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📷 by Connor Baker

Dogs need a lot of sleep, and adult dogs can spend up to 50% of their days snoozing. For puppies and senior dogs, this number can be as high as 80%. Insomnia, or trouble sleeping, is a common condition in humans, but rare among dogs. It’s important for pet parents to understand the symptoms, causes, and ways to treat insomnia in dogs.

Common canine sleep issues

You may easily recognize obvious signs and changes in your pup’s body language when they’re stressed — These can include lip licking, whale eye, pacing, hiding, and more. Sleep issues may be harder to notice, as your dog’s behavior is challenging to see and recognize (because you’re probably sleeping too). There are several issues for a pet parent to be aware of regarding dog sleep patterns.

Narcolepsy in dogs

Narcolepsy is a nervous system disorder seen in both humans and dogs. It’s marked by excessive daytime sleepiness and episodes of consciousness loss and may be brought on by hyperactivity. Narcolepsy is often hereditary and caused by low levels of the chemical hypocretin. 

While not life-threatening, it may affect energy levels and quality of life over time. There’s no current cure for narcolepsy, but a veterinarian may prescribe medication to help combat symptoms in severe cases.

Sleep apnea in dogs

Sleep apnea may make you think of snoring partners and breathing machines, but the condition can affect canines as well. As in humans, sleep apnea in dogs is marked by snoring and/or labored breathing while sleeping. Frequent accompanying sleep interruptions can have long-term effects on dogs’ energy levels. 

So, a visit to the veterinarian is crucial if you suspect sleep apnea may be affecting your dog. While generally rare in dogs, the condition is more common among brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds like the American bulldog and pug.

REM sleep behavior disorder in dogs

Research suggests that dogs do dream, and you’ve probably smiled at your dogs’ twitchy paw pads during a nap. Twitching, vocalization, and even running may occur during dogs’ rapid eye movement (REM) cycle of their sleep. Often, this may be common and harmless, but the behavior may become a disorder over time. 

Dogs with REM sleep behavior disorder may be prone to repeated violent movements in their sleep. Waking up a dog in this state can cause confusion or even aggression, leading to a bite without warning (hence the phrase, “let sleeping dogs lie”). This disorder may be treated with medication, so you should seek a vet’s opinion if you suspect this might be an issue.

Insomnia in dogs

Insomnia is the most common sleep problem affecting humans. Up to 1 in 3 people experience some trouble falling or staying asleep during their lifetime. While much less common in canines, dog insomnia is nonetheless a serious sleep disorder. Knowing how to recognize insomnia in dogs and when to seek treatment is important knowledge for any responsible owner.

Symptoms of canine insomnia

Healthy dogs can spend up to half the day sleeping, and this is normal. If you think your dog isn’t getting enough sleep, there are a few potential insomnia symptoms to look out for, including:

  • Excessive whining, crying, or barking at night
  • Inconsistent sleep patterns
  • Lack of energy or sluggishness during daytime
  • Changes in behavior
  • Confusion or disorientation

👉 If you notice these symptoms, be sure to visit the vet so they can examine your pet and rule out any other medical conditions.

Causes of insomnia in dogs

Often with canine insomnia, a visit to the vet or behaviorist may reveal underlying physical or mental issues that could be at play. Some potential factors leading to insomnia in dogs include:

  • Injuries affecting the bones, joints, and muscles, such as arthritis
  • Skin conditions like allergies, which cause excessive itching
  • Conditions affecting internal organs, which may affect urination
  • Neurological conditions affecting behavior
  • Cognitive dysfunction such as dementia
  • Excessive pent-up energy or anxiety

How to treat insomnia in dogs

Given the uncertainty surrounding the causes and symptoms of insomnia in dogs, a veterinarian visit is always your best bet. The most important thing to do is rule out any underlying physical or mental issues which may need immediate attention. Once you’ve ruled out other serious medical issues and sources of stress, there are a few different strategies to try to help your dog sleep better at home. 

Relocate your dog’s sleeping space — As with humans, sometimes a simple change of scenery helps. If your dog usually sleeps in your bed, consider purchasing them a comfortable dog bed of their own like PetFusion’s memory foam dog bed. Or, if they don’t seem to enjoy their own bed or crate, consider sharing your bed with them.

Increase mental and physical stimulation — Experts say a tired dog is a happy dog, and they’re usually right. Proper physical and mental stimulation is vitally important for dogs of any age and size. For those struggling with sleep issues, getting enough exercise becomes even more crucial. A lack of exercise can also make your dog more susceptible to conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

Go on an evening walk — If your dog seems to have excessive pent-up energy each night, try adding some physical exercise to their nighttime routine. A long stroll before bed or a short training session indoors can go a long way towards tiring your dog out in the evenings and combating boredom.

Adopt another dog — If you have the means, adding another furry friend to your household is an option to consider. Having a playmate may help your dog be more active and engaged both physically and mentally. As a bonus, adding a new dog with a traditional sleep routine may help encourage your dog to return to a standard nighttime schedule.

Play music — Studies have shown that listening to music can improve sleep and help lower stress in both humans and dogs. Spotify launched a pet playlist for this very purpose. While your dog may not be able to appreciate the lyrics of your favorite songs, song tempos between 50 and 60 beats per minute have been shown to produce a general calming effect that may help your dog fall asleep.

Consider calming supplements — Your dog’s anxiety may be an underlying cause of insomnia. Thankfully, there are a host of calming supplements now available to combat anxiety in canines. These supplements use pheromones and other chemical scents like valerian root and hemp to induce relaxation.

👉 Always ask your dog’s veterinarian before introducing a new supplement into their diet.

For some dogs, medication may be used as a short-term solution while they develop better mechanisms for consistent sleep. Others may require a more long-term regimen. Either way, it’s important to consult your veterinarian before treating your dog with any over-the-counter solutions. We hope this guide will help your dog (and you) get plenty of zzzs!