Animal magic: Children who sleep with pets get better 'quality' shut-eye, study suggests

Baby boy sleeping with kitten on white knitted blanket. Child and cat. Kids and pets. Little kid with his animal. Cozy winter evening with pet. Children play with animals. Toddler and kitty sleep.
Children who sleep with pets may get better 'quality' shut eye. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

"Let sleeping dogs lie", as the saying goes. Perhaps this should be every parent's attitude when a child snuggles up with the family pet come bedtime.

Up to half of children who have a pet in the home "regularly share their bed" with the animal, with many parents worrying this could disturb the youngster's sleep.

Scientists from Concordia University in Montréal have now revealed the reverse may be true.

After analysing 188 people aged 11 to 17, the team found those who "frequently" slept with Rover, Felix or Thumper enjoyed a better "quality" of rest.

Read more: Pets 'help people cope emotionally' during lockdown

With many children viewing their pet as a "close friend", having the animal on hand could calm "nighttime fears".

child is afraid of the dark
Sleeping with a pet could calm 'nighttime fears'. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

Having a pet is increasingly being linked to improved health outcomes, with owners experiencing reduced stress and even superior heart "functioning".

Past studies suggest more than half of pet-owning adults share their bed with the animal.

Although research was limited, sleeping with a pet was thought to be "detrimental" due to the animal's "nocturnal activity, the noises they emit or by exacerbating respiratory problems", the Concordia scientists wrote in the journal Sleep Health.

Many pet owners find so-called co-sleeping "comforting and relaxing", however.

Read more: Dog walkers 78% more likely to catch coronavirus in first lockdown

To better understand how it affects young people specifically, the scientists sent sleep questionnaires to the pet-owning parents of the 188 children.

The youngsters also took part in a so-called polysomnography sleep study for one night, which measured their brain waves, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, breathing, and eye and leg movements.

They also wore a wrist tracker that recorded their rest-activity cycles, along with keeping a daily sleep diary, for two weeks.

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Nearly one in five (18.1%) of the children reported sleeping with their pet "frequently".

Compared to those who "sometimes" or "never" snuggled up to the animal, the frequent sleepers "had the highest overall subjective sleep quality".

Read more: Dog owners more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if pet has the condition

In general, the results suggest "children who reported sharing their beds with their pets had sleep profiles similar to those who did not", wrote the scientists.

"Altogether, these preliminary results suggest bed-sharing with pets may not adversely affect sleep of children and adolescents."

Co-sleeping adults may find their shut eye is more disrupted, however, due to them being "generally larger and occupying more space than children", as well as many already sharing a bed with their partner.

"The presence of a pet may be less intrusive to children who are smaller and have more space available in their beds," wrote the scientists.

Snuggling up to a much-loved animal may also "reduce bedtime fears".

"Children view their pets as close friends and seek comfort from them when trying to sleep", wrote the scientists.

They added, however, "it is possible the practice may be positive or negative depending on strength of attachment to the pet, presence of anxiety or sleep problems, consistency of sleep routine, or pet characteristics".

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