Sharing the bed with a canine companion may help chronic pain sufferers get a better night's sleep, a new study from the University of Alberta suggests.
Pain patients who participated in the survey-based research reported that sleeping alongside their dogs helped alleviate their symptoms and ease bedtime anxieties.
"We found out that people were very, very positive about the effect that their dog had on their sleep," said Carey Brown a professor in the U of A's faculty of rehabilitation medicine.
"We were surprised that there were so few negative comments," said Brown, who has been doing sleep research for more than a decade.
"The one or two negative comments that were made, the people sort of laughed and said, 'Well, sometimes they have to go to the bathroom in the night, but so do I.'"
Researched by the rehab medicine faculty's department of occupational therapy in partnership with an Alberta Health Services chronic pain management clinic in Calgary, the study was published online last month.
The sample size for Undercover Dogs was small but respondents had some warm, fuzzy feelings about cuddling up with their canines, Brown said.
'They feel safe'
First, dogs provided comfort, helping to distract their owners from pain. They also helped their humans maintain a reliable nighttime routine and alleviate a sense of loneliness, which can be pervasive among chronic pain sufferers.
"They would say, 'This is a physical presence. I take comfort in knowing there is another being there,'" Brown said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.
"Some people said, and this was interesting, they said they feel safer. When I have the dog present, I know that it's safe to sleep."
I don't know what I would be doing without her. I wouldn't be sleeping. - Study respondent
One respondent reported that her dog seemed to monitor her pain medication pump and alerted her to any problems in the night.
"She came and woke my husband up seconds before an alarm went off on the pump, like seconds."
Another participant wrote: "She can tell when I am still asleep having a night terror … she will nuzzle up. I don't know what I would be doing without her. I wouldn't be sleeping."
'A bit naughty'
Even the small share of survey respondents who said dogs could sometimes make annoying bedfellows were not keen to send their pets to the doghouse.
"If they [the dog] decide they are not going to be sleeping that night, they are going to bug you and wake you up and, you know, be a bit naughty. I get that too," one survey respondent said.
"Generally he is pretty good about letting you rest. It was definitely a comfort when I was on my own because I was lonely and he helped me sleep."
Brown believes more research is warranted, and in the meantime, people may want to let their sleeping dogs lie.
And she's following her own advice, letting her own dog sleep in her bed every night.