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May 2024

Why sleep is important to your dog

Why good quality sleep is important

It’s no secret that sleeping well can help us remain in a positive mental state! But did you know the same goes for dogs? Sleep is important to your dog as it’s involved in many brain functions. These include replenishing energy stores and consolidating memories. So, your dog’s behaviour and health are likely to be impacted if they’re not getting quality rest and sleep.

Naturally, dogs are polyphasic sleepers. This means that they sleep in more than two intervals a day. They may sleep less than us overnight but also take naps during the day. On average, dogs will sleep between 10-14 hours and this will vary throughout a dog’s life. For example, they’ll likely need more sleep as a puppy and again when in their senior years.

The sleep-wake cycle consists of three states, wakefulness, slow-wave sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These sleep phases are responsible for different physiological and cognitive functions within the body and when not able to function properly can affect many areas. This can include activity levels, cognitive performance, communication, anxiety and likelihood of aggression.

Sleep in dogs will vary between individuals. It can be influenced by factors such as age, activity levels, sex, diet and human interaction or presence. It’s important therefore to recognise what is normal for your dog and ensure that their sleep needs are being met. Otherwise, regular sleep disturbance may mean compromised welfare and could lead to behaviour and health concerns.

Sleep and behaviour


If you’ve ever welcomed a puppy to the family you’re probably familiar with puppy mad moments! These are the times when your puppy doesn’t seem to want to settle down. They may have zoomies (an excess of energy released in a short burst), become mouthy, or jump up and rag at toys, your clothes, or the lead. It’s easy to assume they need to tire out further. But, sometimes this can indicate overstimulation! Your puppy is likely to be tired and in need of a good sleep!

Behaviour problems

Behaviour problems in dogs can have multiple variables involved. However, sleep is always worth considering. Lack of sleep can contribute to irritability, trouble concentrating and a reduction in tolerance. This means that if a dog is tired, they may be more likely to react negatively if provoked, worried, anxious, in pain, or frustrated. Therefore, while sleep may not be the only factor contributing to problematic behaviour, it may play a role in maintaining it.

This means that it’s useful to look at the sleeping patterns of any dog showing problematic behaviour.

Older dogs

As above, older dogs are likely to spend more time sleeping. We also need to consider that older dogs may be more likely to experience pain or discomfort linked to ageing and this may impact their sleep quality. For example, if in discomfort they may find it harder to get comfortable. This will mean they may suffer from sleep disturbance.

In some cases, older dogs can suffer from cognitive dysfunction. This can cause changes in sleep patterns and may cause changes including disturbances at night, or sleeping more during the day. Cognitive dysfunction in dogs is caused by degenerative age-related changes in the brain and alongside veterinary treatment, dogs can benefit from being supported behaviourally.

How we can support dogs with sleep

Supporting our pet dogs to get good quality sleep is important. Dogs live amongst us in our sometimes chaotic, busy lives, which means they may not always get the opportunity to get the sleep they need. It’s easy to assume that they sleep well at night, or when we’re not around. But to be sure, it’s useful to confirm this. You can do this by setting up a camera, keeping a record and monitoring the quality of sleep and any changes or disturbances.

Both human presence and lack of human presence or interaction can impact sleep and cause disturbance.

For example, your dog may find it hard to settle down and sleep alone if they love social contact. They may therefore get better quality rest and sleep with humans close by. That’s why many dogs will choose to sleep near their owners if given a choice. However, we need to remember that even social dogs may struggle to settle in a noisy, busy, exciting or overwhelming environment.

On the other hand, some dogs may sleep better in their own space. They may struggle to feel safe enough to settle down in the presence of new people if they’re worried or anxious. Or, if they’re in pain or discomfort, then being too close to others may aggravate this and they may prefer space.

This means that to best support dogs we need to treat them as individuals. We can do this by taking into account their health and emotional needs and individual preferences.

You can listen here to my experience of helping my dog Poppy get the rest and sleep she needs by using a crate as a safe space.

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