Dogs — they’re just like us. Well, not really. In addition to being much cuter and floppier and generally more lovable, they sleep more as they get older. (We bipedal mammals log fewer hours of rest in our golden years.) Back in 2012, veterinary researchers compared older and younger dogs’ daytime and nighttime sleeping habits, and published their findings in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.
Overall, research on dog sleep is fairly thin, maybe because, as experts have noted, canine sleeping habits generally say more about physical comfort than behavioral or medical issues. There are exceptions. For example, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels afflicted with the congenital condition syringomyelia sleep with their heads propped up to minimize spinal pain.
But, the deluge of human sleep research may mean we’ll soon see more studies on dozing dogs. Over the past two decades, canine behavior research has followed a similar trajectory as research on human behavior, with some lag time. The '80s, for example, saw a sharp uptick in the use of psychoactive drugs to treat human mental ails. By the '90s, leading veterinary behaviorists were routinely prescribing antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds to mopey and nervous dogs.
Going back to the study: Researchers split 48 beagles into three age groups: 1.5 to 4.5 years old, seven to nine years old and 11 to 14 years old. They also outfitted the canine participants with wearable sleep-monitoring devices, and analyzed their napping and nocturnal sleep with respect to feeding schedules.
Older and middle-aged dogs, researchers found, spent more time napping than younger dogs. While elder pups didn’t take longer naps, they took more of them. The more senior study subjects also slept for longer, and with fewer awakenings, at night.
Eating habits (one vs. two meals a day) affected dogs across the age spectrum similarly. Those who wolfed down kibble at breakfast and dinner took fewer but longer naps, fell asleep earlier at night and woke up earlier in the morning. Overall, they got less nighttime sleep.
So, in a nutshell: Want to sleep in? Give your dog one big midday meal and wait a few years — you’ll both curse the sunlight on Saturday mornings.