Study Shows How Pets Can Help People With Chronic Pain Sleep Better
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:
- Physical Presence/”Cuddles” – The dog’s presence was comforting and reassuring, and helped prevent loneliness.
- Routine and Schedule – Having a dog helped establish a nightly routine, which can be an important aspect of sleep hygiene.
- Distraction From Anxiety/Reassuring Presence at Night – The dog’s presence helped reduce nighttime anxiety, stress and fear.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5. “My rabbit Ollie is a world-class snuggler.” – Ceil B.
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.
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.
8. “It’s hard not to be comforted when the adorable fuzz butts are always by your side.” – Lex F.
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.
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.
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.
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.
13. “Warmth, gentle weight and lots of purring, very therapeutic!” – Celena G.
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.
15. “Lots of snuggles to get me through the night.” – Vivian K.
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.
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.
18. “This is my Nelle, cuddling under the blankets, to help keep my legs still.” – Ruth H.
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.
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.
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.
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.
23. “This is Elliot and I.” – Sarah K.E.
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.
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.
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.
27. “My Muki will crawl up into my arms and purr me to sleep.” – Jennifer B.
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.
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.
31. “My boy Merlin lies on my chest purring which helps to relax me.” – Ruth H.
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.