IN THE NEWS: On JUL 11, 2017
About half of us do it — let our dogs and cats sleep in our beds, that is. How many times have you heard claims that co-sleeping with a pet — or a child — is a bad idea? Well, a new study rejects that notion, finding that co-sleeping actually offers many benefits.
Researchers from Appleton Institute of Central Queensland University in Wayville, Australia, examined co-sleeping practices as far back as the Middle Ages. They found that the concept of sleeping with animals — and even with groups of people — is nothing new.
In days of yore, humans slept more communally because it conserved resources and offered warmth and security. Our modern tendency to sleep in individual, private rooms came into practice in the Victorian era, which is no big surprise.
Victorians were all about rules and civility, so it became customary for everyone sleep in their own bed, in their own room, in appropriate clothing. Those Victorians may have been killjoys, but their tradition tends to persist even today.
The study discovered something interesting about co-sleeping with children as well:
Sleeping with children from birth is still the norm in many cultures, for instance in Egypt and among indigenous cultures in unindustrialized populations. Intergenerational co-sleeping is generally more prevalent in collectivist Asian countries than in contemporary, individualistic or industrialized Western cultures.
Worries about whether we should be co-sleeping with our pets or our children focus too much on negative perceptions, say researchers. Many people are too concerned that the habit will cause negative consequences like disease, infection, behavioral issues and — heaven help us — sexual dysfunction. Instead, we ought to focus on the many benefits of co-sleeping.
“Apart from its clear reproductive function for the survival of the species, as well as physiological support for the quality and quantity of sleep that are essential to individual health and well-being, co-sleeping fulfills basic psychological needs and reinforces and maintains social relations,” explained lead study author Bradley Smith in a press release.
“We propose that human-animal and adult-child co-sleeping should be approached as legitimate and socially relevant forms of co-sleeping,” Smith said. He added that “a comprehensive understanding of human-animal co-sleeping has significant implications for human sleep, human-animal relations, and animal welfare.”
Of course, there are legitimate reasons that some people may want to keep a pet out of their beds and bedrooms. If you have asthma or allergies, you don’t want a cat or dog sticking their furry butt against your face all night.
For others, sleep deprivation can be a real consequence of allowing a pet to sleep in bed. A full 10 percent of sleep deprived patients report that their pets are part of the problem, according to a study released by the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center.
Despite all this, for two decades now I’ve shared my bed with a husband and two or three dachshunds. Yes, there is jostling. Yes, little paws walk all over me trying to find a comfy spot to land. Yes, sometimes I lose sleep because one or more dogs need help off the bed to go take care of nature’s call.
No matter — I’d never choose not to share my bed with my canine companions. And my husband agrees. The dogs want to slam up against us, sigh heavily and drift off to sleep. It makes me happy when I hear and feel that happening. I definitely sleep better snuggled up with my entire family.
So, anyone who’s inclined to sleep with their dog or cat should stop worrying and just do it. Co-sleeping increases the bond between the species, and we surely need a lot more of that these days.