Surprise, Dogs Have Sleep Disorders Too


Why can’t my dog fall asleep, can dogs get sleep disorders like humans do? If you thought that tossing and turning and having nightmares and other sleep problems are unique to humans, think again. Turns out dogs can have sleep disorders too. Sure dogs don’t have to worry about balancing their checkbooks, going through divorces or other problems we face, but that doesn’t make them immune to annoying sleeping disorders. If your dog shows any signs of a sleep disorder, don’t just chalk it up to just one of those “things dogs do.” Just like in humans, sleep disorders in dogs can affect their daily lives putting a dent in their physical and mental well-being too.

dog-sleeping-disorders Dog Sleeping Cycles

Dogs just like us, undergo several sleep cycles when they hit the pillow and drift into dreamland.

Drowsing is a transitional state during which the dog becomes gradually more and more sluggish. An electroencephalogram (EEG) at this stage appears irregular.  

Next, the dog drifts into slow wave sleep, also known as non-REM sleep. This is light sleep during which the dog is sleeping lightly and his body isn’t fully relaxed -yet. Dogs in this stage awaken quickly if aroused and their EEG shows sleep spindles.

After a bit, the dog enters a moderately deep sleep stage where an EEG shows sleep spindles interrupted by delta waves.

Next,  the dog will then enter the deep sleep cycle, which is a deeper stage of sleep characterizes by delta waves during which REM (fast wave sleep) appears.

This is when your dog is busy dreaming about that squirrel who lives by the tree in your yard or that food you left unattended earlier laying on the counter. REM stands for rapid eye movement, and this sleep pattern is called this way because the dog’s brain waves are very active during this stage and you can literally see his eyes moving quickly but so can his legs, paws, tail and facial muscles. Some dogs will vocalize too! The REM sleep stage is quite restorative, it’s therefore important to let your dog enjoy his deep REM sleep without interruption.

idea tipDid you know? As with humans, dogs REM sleep is important as it’s an important part of the sleep cycle during which stress is resolved, explains Paul Owens in the book “The Dog Whisperer: A Compassionate, Nonviolent Approach to Dog Training.”

old dogDog Sleeping Problems

Dog sleeping problems cause a disruption to the dog’s normal sleeping cycles. They can be primary or secondary to certain conditions.

If you notice any changes in your dog’s sleeping patterns, consult with your vet and, if you still need help or a second opinion, you can try consulting with a board-certified veterinarian specializing in neurology who can help in identifying any underlying central nervous system diseases.

Recording the events may be helpful to your vet for diagnostic purposes, considering that dogs won’t sleep at the vet’s office.Telling your vet whether your dog can be roused from the event can also be valuable information.

Sometimes dogs may develop seizures that arise during particular stages of sleep which can sometimes be challenging to distinguish from REM movements. One distinguishing factor though is that dogs not affected by seizures can be awaken, and once awake, they show no coordination problems or confusion, which is in contrast with what happens during a seizure, explains board-certified veterinarian Dr. Linda Shell. 

warning cautionFor safety, it’s best not to touch a dog to awaken him since some dogs may react aggressively when startled. Calling the dog by his name may be a better choice.

dog-dementiaCanine Dementia

Canine dementia has a reputation for disrupting a dog’s sleeping patterns. Canine dementia, also known as canine cognitive dysfunction, is the doggy version of Alzheimer’s disease and is known for causing senior dogs to have disrupted circadian rhythms affecting a dog’s sleep and wake cycles, which means sleeping more during the day and sleeping less in the night.

Affected dogs may therefore be found aimlessly pacing in the night, vocalizing and acting distressed.

Some dogs may get lost in the home, getting stuck in corners and forgetting where they normally eliminate. Affected dogs may also start forgetting commands, and become less responsive to being called by their name.

” Affected dogs and cats may no longer exhibit standard sleep-wake cycles, instead, pacing +/- vocalization during the night. Cats sleep often during the day as a normal behavior, so these changes may be most noticeable for dogs.” ~Karen Overall

Insomnia in Dogs 

dog blanket sleep sick

Insomnia affects a dog’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It can also cause dogs to wake up too early. Often there is an underlying cause to restlessness and insomnia in dogs.

Pain and discomfort can cause a dog trouble falling asleep. The pain may stem from acute or chronic conditions. Arthritis, herniated discs of the neck or spine or a gastro-intestinal problems are just a few of the many conditions that can lead to a restless night.

If the dog is particularly anxious, he may not feel safe to fall asleep and may remain vigilant for a part of the night.

Dogs, especially young dogs, who have too much energy may also be restless and the last thing they may want to do is go to sleep. Certain medications may also affect a dog’s ability to get sufficient sleep.

Dog Narcolepsydog-sleeping

Sometimes things can go wrong in the dog’s sleeping cycle, and narcolepsy may be a sign. In this sleeping disorder dogs are extremely sluggish and will suddenly collapse in lateral recumbancy (on their side) and fall asleep. Often, these sleeping spells are precipitated by exciting events such as eating or playing.

Narcolepsy is really quite a rare neurological disorder, however there are more reports of it lately. It can be a hereditary problem in some dog breeds, but it can also develop as the result of a brainstem lesion, explains. veterinarian Dr. Loretta.

“The attacks are typically not life-threatening by themselves although certain situations such as hunting, swimming or off-leash exercise should not be allowed as they may cause harm. Some pets outgrow this condition.” Dr. John McDonnell

A Dog with Narcolepsy

Dog Sleep Apneadog brachycephalic breed

Can dogs get sleep apnea? The answer seems to be yes, but dogs don’t get to put nasal strips on their noses or wear those c-pap machines so popular in people with this disorder. Dogs for the most part affected by sleep apnea are brachycephalic, and being more on the obese side is a predisposing factor. The English bulldog is the poster child for this disorder.

Just as in humans, dog affected by sleep disordered breathing will temporarily stop breathing which can cause them to wake up multiple times in the night. These repeated awakenings interfere with getting their daily nose of uninterrupted, restorative REM sleep.

And just as in humans, dogs with sleep apnea may appear tired and sluggish and sometimes grumpy too.

Shedding a few extra pounds may turn helpful, but in some cases surgery to correct any extra tissues of skin can help open up the airway.

REM Behavior Disorder

Have you ever seen people act out their dreams? Well, something quite similar may occur in dogs affected by REM behavior disorder (RBD). These dogs are abnormally active during the REM stage of sleep and the violent motor activity during dreaming may therefore cause them to run into walls as in the video below, bite and attack objects. This can obviously cause the affected dogs to get hurt and hurt others who are around them. To avoid this, affected dogs should sleep in a confined and well-padded area, suggests veterinarian Dr. Gabby. Veterinarians may also prescribe certain medications such as clonazepam, potassium bromide, and phenobarbital

“REM Behavior Disorder (RBD) occurs during REM sleep. During this REM state, the electrical activity of the brain is similar to the electrical activity that occurs during waking. Most dogs remain still even when they are having active dreams but, dogs with RBD lack this muscle paralysis, which permits them to act out dramatic and/or violent dreams during the REM stage of sleep.”~Dr. Gabby

A Dog Affected by REM Behavior Disorder

Tips for Dog Sleeping Disorders

  • See your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
  • Consult with a neurologist for challenging cases.
  • Record the episodes and show them to your vet.
  • A night light may turn out helpful if your dog seems confused at night and tends to wander.
  • White noise may help calm down a dog who can’t sleep due to noises.
  • A DAP diffuser placed right by your dog’s sleeping area may be soothing.
  • Check the temperature. If it’s too warm or cold, your dog may have trouble falling asleep.
  • Evaluate your home for critters. If your dog stares at the walls, vocalizes and barks at night it might be you a family of nocturnal critters living in your attic, basement, deck or walls.
  • Evaluate if there are any underlying anxiety causing triggers in your dog’s life.
  • Ask your vet about calming supplements and sleep aids appropriate for dogs.



  • Domestic Animal Behaviour and Welfare, 5th Edition, By Donald M Broom, Andrew F Fraser,  CABI; 5 edition (May 7, 2015)
  • Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, By Stephen J. Ettinger, Edward C. Feldman, Saunders; 7 edition (January 7, 2010)


Eight Facts About Sleep Dogs Want You to Know


“Let sleeping dogs lie,” says the famous adage, and those are surely words of wisdom when dogs hit the pillow. As in all living creatures, sleeping is important in dogs, and while dogs don’t have tight work schedules as people do, they still benefit from getting all the sleep they can get. Along with quantity of sleep, the quality of sleep is also something that’s important. In a previous article we looked at different dog sleeping position meanings, today instead we’ll be taking a peek at fascinating facts about dog sleep that dogs would like you to know.

dog sleep 91) We Love to Sleep in Human Beds…

Roll Over Rover! According to a survey conducted by Novosbed, a company selling luxury memory foam mattresses, an astounding 71 percent of pet owners confessed sleeping with their pets, with 43 percent of them sleeping with them every night, 23 percent reporting only sleeping with them occasionally and 5 percent (drum roll please!) sneaking their pet in bed when their significant others were out of town.

Pets also seem to have their favorite resting spots, with 52 percent sleeping at the foot of the bed, 23 percent snuggling right next to their owners, 14 percent sleeping under the covers and 11 percent sharing a pillow. This news is really nothing new, a while back the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) had found that 60 percent of cats and dogs slept in the owner’s bed or in their bedroom.

2) And the Best Part is it’s Good for You Too!

Some people may frown upon people who share their beds with their pooches, but for those who do sleep with their furry friends, here’s a great incentive to keep doing that. According to a survey conducted by the Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, pet owners who sleep with their dogs and cats may actually be getting better ZZZs. Despite what sleep experts have said for years, it was found that only 20 percent of owners found their pets to be disruptive; whereas, 41 percent felt that their pets were unobtrusive and even beneficial for their sleep. Perhaps it’s time for doctors dealing with sleep disorders to consider having more people share their sleep environment with a furry friend.

3) We Go Through REM Sleep Too…dog sleeping belly up

Just like people, dogs go through various different stages of sleep. The first stage of sleep mainly comprises low frequency electrical activity, and as such, it’s know as slow wave sleep. After a while, the dog then enters the rapid eye movement stage (REM), which, as the name implies, is characterized by rapid eye movements and much more than that.

During the REM stage (as dog owners can attest) dogs are often seen breathing faster, moving their legs, twitching their ears, chewing and even barking in their sleep! It all makes sense though when we think that the REM stage is when animals and people are dreaming. Have fun dreaming about eating that sandwich left unattended on the table and chasing rabbits Buster!

4) But Doggy REM can Sometimes get Out of Hand

In some dogs, movement carried out during REM sleep may be excessive and sometimes may even appear violent. There are reports of dogs exhibiting excessive running movements of the limbs, dogs attacking inanimate objects and some even propelling themselves across the floor. While these movements may appear similar to seizures, affected dogs can be awaken and show no coordination problems or confusion which is in contrast with what happens during a seizure, explains board-certified veterinarian Dr. Linda Shell. There’s a chance that dogs may be prone to developing a sleep disorder that has observed in people and that goes by the name of REM behavior disorder.

dog wetting bed while lying down5) As we Age We May Wet the Bed…

In humans, wetting the bed is associated with young children, but in dogs it’s mostly a matter of aging and it seems to affect mostly female spayed dogs. It’s called “Primary sphincter mechanism incompetence“(PSMI) also known as hormone-responsive urinary incontinence”or “estrogen-responsive incontinence” or more simply “spay incontinence. “A study,  found that about 1 out of 5 female dogs affected by this condition get it after they are spayed.

Here’s what basically happens. Strong sphincter muscles help keep good tone and prevent urine from escaping, but as spayed dogs age, these muscles tend to weaken causing leakage of urine when they’re resting or sleeping, explains veterinarian Dr. Marie. While senior spayed females dogs are mostly affected, this condition can also affect younger dogs (and occasionally males too). Fortunately, this type of incontinence can be  remedied with prescription veterinary drug known as phenylpropanolamine (yeah, try to pronounce that! )

6) And Get Disrupted Sleep Too.

Aging is sure no fun, and as dogs live longer lives, dog owners witness more and more problems related to old age such as arthritis, incontinence and canine cognitive dysfunction, the canine version of Alzheimer’s disease. Affected dogs show several signs along with disrupted sleep-wake cycles, which means that instead of resting peacefully, they’ll spend their nights pacing and vocalizing. A particularly distressing aspect of this whole ordeal is the fact that dog owners have a difficult time finding a way to comfort their dogs when they are affected by this condition, explains veterinary behaviorist Dr.  Karen Overall.  

7) Stress Affects Us as lip licking

People are often tossing and turning at night when they are stressed by a multitude of problems, but stress can affect a dog’s sleep too. Sure, dogs don’t have to worry about balancing their checkbooks or filing for divorces, but they are sure prone to stress such as from loud noises, exposure to other animals and side effects of harsh, aversion-based training techniques (which should never be used! read ASVAB’S position statement) While some dogs are plain old lazy (think greyhounds and English bulldogs), consider that dogs who seem to sleep a whole lot may be stressed.

“Stressed dogs usually will not experience a satisfying sleep which is why they are always trying to sleep.”~James O’ Heare


dog sleeping8) So Please Let Us Sleeping Dogs Lie

So yes, dogs needs their daily amounts of beauty sleep too and if dogs are stressed, it’s paramount to work on reducing their stress levels. Dogs denied adequate levels of stress often pay the consequences under the form of behavioral problems and and impaired learning abilities, explains veterinarian Dr. H. Ellen Whiteley in the book “Understanding and Training Your Dog Or Puppy.”  Want a dog who likes to hit the snooze button? Perhaps try going with one of those giant dog breeds.

“Some very large breeds of dogs, like Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards, and mastiffs, often spend a great deal of their lives sleeping—perhaps up to sixteen or even eighteen hours a day. ” ~Stanley Coren

You may also like: How much do dogs sleep on average? and Do Dogs Sleep With Their Eyes Open? Dog Pawprint



  • Are Pets in the Bedroom a Problem?, Lois E. Krahn, MDcorrespondencePress enter key for correspondence information, M. Diane Tovar, RCP, Bernie Miller, RPSGT, RCP, CCSH Center for Sleep Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, AZ
  • DVM360, Identifying and managing behavioral changes in older dogs and cats, retrieved from the web on September 2nd, 2016



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