During sleep, the brain processes the events of the day and the body can settle down so that we can function properly the next day. Sleep is of great importance to dogs (as with humans). It ensures that they remain physically and mentally healthy.
What exactly is sleep ?
Sleep is a state of physical rest. The muscles are relaxed, blood pressure and body temperature are decreasing, and the brain perceives virtually nothing of what is happening in the environment. Sleep consists of 5 phases, each with its own brain activity. It starts with a light sleep (phases 1 and 2), then you fall deeper and deeper into sleep (phases 3 and 4). The final and fifth phase is the familiar REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement), also called dream sleep. This is characterized by completely relaxed muscles, but the heart rhythm and breathing become more irregular and the blood pressure rises. The eyes quickly go back and forth. This is the phase in which is dreamed. If the REM sleep has been completed, a new sleep cycle starts again. During sleep you walk through 5 of these sleep cycles. Especially deep sleep and REM sleep are important for a good night’s sleep.
How much sleep does a dog need ?
Dogs sleep more often and longer than people. They spend at least half of the day asleep, depending on the age this can be up to three quarters of the day.
– A puppy sleeps about 18-20 hours per day.
– An adult dog sleeps an average of 12-14 hours per day.
– Older dogs need more sleep, which can be as much as 16-18 hours per day.
– Some large breeds are known to sleep more than average. Think of Saint Bernard, Newfoundland, Pyrenean mountain dogs and Mastiffs.
It is not entirely clear why dogs need so much sleep. An explanation could be that their REM sleep is shorter than with us. In people, REM sleep covers about 25% of the time we sleep, in dogs it is about 10%. This could mean that dogs need more sleep time to process everything and be fit for the next day.
Dreaming dogs ?
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have shown that rats exhibit the same brain activity as humans during their REM sleep. This indicates that rats are dreaming. The researchers were also able to see the brain activity where the rats dreamed about! The brain activity during dreams was as good as equal to the brain activity in the rats when they walk through a maze. Apparently the rats were processing and reliving the activities from the day before. Because dog brains are more complex than those of rats, we can assume that dogs also dream.
Do you want to know if your dog is dreaming ?
In itself you can easily find out. Watch your dog from the moment he gets drowsy and dons away. As soon as your dog falls asleep more deeply, his breathing becomes more regular. After about 10-20 minutes he will start dreaming. The transition can be recognized by the flat, irregular breathing. Also, the muscles will occasionally show puffs and you will (if you pay close attention) observe the rapid eye movements under the closed eyelids. The eyes move because the dog ‘looks around’ at the things he sees in his dream, as if it were real. Sometimes a dog will bark or squeak and move his legs as if he is running. If you awaken a person during this phase, he will confirm that he was dreaming at that moment.
Effect of sleep deprivation in dogs
Sleep deprivation affects the learning ability, concentration, memory and performance. But not only that. It also affects the immune system (you get sick more quickly) and the way you feel. You can feel tired, lethargic and stressed. In extreme cases it even affects your social life. You are much more irritable and can therefore have much less of the people around you. This applies equally to dogs.
Causes sleep deprivation in dogs :
– Sleeping in an illuminated room has an effect on the quality of sleep in dogs,
– Too many activities during the day,
– Troubled environment. Think of children running around the house, loud music etc.,
– No quiet, private place where the dog can retreat,
– Dogs sleep less deeply when they are in an unfamiliar environment. Apparently they are more wary. So you can imagine that a dog sleeps less well after a move,
– Sense of insecurity, stress / fear,
– Sleep apnea.