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Common Dog Sleep Disorders

Sleep Problems that Can Affect Dogs

By Sora Wondra. March 15, 2013 | See Comments

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Common Dog Sleep Disorders

Dogs can suffer from sleep disorders, too, and lack of sleep can lead to recurring health problems. Learn what kinds of sleep disorders can affect dogs.

Sleep disorders aren't just a problem for humans, they can affect your dog as well. Dogs sleep a lot, but can adapt their sleeping patterns, so they should be able to sleep through the night. If your furry friend is waking up and whining during the night, is extra tired during the day, or seems to fall asleep suddenly, they may have trouble sleeping, or even a sleep disorder. 

Certain sleep disorders seem to be related to genetics and family history, and some breeds are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders. English Bulldogs, Dachshunds, Poodles, Doberman Pinschers, Beagles, and Labrador Retrievers all have an increased risk of sleep disorders. 

Why aren't they getting enough sleep? 

Sleep disorders usually keep your dog from getting enough sleep during the night, or from getting enough Rapid-Eye Movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is the period during which humans dream, and is the most important form of sleep to recover and rest properly. REM stages get longer throughout the night, so if your dog wakes up for any reason, they may interrupt the cycles and not get enough REM sleep.

Not all sleep disorders are the same, and treatment is different for each condition. Learn about the 4 most common sleep disorders below to help determine if your pooch may be suffering. 

4 most common sleep disorders for dogs:

1. Insomnia

Insomnia means trouble sleeping, either at the start of the night, or waking up during the night and being unable to fall back asleep. Insomnia is often a sign of some other problem, like an injury, anxiety, or illness, but is also associated with old age in dogs. 

As dogs get older, they are more likely to have a condition which causes discomfort, such as joint or digestion problems. This makes it harder for them to get comfortable and sleep throughout the night. Bladder problems may also wake your senior dog, and they may need to go out during the night, even if well-trained.

2. Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a rare but note-worthy sleep disorder which affects dogs. It can cause a disruption in the dog's sleeping and REM cycle which may lead to extreme sleepiness during the day. 

Narcolepsy symptoms can include sleep attacks or “cataplexy” which is sudden muscle weakness and paralysis while remaining awake. These attacks (which last a few seconds to a couple minutes) can be brought on by strong emotions, often at feeding time or while playing. Narcolepsy can be particularly dangerous if your dog has access to pools or streams, or any other place which may be an unsafe location for a sleep attack to occur.         

3. Sleep Apnea

Sometimes your dog just has a snoring problem, but loud snoring might be a sign of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is most commonly seen with English Bulldogs and obese dogs, and causes problems breathing during sleep. Dogs with sleep apnea may temporarily stop breathing, which wakes them up. If this happens multiple times during the night, the dog won't be able to have uninterrupted REM sleep. This may lead to your dog being extra tired during the day, even though they seemed to sleep all night.

Veterinarians usually prescribe a weight-loss diet for overweight dogs with sleep apnea, or even surgery if the nostrils or respiratory systems are malformed (which causes the apnea). Steam or humidifiers can also help open up airways. Sleep apnea can sometimes be fatal, but can usually be treated before it causes serious problems.

4. REM Behavior Disorder and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

Dogs are known for pawing at the air while they sleep, but some dogs are very active during REM sleep, and show symptoms of a human disorder called REM behavior disorder. Dogs with this active REM cycle may run into walls, attack objects, or bite, even if they are usually gentle while awake. Different from sleepwalking, these dogs may not seem disoriented if awoken during these active REM periods.

If you think your dog isn't getting enough sleep, or may have a sleep disorder, it's important to talk with your veterinarian and take some steps to help them sleep better. If sleep deprivation continues, it can lead to health, emotional, or mental problems. Document your dog's habits so that you can describe them fully to your vet and together determine appropriate treatments to help your dog—and you—have a restful night.

More on Dog Health

Food to Help Your Senior Dog Lose Weight
Senior Dog Care
Your Dog Food Questions Answered

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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DOG SLEEP DISORDERS at a glance

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  • 1Insomnia, or trouble falling asleep, may affect dogs who are sick, injured, or anxious.
  • 2Narcolepsy may cause sleep attacks due to a disruption in the REM cycle of sleep.
  • 3Sleep apnea causes dogs to stop breathing during sleep, affects English Bulldogs and severely overweight dogs.
  • 4Talk with your vet about strange sleep behaviors to determine possible treatments.