The Mighty Logo

Study Shows How Pets Can Help People With Chronic Pain Sleep Better

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

If you live with chronic pain, you’re likely all-too-familiar with the struggle of “painsomnia,” or being unable to sleep due to pain and other symptoms. Amidst the plethora of coping tips and products often suggested for dealing with this challenge, one common piece of advice is to remove all distractions from the bedroom – including your pets. But if you love to snuggle with your furry companions, a recent study published by the University of Alberta has good news: having a pet may actually help those with chronic pain sleep better.

The study was small, involving seven participants (six women and one man) with chronic pain who owned pet dogs. They shared their thoughts about how their pet affected their sleep via a phone interview. Over 80 percent of the comments the participants made reflected the belief that having a pet was beneficial for sleep. The study breaks down the participants’ explanations for why pets were helpful to sleep into five main reasons:

  1. Physical Presence/”Cuddles” – The dog’s presence was comforting and reassuring, and helped prevent loneliness.
  2. Routine and Schedule – Having a dog helped establish a nightly routine, which can be an important aspect of sleep hygiene.
  3. Distraction From Anxiety/Reassuring Presence at Night – The dog’s presence helped reduce nighttime anxiety, stress and fear.
  4. Active Intervention to Keep Participant Safe – If the participant was having difficulty sleeping or experienced a disruption in sleep, the dog would seem to alert and monitor them.
  5. Daytime Activity to Promote Being Tired at Night – Increasing activity during the day to walk or play with the dog helped participants feel more tired at night.

Some of the participants did report negative effects of sleeping near a pet, such as being disrupted by their dog’s snoring, but overall, they reported that the proximity to their pet helped reduce their painsomnia.

For many in our chronic pain community, the results of this study are probably unsurprising. Whether you own a furry, feathery or scaly pet, an emotional support animal (ESA) or a service dog, these creatures can have so many benefits on your physical and emotional health.

We wanted to know how pets affect our Mighty community’s sleeping habits, so we asked them to share a photo and explain how their pets/service animals help them sleep with chronic pain.

Having a pet may not help everyone’s sleep, but if you do find it comforting and helpful, you are certainly not alone – and if anyone tries to tell you pets are definitively bad for sleep health, now you can send them this study!

Check out our chronic pain community’s adorable furry companions below:

1. “Luna Beans always knows when I’m in need of love, whether it be from fibro pain or just being emotional after a rough day. She’s so soft and warm and just makes me feel safe and comfortable.” – Annie S.

woman wearing a hoodie and glasses snuggling next to a gray and white cat

2. “Charlie (11 months) and Sorrell (3 months). Hubby and I get a bit squashed but it’s certainly cozy, even when I can’t sleep due to pain and stress .” – Jill C.

woman lying in bed with her dogs

3. “For years, my son’s Jack Russell Terrier, Tessa, would climb on my lap every time I had painsomnia. She would calm me while I waited for pain meds to kick in. Unfortunately, she passed away last winter. My daughter’s cat, Friday, who used to stay away from me when Tessa was alive, has since taken over. She is on my lap right now.” – Sarah N.

black and white cat

4. “I have two. This tiny one is the most attentive to my pain. When I have a migraine, she’s constantly right by my side, sniffing my face to check on me. And when I have terrible cramps, she lays directly on top of my tummy!” – Jamie T.

woman cuddling with her white and brown jack russell

5. “My rabbit Ollie is a world-class snuggler.” – Ceil B.

person holding a gray rabbit on their lap

6. “They always know when you need them the most, like when it’s an extra bad day. Whether they want to help, cuddle or even just keep us warm, it’s all a wonderful and greatly needed distraction.” – Crystal S.

two cats sitting on the couch

7. “This is my pug mix Munchie. Rubbing her ears is very calming when my pain and anxiety have gotten bad. She also is an excellent heating pad for all those aches and pains. It’s like she knows right where she is needed to make me feel better. I don’t know what I would do if it wasn’t for her.” – Adrienne H.

woman lying in bed with her pug

8. “It’s hard not to be comforted when the adorable fuzz butts are always by your side.” – Lex F.

woman wearing a striped shirt and looking at her gray cat

9. “My dogs are trained that when given the command one will lay along the front of my body for me to lean against and the other will lay against my back to apply pressure. This is how I sleep best. The pressure, warmth, and support that they give me can not be duplicated and they are my heroes when painsomnia sets in.” – Casey K.

two golden labs sitting outside on the grass

10. “Well this isn’t us sleeping, just Amber. But, she is always in a great location and fits perfectly behind my knees or by my stomach. If I have a bad night of tossing and turning, she will just go down by my feet or on top of my pillow and I can still feel her there. She is my emotional support animal.” – Tifney S.

woman lying down with her dog lying on top of her

11. “My baby, Muffin, keeps me from overdoing it, and lays on me until I can sleep. Who needs a weighted blanket when you have cats?” – Jessi E.

woman lying down with a cat on her chest

12. “Teddy usually likes to sleep at my feet, but when my pain is the worst he’ll cuddle around my head and let me hold him. Dogs are really good at sensing how you’re feeling.” – Sarah B.

small black dog sleeping in bed next to its owner

13. “Warmth, gentle weight and lots of purring, very therapeutic!” – Celena G.

close up of a cat

14. “The black and white dog is my service dog and she is always there to keep me safe and as pain-free as possible; the Belgian is just a snuggler, but he is the best for keeping me warm and giving pressure where I need it even without any training. I don’t know what I’d do without these two!” – Bay H.

woman lying down next to two large dogs who are sleeping beside her

15. “Lots of snuggles to get me through the night.” – Vivian K.

woman snuggling with her gray and white cat

16. “When I got home from three months in the hospital this little girl never left my side! I had trouble walking and someone had to walk behind me to the bathroom. This little girl would walk behind whoever was walking behind me and never leave my side!” – Liz Ann T.

dogs curled up in blankets and sitting on the bed

17. “This is only one of my four fur babies (plus one now in heaven) that help me deal with my painsomnia. She’s our newest addition but already seems to know when I’m restless and can use the snuggles. She’ll either curl up on my chest, burying her face in my neck while purring or she lays by my feet with one paw always gently touching my bad leg. I have CRPS (complex regional pain syndrome) and some nights leave me in terrible burning pain… but my fur babies never fail to help the tears stop and distract me from the pain! Many nights just having my kitties curled up with me can calm me down enough to get a couple hours of sleep. Not to mention their gentle purr seems to calm me down when I’m worked up. I’m incredibly grateful for the power of a fur baby’s love!” – Marissa N.R.

woman cuddling with a black and white cat

18. “This is my Nelle, cuddling under the blankets, to help keep my legs still.” – Ruth H.

small white dog sitting under the covers of a bed

19. “‘Technically’ he’s not allowed in the upstairs hallway. Yet on the nights the pain is the worst, he’s there, outside my door, awake and concerned.” – Leanna K.

dog sitting in the hallway outside a woman's bedroom

20. “My cat sleeps next to me every night. Petting him is so soothing to me. When I’m in pain I can just focus on the sensation of his fur against my skin. Sometimes when I’m in a lot of pain I will grab him and pull him in close to me. He loves to cuddle as much as I do.” – Sydney L.V.

woman wearing a plaid shirt and lying with her orange cat

21.Painsomnia is a (nearly) every night occurrence. When I toss and turn too much, my Molly Magee snuggles in to try to calm me down. She makes me realize that I’m not alone. She is a wonderful distraction from dwelling on my pain. Best of all, she has this adorable snort-snore that makes me giggle even when I’m in excruciating pain.” – Nicky S.

two dogs lying on the bed and the couch

22. “Silence lays down on my chest, which provides deep pressure. Plus her purring is relaxing. Her sister will lay on my legs too.” – Shayla F.W.

gray cat sticking its tongue out

23. “This is Elliot and I.” – Sarah K.E.

woman sleeping in bed next to her dog

24. “Peaches helps me relax. I lay on the floor with her and pet her. If I start to get stressed or tense, she sits up and gives me kisses until I relax again. She will also thump and glare at me if I stay up too long.” – Monica I.Y.

woman stroking the head of an orange rabbit

25. “During an episode he is always there. I can hold onto him as tightly as I need until the pain passes. He just lays there purring the whole time.” – Josie B.

woman sitting on her couch and holding her cat against her chest

26. “She lays against my lower back at night, soothing the pain, and also wakes me when she knows I need to get up and take medicine because I’m in pain or sick in my sleep. She seems to also be able to tell if it’s an especially bad pain day because she’ll get extra protective of me and try to be constantly touching me somehow.” – Candida K.R.

brown and white dog walking outside

27. “My Muki will crawl up into my arms and purr me to sleep.” – Jennifer B.

gray cat lying on owner's arm

28. “These guys are so attuned to how I am feeling. My little cat, Denali, will sleep on my shoulder and purr in my ear to help me sleep, or she’ll lay on my stomach and act as a heating pad with a little bit of pressure. Declan usually curls up next to me with a paw on my arm or my stomach, like he’s saying, ‘I’m here. I’ve got you.’” – Amelia H.

29. “Meet Moose. He has been helping me manage my painsomnia from fibromyalgia for about a year now. When I am in pain and unable to respond to his meows with toys or treats, he senses something is wrong and jumps up next to me. He is always the little spoon which allows me to engage in gentle, rhythmic movements as I pet him and scratch his cheeks. I become distracted from my pain and his presence relaxes my anxiety that contributes so greatly to painsomnia. His purrs add to this calming sensory experience and often lull me to sleep. He will even give me a few loving head butts before gets up to eat or visit his litter box. Dogs are often the animal of choice for emotional or physical support, but I recommend checking out cats, too!” – Grazia D.

woman lying on the couch with her orange cat

30. “My sweet Leia Bear does not leave my side, she will follow me room to room and at night will lay between my legs or along my back. I would toss and turn way longer if Leia didn’t cover my legs.” – Deanna S.

dog resting his face on his owner's knee while she pets him

31. “My boy Merlin lies on my chest purring which helps to relax me.” – Ruth H.

woman sitting on the couch with a cat lying across her chest

32. “My Standard poodle is always aware of how I am feeling. He lays as close to me as possible, comforting me. If there is extreme pain some places he licks it or paws at it, or lies on top of me, applying pressure. He also makes nightmares go away. He is just amazing. His only goals in life are to cuddle me, make me laugh and make sure I feel as good as possible. He has done this by himself from 8 weeks old.” – Kine O.J.

black poodle standing outside in front of flowers with his mouth wide open

Originally published: October 17, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home