Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
canine health problems

Here’s what you need to know about sleep disorders in dogs

If your dog isn’t getting good sleep, one of these disorders may be to blame. Learn what they are, and what you can do about them.

Updated September 27, 2021

Created By

Jared Wilder,

📷 by Christian Domingues

The essentials

  • Dogs can have trouble sleeping, too — If your dog is waking up a lot at night or has low energy/crankiness during the day, they may have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea or insomnia.
  • A few disorders are common — REM sleep disorder, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy tend to affect dogs the most.
  • Good sleep matters — Just as with humans, quality of sleep is directly related to quality of life. If your dog has a sleep disorder, it must be evaluated and treated by a vet.

What sleep disorders can dogs have?

Dogs can experience many of the same sleep disorders that humans do. These disorders can cause problems for your dog’s energy levels, mood, and immune system. Here are the most common sleep disorders in dogs that may be affecting your pup’s sleep quality:

1. Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder commonly associated with (and sometimes caused by) snoring in dogs. This disorder is caused by a lack of oxygen while sleeping, which usually occurs as a result of blocked airways. Sleep apnea (also known as obstructive sleep apnea) commonly affects overweight dogs and brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds. When something’s blocking a dog’s airways, even if it’s just their sleeping position, they won’t get the oxygen they need to truly rest.

If your dog is a loud snorer and they seem tired or lethargic during the day, it may have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can have very negative effects on a dog’s quality of life, causing them to be tired, irritable, and to nap often to make up for the sleep they didn’t get at night.

The solution to most sleep apnea cases is to find a way to prevent the dog’s airways from being blocked. That could mean getting them treated for allergies, using humidifiers, or making sure they have clear nostrils.

2. Narcolepsy

Caused by a genetic disorder, canine narcolepsy is characterized by overwhelming attacks of drowsiness and suddenly falling unconscious or asleep. The hormone hypocretin (also called orexin) is primarily responsible for narcolepsy. Lacking this chemical is the reason behind several medical problems, including narcolepsy.

In humans, narcolepsy makes it impossible to do certain things such as driving that could be dangerous if the person suddenly fell asleep. Narcolepsy in dogs isn’t as risky — dogs, for now, don’t drive cars — nor do mild cases significantly affect quality of life.

A narcoleptic episode, for a dog, looks a lot like what you’d expect a fainting spell to look like. The dog will suddenly fall asleep, remain asleep for 10-15 minutes, and then wake up as if nothing happened. The severity of narcolepsy ranges in dogs, and the condition isn’t painful or life-threatening.

Cataplexy is a related genetic condition that some dogs experience. The main symptom of cataplexy is sudden paralysis without falling asleep. The causes are the same, but the resulting episodes are different.

If you believe your dog has narcolepsy, it’s important to have them diagnosed by a vet so that you can learn how to help them live their best life. Once diagnosed, you’ll learn how to spot an oncoming episode, as well as what you can do to decrease their severity and frequency.

🚨 Syncope (fainting due to heart disease) can also look like narcolepsy. That’s another reason it’s important to have your vet make a diagnosis!

3. Insomnia

If your dog seems to be up all day and all night, it may have insomnia. This disorder occurs when dogs have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. Canine insomnia is rarer than other sleep disorders, but it’s still known to affect dogs of all breeds.

Insomnia is often related to other health issues, such as thyroid problems, diabetes, or kidney issues. It’s important to take your dog to the vet if you think they’re suffering from insomnia so that your veterinarian can begin to diagnose any health issue they may have.

4. REM behavior disorder

This disorder describes a series of irregular behaviors that occur when sleeping, such as barking, shaking, and howling. In rare cases, the dog may even get up and move while still asleep! REM behavior disorder can affect both nighttime sleeping and daytime naps.

REM behavior disorder may look like your dog is dreaming — perhaps chasing a squirrel. Other times, it can be a large disturbance to you and your family members, with loud barking and physical movement.

REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the deepest stage of the sleep-wake cycle, and REM sleep behavior disorder can be very disruptive both to their sleep and to yours. Mild cases are usually nothing to worry about, but severe cases should be treated. Evidence has shown that potassium bromide can help dogs with REM sleep disorder sleep more soundly.

If your dog has REM behavior disorder, take them to your vet to have them evaluated. They’ll be able to recommend treatment for your pup that’ll help everyone in the house sleep a little better at night.

Signs your pup may have a sleep disorder

Certain disorders, such as narcolepsy, are much easier to diagnose if there’s a video of narcolepsy symptoms that a veterinarian can observe. These are the things you need to look out for if you think your dog may have a sleep disorder:

  • Sleeping long hours
  • Hardly sleeping at all
  • Twitching muscles
  • Anxiety
  • Barking, whining, or howling during sleep
  • Sluggishness
  • Cranky or aggressive daytime behavior
  • Lethargy
  • Snoring
  • Behavioral problems
  • Sudden increase or decrease in appetite

Tips to help your dog sleep better

Get a round dog bed — These beds promote a healthier sleeping position that keeps their airways open, reducing snoring and sleep apnea. Try this bagel-shaped dog bed from Majestic Pet Products.

Have them evaluated by a vet — Many sleep disorders can only be fully diagnosed and treated by a vet. Furthermore, a dog’s quality of life hinges greatly upon their sleep quality, so no disorder should go undiagnosed or untreated. They may recommend medicines or behavior and diet changes that will help them.

Ask your vet about calming supplements — Certain supplements may help your dog sleep deeper and more peacefully, depending upon their disorder. Check out our favorite calming supplements for dogs, like Front of the Pack’s Harmony supplement with a 3-ingredient formula to promote a state of calm.

Give your dog regular exercise — Exercise is a major part of life for dogs, and dogs that aren’t getting enough exercise won’t be able to sleep well at night. If your dog seems restless or tired, take them for a walk or play fetch. Never underestimate the importance of physical activity!

Don’t share your bed — Letting your dog sleep on your bed with you often means that you’ll be disturbing each other at night. A good night’s sleep for both pets and pet parents happens in separate spaces.

The importance of a good night’s sleep

You and your dog have a lot in common, including the need for a good night’s sleep. Dogs, like all mammals, derive much of their health (or lack thereof) from their sleep life.

Getting high-quality zzz’s helps a dog’s psychological and cognitive functions. It’s also important for physical performance, energy, and even disease prevention/immune health.

Dogs that are lacking good sleep are more likely to be both unhealthy and unhappy. If you think your dog has a sleep disorder, it’s important to get them checked out by your veterinarian and do everything possible to help them sleep!