Part 3: The Importance of Sleep

I thought I’d introduce a bit more about what Amber Batson is referring to when she talks about the importance of sleep for dogs.

First, why is this important to understand?

According to Amber, many of our domestic dogs are not in a situation where they can sleep at a level deep enough to achieve REM sleep. Dogs need 20-50% of their sleep time/day to be REM. I’ll explain why below, but the first question to ask is: have you set up your home and your lifestyle so your dog is able to sleep deeply enough to reach the REM stage?

What our dogs need for relaxed sleep:

  1. Elevation. Studies show that most dogs sleep deeper on an elevated surface and will choose an elevated surface to sleep over sleeping on the ground. So, please tell your friends that your dog is not misbehaving if he wants to sleep on their beds or furniture – instead, this is something he needs (and knows he needs) for survival!
  2. Comfortable surface. This was corroborated by Julia Robertson in her presentation. Dogs have aches and pain just like we do. They need to be able to move bedding around to help pad their body where it needs support. Again, dogs are just trying to find a place to sleep deeply. Pillows and bolsters need to be moveable, not static.
  3. Enough space to lie flat on their sides. For dogs to go into REM sleep, they need to lie flat on their sides. Dogs need at least 12 hours of sleep per day – and 20% to 50% of that should be REM sleep. The elevated surface should be large enough and soft enough so they can relax on their side. Remember that in REM sleep, we are posturally paralyzed from the neck down. Just as our heads nod and wake us up if we try to sleep deeply sitting up, so will our dog’s heads nod, or shoulders, or hips if they can’t sleep flat on their sides. Watch how many times your dog rearranges herself so she can lie flat. This is on purpose! A circular bed with fixed bolsters does not meet this need.
  4. Company. Sleeping is a social behavior for dogs according to Amber and the many studies she’s reviewed as a veterinary behaviorist. Dogs want to be with other dogs and/or humans when they sleep. Some dogs want to touch us for comfort when they sleep. Other dogs want to know we are nearby. This is part of who they are. They seek this out in the same way they seek out elevation, comfort, and large enough surfaces to lie flat.
  5. Calm – both inside one’s body and outside. This seems as though it’s a given, but poor digestion, illness, having just experienced high levels of exercise (exhaustion is not relaxation as Amber pointed out in detail), loud sounds, or other stressful events will impact the sleep a dog needs.

When you think of the criteria a dog needs to sleep twelve hours a day (in order to maintain homeostasis in her life), one can begin to understand why veterinarians such as Amber Batson link increased stress and reactivity to the elements of a dog’s life at home. The great part of this is we can meet all these needs of our dogs!

The second section is the discussion of why REM sleep is so important in all our lives. Amber gave us a number of studies showing how, in humans, just one night of sleep deprivation led to increased “oh, what was that?!?” feelings, worry, a slowed ability to learn, and other types of over-reactivity to normal events in one’s life. REM sleep gives us all a chance to rebalance – not just mentally, but physically when it comes to stress chemicals in our brain.

A quote from the NIH says it well,

Sleep is an important part of your daily routine—you spend about one-third of your time doing it. Quality sleep – and getting enough of it at the right times — is as essential to survival as food and water. Without sleep you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that let you learn and create new memories, and it’s harder to concentrate and respond quickly.

Amber Batson also talked about brain pathways, but I’ll save that for another lesson!

There are many sleep studies in the human world showing the importance of good, deep, adequate sleep. But, the take away message from Amber is to do all we can do to help our domestic dogs sleep well – and honor what they try to do in order to achieve this!

I’d love to hear what you think and if you have any questions. Please email me at info@mtnhoovespaws.com with your observations and questions. And, if you change anything in your dog’s life to accommodate her needs regarding sleep, do you see less stress and more relaxation?