How Are Dogs' Sleep Cycles and Habits Different From Our Own?

How Are Dogs' Sleep Cycles and Habits Different From Our Own?

You try to get a solid eight hours of sleep every night. Ok, maybe you don’t actually try to get eight hours of sleep but you definitely know that’s what you’re supposed to strive for as part of a healthy lifestyle. Everybody’s lifestyle lends itself to different sleep patterns and routines and some of us are fortunate enough to function at 100 percent every day on less than that universal nightly goal, but eight hours are the gold standard prescribed by every doctor you’ve visited since childhood. 

But what about dogs? Do you know how much sleep your dog should actually be getting in every 24-hour period? Like people, every dog has individual sleep needs, even if there are a few basic parameters prescribed by breed and lifestyle. And knowing this information can actually help dog owners recognize when a lack of sleep (or getting too much sleep) may be an indicator of other health conditions.

One ubiquitous nugget about dogs and sleep is that they love it. A lot. They spend a healthy portion of their days lying on the floor, taking long naps while we are out at work. Much of this is because their sleep cycle is nothing like our own. While humans shut their eyes for seven to nine hours at a time and spend the remaining hours of the day awake, canines experience sleep wake cycles in much, much shorter bursts. Every 20 minutes of lying down to sleep can actually be broken into around 15 minutes of shut eye and another five minutes spent awake. This kind of broken sleep is the stuff of the most nightmarish insomnia to people, but it works for canines. You’ve probably noticed how quickly your dog jumps up when you first wake him (or her) in the morning, which is again, nothing like what we experience. Much of this is because that shortened sleep cycle doesn’t allow for much time falling into the deepest cycles of REM sleep. Typically, a person needs about 90 minutes to reach the REM stages of sleep, which then cycle through further variations of Rapid Eye Movement, ranging from 10 minutes a piece to an hour. Our breathing and heart rate speed up and our body enters its most beneficial restorative stages of this process. And if somebody were to wake you in the middle of this, as you know, you’d feel disoriented, groggy, and would need a bit of time to gather yourself and start to feel alert.

In contrast, a dog can enter REM in about 10 minutes. This is a necessary function of their sleep cycle because they’re animals that are always on alert, protecting their pack from intruders and waking and being alert much easier than us. The quick dip into REM and short stints there have helped canines state safe throughout their evolution, but it also makes getting restorative sleep a process that must be spread out over a full 24-hour period rather than in one large chunk of the day (or night, like us). And viola, we start to see and understand why our four-legged friends spend so much of their day lounging around and taking naps. On average, this comes out to needing anywhere from 12 to 14 hours of sleep per day. Meanwhile, if you’re raising an anxious, excitable, and curious young pup who spends their waking hours exploring anything and everything they can get their nose into then you’re looking at a pet that can use as many as 20 hours a day resting up, restoring all the energy they’ve been expending.

And although grown dogs are flexible sleepers, the AKC suggests it’s healthiest to help your puppy get those 20 hours of sleep a day by encouraging a consistent sleep schedule. They’re outline for a day looks like this:

Morning Puppy Schedule

  • In the morning when the puppy wakes up, quickly take him outside to relieve himself..
  • Feed him breakfast.
  • Puppies usually need to relieve themselves after eating, so give him another potty break.
  • Spend 30-60 minutes of playing with him, socializing, and taking a walk.
  • Nap time. He may sleep from 30 minutes to two hours.
  • Give him another potty break as soon as he wakes up.
  • Feed him lunch.
  • Afternoon Puppy Schedule
  • After lunch, give him a potty break.
  • For up to one hour, play with him and allow him to explore.
  • It’s nap time again.
  • Take him outside for a bathroom break when he wakes up.
  • And then it’s playtime again.
  • Chances are pretty good he’ll settle in for a nap after he plays.
  • Potty break.

Evening Puppy Schedule

  • Feed your pup dinner before you sit down, or give him a stuffed Kong to work on in the crate while you eat.
  • After dinner, take a walk.
  • Let him spend time playing and interacting with family members.
  • Give him a quick bathroom trip before bed, and then settling him down in his crate for nighttime sleep.

“While there can be a lot of variability in dogs’ sleeping habits, the one thing to keep an eye out for is a dramatic change,” writes sleep.org. “If your usually active dog is suddenly sleeping all the time—or the reverse—it’s never a bad idea to touch base with your veterinarian to make sure that Fido isn't experiencing any health problems. The answer could be something as simple as tweaking his diet, or as complex as treating a heart condition or thyroid problem.”

The organization adds that a dog’s day is also broken down differently in terms of how and where energy is used. About 50 percent of each 24 hours is spent sleeping and another 30 percent is spent lying around and lounging — a moderately low expenditure of energy —and just the remaining 20 percent being active. And as we know, this isn’t all done in big blocks of time, rather broken up throughout the day, unlike us. This creates another major difference in how dogs get healthy amounts of sleep as opposed to humans: while humans get the best sleep when we are able to create and settle into consistent sleep patterns, dogs are flexible sleepers, getting it however and whenever they can. This is why working dogs tend to power through their days and can operate on whatever sleep is available to them while a house dog whose main duty is to lounge around all day will take advantage of this by napping through large chunks of the daylight hours.

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