ROCHESTER, MINN. -- You've heard that your spouse's snoring can cause you to lose sleep, but what about your pet's? John Shepard, M.D., medical director of the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, recently asked that question to 300 patients who came to the center for a routine consultation. He found that many people with sleep problems were sharing their bedrooms with their cats and dogs.
"The results indicate that 22 percent of our patients are likely to have pets sleeping on the bed with them," Dr. Shepard says. "That's a significant number."
Dr. Shepard notes that many common things in daily life affect sleep. The sleeping environment -- especially sound, movement, light, temperature and humidity in the bedroom -- plays a significant role in the quality of people's sleep. Dr. Shepard became interested in how pets can disrupt people's sleep after one patient reported that she frequently got up in the middle of the night to let the dog out and waited up to 15 minutes before returning to bed with her pet.
"After hearing that anecdote, I began to wonder how many of my patients were sleeping with pets and how much the pet interrupted sleep," he says.
Between February and September 2001, Dr. Shepard surveyed 300 patients seen at the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center to determine the frequency and severity of sleep disruption that may result from family pets. He found the following:
* 157 of 300 patients (52 percent) had one or more pets, primarily cats and dogs.
* Nearly 60 percent of the patients with pets slept with their pets in the bedroom. When a dog was permitted to sleep in the bedroom, it had a 57 percent chance of being allowed to sleep on the bed.
* Of the pet owners, 53 percent considered their sleep to be disrupted to some extent every night, but only one percent felt that their sleep was disrupted for more than 20 minutes per night on average.
* Snoring was reported in 21 percent of dogs and seven percent of cats.
* Cats were more likely to be allowed in the bedroom and on the bed.
"I suspect that the degree of sleep disruption experienced may be significantly greater than the owners admit, but I have no objective data," says Dr. Shepard. "Every patient has to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of sleeping with pets and make a personal decision about the sleeping arrangements in the household. Some people are very attached to their pets and will tolerate poorer sleep in order to be near them at night."
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