Dogs can have sleep issues just like humans do

The sight of a dog sleeping on the hearth in front of a roaring fire conjures up images of peace, security and comfort.

My images of a sleeping dog are of Arlie, our mixed breed, squeezed into "his" living room chair; 72 pounds of brown dog, long legs tucked under him, head hanging over the seat, the tip of his tongue visible between his lips.

When really tired, he curled himself up, looking like a deer asleep in the forest, his head nestled into his body. This sleeping position was usually accompanied by his nose and eyes wrinkling, his legs twitching and little whining sounds. We always thought he was dreaming.

The behavior of sleeping dogs have been studied extensively by Dr. Adrian Morrison, professor of behavioral neuroscience in the Laboratory for Study of the Brain in Sleep at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

The following is Morrison's explanation for the sleeping behavior in dogs:

"When a dog is in REM sleep, the stage of sleep that is characterized by dreaming and rapid eye movement, you see it paddling its legs, yelping and whining. All of that movement doesn't occur constantly, and the brain waves during REM and non-REM sleep are different."

Morrison reports humans have an approximately 90-minute sleep cycle from non-REM to REM sleep, but dogs have only a two- to 25-minute sleep cycle. While people have a REM period lasting 20 minutes or longer, the phase in dogs lasts only five to 10 minutes.

According to Morrison, "We're paralyzed five to six times a night while we sleep and our muscles twitch because they are very relaxed … We actually don't know why dogs have those excited movements."

Dogs seem to have as many issues about their sleep as humans do.

Dr. Morrison notes, "A restless night is just as detrimental for a dog as it is for a person."

But dogs don't usually experience insomnia: If a dog isn't sleeping at night, it's usually a sign something is bothering him.

Dr. Morrison also notes some dogs are affected by narcolepsy, a neurological sleep disorder defined by frequent and uncontrollable periods of deep sleep. While narcolepsy is rare, Dr. Emmanuel Minot and researchers at Stanford University have isolated the gene that causes narcolepsy in two breeds of dogs, Doberman pinschers and Labrador retrievers.

The discovery of this gene in dogs might provide significant clues for the human problem of narcolepsy.

Similar to the behavior in some people, certain breeds of dogs may also experience loud snoring. In dogs, snoring is the noise produced by the vibration and flutter of soft tissue in the upper throat. Snoring is most common among short-necked breeds, like bull dogs. My niece has a Chihuahua who snores. A big noise from a little dog.

While watching our dogs sleep can induce us to lean back and enjoy some down time with them, we also need to remember the adage, "Let sleeping dogs lie." This is especially true, actually necessary, when there are small children in the home.

A dog's behavior isn't always predicable, especially when startled awake. Rather than risk a dog bite, children should be taught very early on to leave sleeping dogs alone and to respect their private time. The kind of thing we all want when we're sleeping.

• The Buddy Foundation, 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights, is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization with all funds directly assisting its animals. Its mission is to provide immediate safety and care to stray and abandoned cats and dogs. Call (847) 290-5806 or visit

Bess is new to The Buddy Foundation, so not much is known about her likes and dislikes. She is a mixed breed, about 7 months old and weighs in at 40 pounds. The Buddy Foundation
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