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Is your dog getting enough sleep?

Just like humans, dogs' need sleep. Sleep is a crucial process that needs to happen across all animals, otherwise behavioural and health issues can occur. Dogs' need to get enough sleep for their overall health, and wellbeing.

Did you know that dogs have different types of sleep?

Dogs will go between REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and SWS (Slow Wave Sleep) stages when they are asleep. The REM stage of sleep is when the dog is in a deep sleep. This is often when they are dreaming, Dogs spend about 10% of their time in this dreaming phase whilst they sleep. SWS is often in this stage when dogs' first fall asleep. During SWS it is when the dogs' brain waves are slow and undulating. When they are in SWS stage their mental function is quiet however, their muscle tone is still active. Therefore, their body isn't totally relaxed.

When dogs are asleep they go between REM and SWS phases. Dogs' also have preferred sleep positions, some like to be curled up into a little ball, whilst others like my girl Shadow loves to lie on her back with her stomach exposed. REM stage will happen when your dog is most relaxed, take note of what sleep position your dog is in when they have a REM phase of sleep.

Shadow in one of her favourite sleeping positions.

During the REM phase scientist have discovered that dogs do dream. Studies in which the muscle-paralyzing part of the pons ( PONS- part of the brain that stops you from physically acting out your dreams) has been temporarily deactivated are the only way to peek into doggy dreams. With the pons offline, dogs start to act out their dreams (in humans, this condition is called REM sleep disorder). These studies also suggest that dogs dream about doggo things such as fetch, sniffing other dogs butts, chasing rabbits and of course food.

Dogs are not able to dream up scary monsters the way we humans can. Thus if your dog is having a nightmare, they are most likely recalling a traumatic experience. Unfortunately dogs' who have experienced more trauma in the past, are more likely to have nightmares. My boy Phoenix is living evidence of this. Since adopting him he has had many nightmares, and unfortunately a few times a year he would have what I would describe as full blown night terror. In this situation he would be sound asleep and screaming, crying, howling, and shaking uncontrollably. He would wake up the entire house, it is just heartbreaking. When Phoenix is having one of these terrors it is very much like PTSD. For dogs these dreams/terrors are like having vivid flashbacks, and they are in extreme distress when they are reliving their past trauma. This trauma and fear is very real for them.

Phoenix always has a way to get himself comfortable and ready for bed.

When your dog is having a nightmare your first instinct is to wake them up. But the last thing you should do is go up to them and poke or shake them. Waking up dogs can be disorientating and startling, therefore it can create unwanted behaviours such as biting, lunging, or snapping. All of which your dog would not normally do. It is almost that knee jerk reaction. Think about us, when we are sound asleep or having a bad dream if someone was to come in and wake you up but touching them, you would be grumpy, disoriented and not your normal self too.

How to wake your dog up safely.

As a rule of thumb it is best to let sleeping dogs lie, as they age old saying goes. The first and easiest way to wake up your dog is to enter the room they are asleep in and speak loudly, and make some noise. When you walk into the room step louder than what you would normally do. This should prevent them from getting startled, and should wake them up.

For owners who have deaf dogs or hard of hearing dogs it is important that you take extra precautions when waking up your dog.

When your deaf/hard of hearing dog is asleep you can try different approaches to get your dog’s attention, including stomping your foot so your dog can feel the vibrations on the floor. Once you have their attention, you can of course communicate with hand signals or sign language they have learned. . Another popular approach is gently blowing at your dog’s nose at a safe distance.

Why your dog needs sleep!

Sleep aids in your dogs development, also helps their immune system stay healthy, improves their memory, and learning ability. When your dog doesn't get enough sleep, not only are they grumpy/tired, in a bad mood, more reactive, edgy and they also find it hard to concentrate. Sleep deprived dogs are more prone to infections. This is because their body isn't able to regenerate itself, they do this when they sleep. Dogs' bodies use most of the night to produce proteins that heal the damage done to cells and tissues when they're awake and more metabolically active.

Long term sleep deprivation can have a real negative effect on your dog. These dogs can develop health issues such as: anxiety, gastrointestinal issues, and poor immune systems which can lead to further health issues, and behavioural issues.

How to help your dog sleep better!

  • Ensure your dog is getting enough exercise throughout the day.

  • Make sure your dog has gone to the toilet before going to bed. Just like us, they can't sleep with a full bladder.

  • Have a warm, and comfy bed. This is so important for dogs with injuries and older dogs. You will want a bed that is warm, and comfortable for them. If a dog is uncomfortable or cold they won't sleep.

  • you can play some soothing sounds such as white noise or calm music. For puppies you can use an analog clock which helps mimic the sound of their mother's heart beat.

  • Create a warm, safe and comfortable environment.

  • Crate train your dog. This can really help your dog to get some sound sleep in the safety and comfort of their crate.

So how much sleep should your dog be getting? Most adult dogs should be getting 12-14 hours of sleep every day. Puppies, older dogs, and larger breed dogs may sleep more, and working dogs may sleep less.

How to tell if your dog is overtired or exhuasted!

  • Become over excited. Just like children when dogs' are over tired they can become highly aroused, and in some cases more excited and active.

  • Lose Self Control. When dogs' have a lack of self control due to being irritable and tired and cause them to do something out of character such as snap, bite, or growl.

  • Health Issues. You may notice them move differently, or breathe differently. This could be from overuse and not enough rest/sleep.

  • Lose Interest. Dogs when overtired can lose interest in things they normally get excited over such as their favourite toy/game.

  • Yawns a lot. Yawning is often a sign that your dog is under stress. However excessive yawning is a sign that they are overtired.

  • Forgets Commands. If your dog has forgotten simple known commands, it's not them being defiant, but in fact over tired, and need to take a break and rest/sleep.

  • Lays Down. This is more prominent for dogs' that are normally very active. When they lie down they are tired, however it doesn't mean they are getting a full rest like their body needs.

  • Zoomies. Everyone loves to see a dog in full Zoomies mode. Zoomies generally happen because either the dog is bored, or they need to let off some steam. It can also be a sign that they are overtired. So next time your dog does Zoomies, look at their behaviour and what happened before the Zoomies. If a lot was going on beforehand this is a strong indicator they are overtired, and they need to sleep.

  • Gets easily Distracted. Again this is more prominent in dogs' that aren't normally easily distracted, especially during training. Dogs may wonder off and pick up a scent rather than focus on the task at hand.

  • Mouthing. This is a tell tale sign especially when it comes to puppies.

  • Restlessness. Like humans dogs's can find it hard to settle and become restless when overtired. If you dog is like this limit their space to wonder, and make sure you give them plenty of comfortable bedding.

  • More Anxious. When a dog is overtired they can become more anxious about things that normally wouldn't bother them.

  • Reactive Behaviours. When dogs are overtire they become more anxious, irritable, and therefore can become more reactive.

Zoe with one of her many comfortable beds. It's so important to have a good bed as they get older.

In conclusion, make sure your dog is getting enough sleep, and quality sleep as it is so important for their mental and physical health.

P.S I am writing this during the night when I can't sleep and Phoenix is snoring.


References n.d. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 September 2020].

Science | AAAS. 2017. Brain Scans Show Dogs Learn When Sleeping—Just Like People. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 September 2020]. 2020. How Many Hours Do Dogs Sleep Everyday | Sleep.Org. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 September 2020]. 2020. Everything You Need To Know About Dogs Sleep. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 September 2020].

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Margaret Williams
Margaret Williams
Sep 12, 2023

Thanks Simone. Great info, and a lot to think about. One of my dogs Mavi dreams a lot and sometimes she sounds like she is getting distressed. I have found the best way to wake her without startling her is to softly call her name and watch her ears for a reaction. Once her ears react I know she’s hearing me and she stops dreaming, even though her eyes are still closed. Sometimes I need to increase the volume of my voice until I see a reaction, but she stays calm. What are your thoughts on this method?

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