Summary: Researchers say there is no difference in sleep quality between children who sleep alone and those who snuggle up with their pets at night. Children with pets consider the animals to be part of their family and derive comfort by sleeping next to them.

Source: Concordia University

There is a long-held belief that having your pet sleep on the bed is a bad idea. Aside from taking up space, noisy scratching, or triggering allergies, the most common assertion averred that your furry companion would disrupt your sleep.

A new study published in the journal Sleep Health tells a different story. Researchers at Concordia’s Pediatric Public Health Psychology Lab (PPHP) found that the sleep quality of the surprisingly high number of children who share a bed with their pets is indistinguishable from those who sleep alone.

“Sleeping with your pet does not appear to be disruptive,” says the paper’s lead author, PhD student Hillary Rowe. “In fact, children who frequently slept with their pet endorsed having higher sleep quality.”

Rowe co-wrote the paper with fellow PPHP researchers Denise Jarrin, Neressa Noel, Joanne Ramil and Jennifer McGrath, professor of psychology and the laboratory’s director.

Serendipitous findings

The data the researchers used was found amid the findings of the larger Healthy Heart Project, a longitudinal study funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which explores the links between childhood stress, sleep and circadian timing.

Children and parents answered questionnaires about bedtime routines and sleep hygiene: keeping a consistent bedtime, having a relaxing pre-sleep routine and sleeping in a quiet comfortable space. For two weeks, children wore wearables (wrist actigraphy) and filled out daily logs to track their sleep. Children were also fitted with a specialized home polysomnography device for one night to allow the researchers to record their brain waves (EEG signals) while they were sleeping.

“One of the sleep hygiene questions asked if they shared their bed with a pet,” McGrath says. “We were startled to find that one in three children answered yes!”

Following this discovery, they looked to see what the existing literature said about the subject of bed-sharing with animals. They found a few studies with adults, but almost nothing with youth.

“Co-sleeping with a pet is something many children are doing, and we don’t know how it influences their sleep,” Rowe adds. “So, from a sleep science perspective, we felt this was something important we should look into.”

Shining a better light on sleep measurement

The researchers categorized the children into one of three groups based on how often they sleep with their pet: never, sometimes or frequent. They then compared the three groups across a diverse range of sleep variables to see if there were any significant differences between them.

She hypothesizes that the children are more likely to consider pets as their friends and derive comfort from sleeping with them. Image is in the public domain

“Given the larger goals of the Healthy Heart Project, we were able to not only look at bedtimes and amount of time sleeping (duration), but also how long it took to fall asleep (latency), nighttime awakenings (disruptions) and sleep quality,” McGrath says. They found that the three groups were generally similar across all sleep dimensions.

“The findings suggest that the presence of a pet had no negative impact on sleep,” Rowe notes. “Indeed, we found that children who slept with their pets most often reported higher perceived sleep quality, especially among adolescents.”

She hypothesizes that the children are more likely to consider pets as their friends and derive comfort from sleeping with them.

“These findings also sharpen our thinking about how to improve technology to measure sleep,” McGrath adds.

See also

This shows a brain made up of cog wheels and a light bulb

“Many wearables like Apple Watch and Fitbit or even smartphones themselves have accelerometers that detect movement to decode one’s sleep. Given the number of people who share their bed with their partner, or their pet, it may be sensible to develop a setting for co-sleeping to tweak the algorithm used to define sleep intrusions or awakenings, which would make for a much more accurate sleep assessment.”

About this sleep research news

Source: Concordia University
Contact: Patrick Lejtenyi – Concordia University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
“The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime: The effects of pet-human co-sleeping and bedsharing on sleep dimensions of children and adolescents” by Hillary Rowe et al. Sleep Health


Abstract

The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime: The effects of pet-human co-sleeping and bedsharing on sleep dimensions of children and adolescents

Background

Pets are often thought to be detrimental to sleep. Up to 75% of households with children have a pet, and 30-50% of adults and children regularly share their bed with their pets. Despite these high rates, few studies have examined the effect of pet-human co-sleeping on pediatric sleep. This study compared subjective and objective sleep in youth who never, sometimes, or frequently co-slept with pets.

Methods

Children (N = 188; aged 11-17 years; M = 13.25 years) and their parents answered standardized sleep questionnaires assessing timing, duration, onset latency, awakenings, and sleep quality. Children completed a home polysomnography (PSG) sleep study for one night and wore an actigraph for two weeks accompanied with daily sleep diary. Based on reported frequency of bedsharing with pets, children were stratified into three co-sleeping groups: never (65.4%), sometimes (16.5%), frequently (18.1%).

Results

Overall, 34.6% of children reported co-sleeping with their pet sometimes or frequently. Results revealed largely identical sleep profiles across co-sleeping groups; findings were congruent across sleep measurement (subjective: child, parent report; objective: PSG, actigraphy). Effect sizes indicated that frequent co-sleepers had the highest overall subjective sleep quality, but longest PSG onset-latency compared to the sometimes group.

Conclusions

Co-sleeping with pets was prevalent in one third of children. Sleep dimensions were similar regardless of how frequently children reported sharing their bed with their pet. Future research should examine dyadic measurement of co-sleepers to derive causal evidence to better inform sleep recommendations.



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