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The Importance of REM Sleep in Dogs

Deep sleep is important for dogs.

Deep sleep is important for dogs.

About REM sleep and dogs

Did you know that REM sleep is very important for your dog? The saying "let sleeping dogs lie" is there for a very good reason. Truth is, dogs, just as humans, need their daily dose of beauty sleep in order to function well and deal with the ups and downs of life. The amount of sleep your dog gets depends on several factors. Personality, lifestyle and the environment certainly play a role. Your dog's size and breed also have to do with it. For instance, very large dogs such as mastiffs, Saint Bernard's and Newfoundlands tend to snooze much more than smaller dogs.

Dogs may seem like they spend a lot of time sleeping, but we must consider though that they wake up more frequently compared to us humans. The common cartoon image of a bulldog sleeping with one eye open and one eye closed, is quite close to reality. Dogs may sleep lighter during the day if there are things going around them or if they feel unsafe. Noises will frequently awaken them if they are on guard duty.

How much does the average dog sleep? It can be anywhere from fourteen to eighteen hours a day. Again, this depends on lifestyle and other factors considered above. Obviously, a bored dog is more likely to sleep than an active dog who is used for working on a farm or engaged in activities such as police dogs at airports. As in humans, sleep is very important to dogs. In the next paragraph we will see why it's crucial for Rover to attain sufficient sleep and most of all, quality deep REM sleep.

The Importance of REM Sleep in Dogs

Why is sleep so important for dogs? Sleep allows dogs to recuperate from the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisone, explains Dog Behavior Psychologist, Lizi Angel. When dogs are sleep deprived, stress hormones will build up and they will have an impact on the dog's behavior. When stress hormones are around for too long, dogs are more likely to be reactive and are more prone to display aggressive behaviors as their impulse thresholds are lowered. They are likelier to overreact, and with less provocation. To better put it in words, Jerome M. Siegel, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA Center for Sleep Research, claims: “The major function of sleep is to increase behavioral efficiency.”

Other than lowering the amount of stress hormones, during sleep an important neuro-hormone is released from the pineal gland, further explains Lizi Angel. This neuro-hormone is called melatonin and it plays an important role in promoting quality sleep and regulating the sleep-wake cycle. On top of that, it also protects the body's cells and strengthens the dog's immune system.

Dogs share the similar sleep patterns to humans. When your dog drifts into dreamland, initially he will enter the slow wave pattern of sleep, a lighter form of sleep. He will lie still, breath slower and will be oblivious to his surroundings. At the same time, his blood pressure and temperature drops and his heart rate decreases. If the dog is not awakened during this phase, he will enter the active stage of sleep which is known as "REM".

During REM sleep, your dog's heart beat quickens, the eyes will roll, his feet and legs may move, his body may twitch and he may even bark or whine. The dog's heart rate and breathing rate also becomes irregular. It is estimated that sleeping dogs spend 10 to 12 percent of their sleeping time in the REM stage. Puppies are notorious for spending much more time during this phase. In puppies, this helps them develop. For more on this read "why puppies twitch during sleep."

REM is the most important phase of sleep. It helps restore energy and regenerates. In a study on rats, deprivation of REM sleep resulted in a shortened life span (from 2-3 years to 5 weeks). In dogs, this is still being studied. Francis Crick, theorizes that REM helps get rid of excess information and being denied REM sleep could trigger obvious behavioral disturbances and a backlog of REM. Dog trainer Chris Rose makes it an important point to ask his clients how much their dogs sleep throughout the day. He encourages deep sleep patterns as part of his treatment plan to encourage the natural healing process for dogs. I must confirm that, haven seen my fair share of anxious, reactive dogs recuperate nicely after being allowed the luxury of deep sleep.

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Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 22, 2014:

That's my mother in law's Doxie, she loves to sleep under blankets. very cute!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 21, 2014:

I like the photo and I like dogs. They make beautiful pets. I learned more about dogs from your interesting hubs.

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