place of punishment. Fit it out with a comfy bed and blankets so they don’t have to lie on the hard surface, and always make sure it’s well fitted to their size.
Teach the kids they’re not to bother your dog when they’re in their crate. Your dog will soon associate their crate with peace and quiet. Once your dog is crate trained, they’ll consider it their own secure space to sleep, which can help restless dogs to settle at night.
If your dog is a ball of pent up energy come night time, it’s no surprise that they might have trouble sleeping. So it’s important to make sure they’re well exercised during the day so their energy is spent and they’re ready for sleep come nightfall.
From a walk in the park to play in the garden, there are plenty of ways to make sure your dog’s exercise needs are accounted for. If your usual routine is to walk your dog early in the morning, they might benefit from another walk later in the day.
But avoid too much activity close to bedtime – rather than wearing them out, this can get the overstimulated right when you want them to sleep.
Like humans, dogs need time to learn and form new habits. You can try everything on our list but it won’t work overnight. Give it time, be patient and make sure you’re really listening to what your dog’s trying to tell you.
But if you’ve tried everything, given it plenty of time and your dog still won’t settle, it could be a sign something else is wrong. When all else fails, it’s always best to take your dog to the vet for a professional take on the matter. They might run tests to check for health conditions, examine them for any signs of injury that might be preventing sleep, or refer them to a trainer or other professional that can help them adjust to a more acceptable night time routine.