Despite their reputation for exuberant tail-wagging and energetic fetching, dogs need a lot of sleep. Resting is important for all mammals. However, dogs and humans differ when it comes to how much sleep we need to be healthy and functional. Though there haven’t been tons of studies done on canine sleep habits, there are enough for us to know dogs need about ten hours of sleep per 24-hour period. This number varies depending on age, activity level and overall health. If you’re worried whether your dog is getting enough sleep—or may have a sleep disorder—keep reading.
How much sleep do dogs really need?
In one recent study on canine sleep behaviors, researchers in the U.K. observed the sleep patterns in 16-week old puppies and 12-month old dogs. The researchers concluded adult dogs (12-month old) sleep between eight and 13.5 hours every day. On average, a healthy adult dog sleeps 10.8 hours each day.
The study found puppies sleep an average of 11.2 hours per day. The American Kennel Club adds that some young puppies may sleep between 18 and 20 hours a day! This isn’t unusual—or unexpected. Puppies are still developing. Ample rest is required for the proper development of their internal systems. Not only are their nervous and immune systems maturing, their joints and muscles need time to recover after busy days full of playing and running. Puppies have also been found to sleep less over the course of a single night than adult dogs, but spend more of their daytime snoozing.
As seniors, many dogs will revert back to their puppy ways, sleeping more in general. Senior pups have been known to fall into heavier sleep at nighttime and stay asleep later into the morning. Large dog breeds are also known to sleep more than smaller breeds. This is likely because their bodies need extra time to recharge after the day’s activities. Along the same lines, working dogs need more sleep. Police dogs in K9 units, cadaver dogs, rescue dogs, therapy dogs and canines with daily tasks who remain alert throughout the day will crash harder and faster come nighttime (they’ve earned it!).
Dog sleep cycles
The Sleep Foundation says canine sleep cycles are polyphasic, meaning dogs don’t knock out all of their sleep in one stretch of time. They sleep in bursts over the course of a 24-hour period. Within those bursts dogs usually experience one to two 45-minute sleep cycles. If a canine is asleep long enough to reach the REM stage, chances are they dream about their favorite treats and people.
In contrast, humans have monophasic or biphasic sleep cycles wherein we get most of our sleep in one long session (occasionally supplemented with a nap). Our cycles last between 70 minutes and two hours.
Why sleep is important for dogs
Like for humans, sleep is crucial for dogs. High quality sleep has been proven to enhance a dog’s cognitive functions and help puppies retain commands more accurately. Good sleep is linked to emotional stability and confidence in canines. As mentioned, sleep is crucial to the healthy development of a puppy’s nervous, immune, muscular and skeletal systems.
Signs your dog isn’t getting enough sleep include increased irritability and aggression. They may overreact to everyday stressors or begin experiencing intense separation anxiety. It’s also possible your dog could forget learned commands or where to find a familiar spot in the home if they’re not getting enough Z’s. Perhaps most obvious (and easiest to spot) is extreme sleepiness.
Dogs and sleep disorders
Just like people, dogs can develop sleep disorders. If your dog exhibits any symptoms of sleep deprivation, it’s possible they have an issue with falling or staying asleep. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs in canines with short muzzles like bulldogs, pugs and Frenchies. Snoring or choking noises while your pup snoozes, followed by extreme sleepiness during the day are strong signs your dog has obstructive sleep apnea.
Arthritic dogs might have trouble falling asleep due to joint pain. Keep tabs on how your dog moves and whether they have issues climbing up and down stairs, into the car or onto the couch. Hunched bodies and increased irritability are common. (VCA Ark Animal Hospitals says pain could also be the cause of too much sleep. Your dog might refuse to move off their bed because it hurts.)
Alternatively, some pups fall asleep at odd times. Dogs who faint or collapse during energizing activities like playing fetch could be suffering from canine narcolepsy. This is a neurological disorder known to cause muscle weakness and drowsiness. Thankfully it is not life-threatening and can be treated with a prescription from your vet.
If it seems like your dog is sleeping too much (say, more than 14 hours or over half of their day), talk to your vet. Diabetes and hyperthyroidism could be the culprit. Interestingly, your dog could also be experiencing hearing loss. Since canines don’t spend much time in deep REM sleep, they awaken easily to sounds and other disturbances. If they can’t hear anything, they’ll keep on dreaming.
Set your dog up for sleep success
Dogs who sleep well are healthier and happier. Therefore, it’s imperative for their caregivers to provide them with all the tools they need to sleep successfully. Establishing a daily schedule for your household - including your pup - is a terrific way to instill a healthy sleep habit early on. Rising around the same time every day and heading to bed at the same time each night gives canines a sense of security.
While some people insist on having their dogs sleep in bed with them, it’s only a good idea if it results in healthy sleep for all parties. It’s worth noting 86.7 percent of the 16-week old puppies in the study mentioned above chose to sleep with their people if granted access at night. On the other hand, puppies benefit enormously from a regimented sleep schedule that includes a crate or bed specifically for them. An engrained sleep routine will also help your pup adapt more easily to environmental sleep changes in the future.
Studies show that napping (or at least resting) throughout the day does actually improve canine mental health and nighttime sleep habits. Combine naps with exercise for an optimal routine.
Having a space to call their own helps dogs sleep well; modern dog beds are like the dens wolves make to sleep safely. Put your dog’s bed in a dark space where they’re not likely to be disturbed by much noise during the night. Arthritic dogs need firm support when it comes to a bed. Avoid purchasing softer beds for senior dogs as it could result in too much direct pressure on the joints.
As always, check with your vet if you’re uncertain about your dog’s sleep habits. They need a lot, yet too much of a good thing could be cause for concern.