How Much Do Dogs Sleep?

Get to know your canine on a deeper level by understanding their sleep cycles.

By Sheryl Grassie

Dogs, like people, need their sleep. Without enough they can be restless, edgy, and prone to health problems just like humans.

There are surprisingly many similarities between the sleep of dogs and people. Both dogs and humans produce sleep hormones like melatonin, both experience rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and both dream. Despite these similarities, dogs have very different sleep routines.

cute dog sleeping and yawning on bed, white sheets

In general, domesticated dogs sleep considerably more than people do. They have shorter, more frequent sleep cycles, and wake-up more rapidly.  The amount of sleep they need depends on the age of the dog, the size and breed, health and lifestyle considerations, any special circumstances, and the dog’s purpose.

The reasons dogs sleep so much more than humans is still being understood. There are a number of theories about the needs of sleep in different canines. Dogs, part of the canine family of wolves, foxes, and coyotes, are actually descended specifically from wolves that are nocturnal.

To better understand why domesticated dogs sleep so much, and what that sleep looks like, as well as considerations for better sleep, read on.

Why Do Dogs Sleep So Much?

It might surprise most people to learn that in the wild, canines like wolves actually sleep as much or more than our household pets. They do have slightly different patterns, but our dogs have ancestors in the wild who hunted at night and slept during the day, especially in hot climates.

They expended tremendous amounts of energy finding and securing food, and slept or rested when not hunting. They also needed to be on alert for any danger and able to wake on a moment’s notice. These considerations created patterns of sleep that our domestic dogs are genetically linked to and it explains, in part, why they sleep so much and their patterns of sleep.

How Much Sleep Do Dogs Need?

The average adult dog sleeps between 12 and 14 hours per day, amounting to about half of the day. Of the remaining half, they rest a great deal, and only stay awake and remain active about 20 percent of the day or between 4-5 hours.

Certain factors should be considered what determining how much your dog should sleep. These include the following.

Age of the Dog

How old your dog is has an effect on the amount he or she will sleep. Like humans, the youngest and oldest of the species require more sleep. Puppies need an average of 18-20 hours of sleep per day and older dogs need as much as 16-18 hours per day.

Size and Breed

As a general rule, the larger the dog, the more sleep they need. We all know the stereotypes of small very energetic dogs like Jack Russel terriers that seem to go, go, go all day, and great big breeds like Saint Bernard’s that sleep all day. The larger breeds like Bernese Mountain Dogs and Newfoundland’s can sleep up to 18 hours per day.

Health and Lifestyle Considerations

Health and sleep for dogs are related in two different ways. Health conditions can affect sleep and poor sleep can affect health. A bit of a chicken or egg kind of question, but poor health can make a dog sleep too much or too little, and excess sleep in particular can be a sign of a serious health condition.

For example, if your pet doesn’t get enough exercise, or has a poor diet, that can compromise sleep. The same is true of aches and pains, which can happen from poor nutrition or aging, and may cause your dog to have trouble sleeping well.

On the other end, too much sleep, especially out of the blue, can indicate they are not feeling well. Sometimes excess sleep is a sign of canine diabetes, thyroid problems, Lyme disease, or depression. Check with your veterinarian about any concerns.

Specific Circumstances

Dogs are creatures of habit that thrive on routine and can easily adhere to a pattern of learned behavior. Major changes like a day out of routine, travel, a move, or the death of a family member or other pet in the household, can all cause your dog to change their sleep habits. Many will respond to change by sleeping additional hours. A lesser number will respond with anxiety and have trouble sleeping.  

Purpose

What gives a dog’s life meaning helps determine how much they sleep. If they are working dogs and awake all day, they seem to do fine just sleeping at night and managing with less sleep overall.

Domesticated animals have sleep-awake patterns more predicated on the engagement and expectations of the humans around them than on a predetermined biological need for a certain amount of sleep.

Are they a hunting dog? Do they live on a farm? Do they work as a herding dog, a service dog, or a police dog? The purpose they serve on a daily basis, even if that purpose is to guard the house or yard, will govern their sleep schedule and amounts.

The Sleep Cycle of a Dog

Dogs have a different sleep pattern from people. While humans have a monophasic sleep patterns, dogs are polyphasic sleepers.

Dogs tend to sleep in short spurts, especially during the day when they sleep for 15-20 minutes, then wake up for 5-10 minutes, and then go back to sleep. You may witness this routine as you watch your dog sleeping, only to wake and move to another location, then settle back down and go to sleep. This cycle happens over and over throughout the day.

What happens with this sleep schedule is that dogs fall more quickly into a deep REM sleep. They only remain there for a short time. Estimates are about 10 percent of their sleep time is in REM, whereas for humans it is about 25 percent.

In order for dogs to get enough of the deep restorative REM sleep; they need to continually repeat this shorter sleep pattern and sleep more overall.

Sleep Hygiene Tips for Dog Owners

What helps a dog get better sleep? Not surprisingly it is very similar to what helps humans sleep well. In short, a healthy life equates to healthy sleep. The basics include:

  • Proper Nutrition: A well-balanced diet, clean water, and regular meals.
  • Adequate Amounts of Exercise: Dogs need daily exercise, walks, throwing the ball, running and hiking should all be part of a dog’s life.
  • Sunlight: Exposure to sunlight increases melatonin and helps with sleep.
  • A Comfortable Bed: Although we see dogs sleeping on cement, a comfortable, secure place to sleep makes a huge difference.
  • Enough Stimulation: Dogs need engagement, playing ball or Frisbee, interacting with other dogs, guarding the yard, barking at intruders, riding in the car,  going to new places.
  • Supplemental Melatonin: Just like with people, dogs can take supplemental melatonin if needed. Check with your veterinarian.

Dogs, a member of the canine family, are probably naturally nocturnal and used to sleeping during the day. They have shorter repetitive sleep cycles and sleep on average more than humans, anywhere from 12 to 20 hours per day depending on age, breed, and various circumstances. For dogs, good health contributes to good sleep and vice versa.   


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