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June 3

Why do dogs sleep so much?

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Home / Dog Health / Why do dogs sleep so much?

Updated: June 3, 2021

Dogs sleep so much for a variety of reasons, and it also depends on the breed, and other factors.

In this article we aim to explain why dogs sleep so much, and what you can do to help them sleep a little better beside the person they love the most!


Why dogs sleep so much


The short answer: it's ingrained into their behavior and is part of their physiology, a remnant of their former lives in the wild.


The longer answer is that usually, dogs don't have a very fixed schedule unlike humans - dogs scatter their sleep pattern across 24 hours a day.


In a long study of wolves and their interactions with prey, it was found that they would eat their fresh kill for hours, before sleeping for about 30 percent of the winter.


In my opinion, I would think that they sleep this much because of their early days hunting with us - while we slept, they kept watch over us.


Then, when we were awake hunting and guarding the camps, they were able to sleep without fear of other animals attacking them.


How many hours do dogs sleep


Dogs tend to sleep a lot more than humans; dogs spend 12 to 14 hours per day sleeping, according to the American Kennel Club.

These facts combined means that dogs sleep more than we do, and they also wake up more than we do. 


To further break it down, dogs spend about half their time dozing and sleeping, 30 percent just laying around but awake, and the remaining time actually being active.


Also, only about approximately 10 percent of a dog's sleep is REM (Rapid Eye Movement), the restorative sleep. Its no wonder then that they nap so often in the day as well. (src)

You'd also have noticed that humans sleep in one big chunk at night, while dogs don't - they will wake up in the night, move around, then go back to sleep. 

They aren't deep sleepers - they can easily fall asleep whenever and wherever, but will snap to awake and alert in a moment's notice, like when someone knocks on the door.


This is why dogs are 'flexible sleepers' - but it's this trait that also causes dogs to need a lot more sleep to make up for the lack of REM sleep.

 


What affects dog's sleep


There are several factors that can affect the quality of your dog's sleep.


Age of dog


Of course, age plays quite a large part in how much dogs sleep as well - puppies and senior dogs sleep a lot more than the adult dogs, just like humans in general.


How much do puppies sleep


Of course, puppies will sleep far more than a healthy adult dog, because they're still growing up! (src)

Similar to human children, puppies will spend a lot of time exploring, growing and playing with their new owners.

But they can sleep anywhere from 18-20 hours of sleep a day.


So those videos on puppies sleeping as they're being held is true - they need lots of sleep.

However, by the time they reach adulthood, which is about 1 year old, they'll have a normal adult sleep schedule, minus any health issues they have.



How much do senior dogs sleep


Senior dogs tend to sleep a lot more as well - it's all part of the dog's aging process. 

(The 'old' label for dogs start at around 6 years old, in most cases.)


It's not really a surprise; their energy drops, and their joints begin to hurt a little more and they move around less.

They'll also begin to sleep more than the younger dogs; sleeping several more hours (similar to puppy hours) is not uncommon!

This is quite similar to the average human as well - older folks tend to sleep a little more than the average adult.


Breed of dog


Large breeds in general require a lot more sleep than the smaller breeds, but it depends on what the breed was bred to do.


For example, large working breeds like the Great Pyrenees tend to be awake more often due to them doing jobs requiring their attention.

These sort of working breeds will eventually catch up on their sleep by having deeper and more REM sleep, no not to worry about them.


Dogs that weren't bred for any specific task in general, or were bred as lapdogs, usually end up more sedentary, and tend to sleep more in their lives.


Health of dog


A dog recovering from a major surgery will of course sleep a lot more than a health dog.

Or if your dog just recovered from a bout of food poisoning and diarrhea, expect them to sleep more as well. 




How sleep affects your dog's health


Though rare, dogs can get some kind of sleeping disorders.

This typically manifests either as excessive sleeping, getting too little sleep, or a very irregular sleep pattern.


If you notice your dog is sleeping a lot more than normal. or their energy levels are far lower throughout the day, they might have problems.


Other symptoms also include lethargy - especially significant lethargy.

The lethargy could also signal to an underlying, more significant issue like diabetes, Lyme disease, hyperthyroidism, or even dog depression.


Dog sleep disorders


There are also some dogs that get diagnosed with sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, or even narcolepsy, as rare as it is.


Insomnia


Usually dogs with insomnia get it due to some form of medical reason, like pain from injuries, arthritis, or some kind of internal organ failure like kidney disease.


If your dog has consistent insomnia, please bring your dog to the vet - there might be more dangerous, underlying reason to your dog's insomnia.


Sleep narcolepsy in dogs


Your dog might also have sleep narcolepsy if your vet's blood test on your dog shows low levels of hypocretin, a chemical that helps dog maintain sleep patterns.


There are some breeds more likely to get narcolepsy, such as Dobermans, Poodles, and Labrador retrievers.

Sometimes, these dogs with lower levels of hypocretin can suddenly fall asleep in the day, even if they're excited or engaged in some activity.


Thankfully, narcolepsy is not life threatening to the dog, and can be managed easily with the help of your veterinarian.


Sleep apnea in dogs


Sleep apnea in dogs is quite rare, but its also a good reason to bring your dog to the vet.


PetMD defines sleep apneas in dogs as an "excessive internal fat or abnormal respiratory anatomy can temporarily collapse or narrow the airway …"


Known treatment options include weight loss for obese dogs, surgery and steam humidifiers.

Certain breeds are more common in breeds that have very short snouts however, such as Pugs, or English Bulldogs.


Should dogs have sleeping schedules


So this begs the question - should dogs have sleeping schedules similar to us?


Well, in general, yes.


If you give your dog a sleep schedule, it can be easier to align their sleep schedules with yours.

Sleep schedules are particularly important if you just brought home a puppy and you're trying to house-train them.


For the same reason, crates and kennels can also be a useful subconscious signal for your dog to recognize its time for sleep. This helps to lower the chance of a puppy accident at night.  Studies have also shown that they enjoy the security and comfort of having their own place to sleep. (src)

Crates also generally will work for older adopted dogs - this is more familiar to them since they were probably in the shelter once, with the kennels.



However, not all dogs can adopt a sleep schedule easily - a breed like the Great Pyrenees are guard dogs, and will awake and be alert at night due to their temperament.

Some dogs also prefer  to be awake at night because then can then 'attempt' to hunt prey like raccoons and squirrels. Dogs with high prey drives like Huskies might behave like that at night sometimes!


For other dogs, they're happy to have the same sleeping schedule as you, simply because it means more snuggle time for them with you!


Dog sleeping positions


The sleeping patterns of dogs do have meaning, contrary to what some experts believe. Their favorite sleeping position will change based on who they're snoozing near, where they're sleeping, or if they feel a certain way.


On the side


In general a dog that sleeps on it's side feels safe around you, because it leaves its vital organs exposed (you'll very rarely see a wild dog sleep like that)

Dogs that sleep like this generally are quite easy-going, though they may switch to a more defensive sleep position (like the curled up position) if they're sleeping somewhere new, or with unfamiliar people 


Curled up

The default position of wild dogs and wolves - they're curled up in a ball to protect their vital organs, and make it easy for them to flee quickly if there's trouble.

This sleep position is taken when a dog doesn't yet trust its new owner, or there are unfamiliar guests in the home and they're keeping an eye on them.

Of course, there are some dogs that just prefer sleeping in this position - this is common in the winter because it also helps them conserve heat.


Belly down / Sprawled out



This is another dog position that allows for dogs to get up quickly - but it's typically for dogs that don't want to miss a moment of play and action with their owners.

Typically, puppies adopt this sleeping form as it helps them nap easily, but ready to play again at a moment's notice. 


On their backs, with paws in the air


This is the opposite of  a dog curling up - this sleeping position usually helps a dog lose heat in hotter temperatures, typically in summer.

This is usually the case when they sleep on dog beds as well - the bed is usually lined with insulating fabrics, and they cool off in the bed by lying upside down.


But this position also indicates that the dog is very comfortable with you, and whoever is around, since it's most sensitive areas are completely exposed, and the position makes it hard for them to get on their feet quickly.


Back to back, snuggled up (with you or another dog)


Most dogs love to snuggle - either with you, family members, or other dogs and animals.

It all means the same thing - they're bonding with you, love you, and want to get closer to you.

A dog that does this to you is very loving and affectionate, and is comfortable with whoever they're napping with (or on).


The best thing about this sort of dog? You can return the love by snoozing with them too!


Dog sleeping position caveat


Of course, a caveat to note: sometimes, dogs sleep a certain way also due to injuries, or some bodily discomfort - i.e. if your dogs usually sleep belly down, but you notice they suddenly sleep more on the side, it might indicate some stomach discomfort.

Of course, you know your dogs best, so if it's unusual for their behavior, do not hesitate to contact the vet!



Dog sleep behaviors


Sometimes before a dog goes to nap or sleep, you'll catch them doing some unusual things. Here we try to explain what they're doing, and why they do it.


Circling and Digging their beds

Extremely common

A pretty common sight to see, this behavior is simply the result of their old wolf ancestors trampling on grass and the ground to get comfortable.

It's also seen in wolves today - they also dig a home to keep themselves warm in the winter, or cooler in the summer.


However, if you see your dog circling too much and have trouble settling into their beds, it might be a sign of pain/injury, or arthritis. Please consult your vet about it!


Lightly dozing off

Extremely common

Sometimes a dog will close its eyes only to wake up a moment later.

This isn't restful sleep - they might just be bored, or are just settling in to get a light nap.

Usually your dog's ears will still perk up if there's any other sound - this means they're still alert and are looking for something to do.


... If they're doing this, maybe go take a ball and play with them? 🙂



Twitching, wagging their tails, or letting out soft barks

Extremely common

Dogs are similar to humans - they tend to move during their REM sleep. They could be acting out their dreams, but they're at least getting a deep sleep.

This is good for the dogs, because this is a healthy outlet for dogs and helps keep them healthy,

Usually in this case, it's best to just leave them alone and not distract them from their dream. You wouldn't want your dog to pounce on you when you're having a nice dream too right?



Distress

Not common

Dogs can get nightmares too! 🙁

When the twitching or barks get more intense than their normal sleeping selves, it could be that they're having a bad dream.

You can try gently waking them up from this state by gently calling their name or lightly stroking their back.

The key here is Soothing and Gentle sounds from you, their owner.


This is also a normal phenomenon, but if your dog gets more distressed more often than usual, then it might be worth a trip to the vet to see if there's any neurological issue.


Seizures

Rare


On the extreme end of the distress spectrum, a seizure can be life threatening for a dog and may require medical attention.

If your dog's twitching turns into spasms, try calling your dog's name and waking them up if you notice their movements are too abnormal.

If they wake up, it can probably be attributed to an intense dream.

Should your dog not wake even after you shake them, or if they feel stiff, drop everything and bring your dog to the vet immediately.


Of course in these cases, you know your dog's sleeping patterns and habits best - so caution is advised as you see fit with your dog's behavior.


Can you help your dog sleep better?


There are a few ways to help your dog sleep a little better at night (and thus, also helping them stick to a sleep schedule you set for them!)


Routines


Give your dog a  routine, so they know when they'll play, eat, exercise, or just laze around the house.

The more important routine to give your dog is regular exercise. Usually, daily walks and playtime help dogs have a more restful sleep.

 

A well-exercised dog is a tired dog.


Next, before bedtime, let your dog out to relieve themselves one last time, so they can sleep throughout without needing to get up to pee or poo.


Feeding your dog their dinner earlier in the evening can help prevent any digestive issues after bedtime.


Oh, and make sure to give your dogs a spot to sleep - bring their dog beds into your room and put it near you. This will help them sleep well, next to the person they love most.

Summary


Hopefully this article has been helpful in explaining why they sleep so much, and how you can fit your sleep schedules together.


When to worry about a dog's sleep pattern


Remember, the only time you'll need to worry is when a big change happened in your dog's sleeping habits - if your dog is wide awake 24/7, you know then there is a problem.

Excessive sleep in adult dogs can also be due to dog depression, or the more serious hypothyroidism.

Either way, if you notice a big change, just make sure to contact your vet and see them ASAP! 


about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and dogs - the good, bad and ugly sides of dog ownership.


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