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Sleep Debt With Pets

You may need to work out new sleeping arrangements in the house

MetPet.com Staff Writer

In the US, most people get about 6-7 hours worth of sleep when they should average around 8 hours, more if you're a teenager or a baby.  That adds up to a great deal of sleep debt, or the difference between 8 hours and the 6-7.  This 'debt' accumulates until it is made up usually on the weekends or by napping during a dull meeting.  

Although the research is far from complete, it appears that short segments of sleep, interrupted by noise or light or by Rover greeting you in the middle of a night with a squeaky toy doesn't provide the real rest we require.  When you wake up, even if you can't remember it the next morning, your sleep cycle is disrupted and you can wake up feeling exhausted.

REM Sleep
A night's sleep is a series of stages of lighter to deeper sleep culminating in the REM, Rapid Eye Movement, stage.  During REM the muscles relax, the eyes move rapidly and the brain sorts through the day's images.  Without sufficient sleep or with interruptions, the body and the brain may not go through all of the stages leaving you feeling tired even after 8 hours of 'sleep.'

A few nights of interrupted sleep are tolerated by most people but over the long term sleep debt may lead to serious health problems, obesity, diabetes, lack of productivity, depression, irritability, impaired judgment and accidents.  People who are chronically racking up sleep debt hours may not even be aware that they lack sleep because they no longer know what it feels like to get a good night's sleep. 

If you're falling asleep during meetings or lectures or while waiting at a stop light, you could be suffering from sleep debt.  If you cannot wake up without an alarm clock when you keep to the same schedule everyday, that may also indicate a lack of good sleep. 

Sleep Hygiene With Pets
General purpose sleep hygiene consists of the following:

Use the bedroom only for sleep, leave the TV and laptop outside
Make sure the bedroom is cool enough to sleep
Remove light sources including lighted dials on clocks and aquariums
Consider black out curtains if you are particularly sensitive to light from street lights or even from the moon
Keep to the same schedule whenever possible
Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening
Stop any heavy exercise several hours before you go to bed

Pets, especially cats, may become active just as you are starting to wind down.  While people have had a full day, pets were probably snoozing all day, were awakened in the late afternoon or early evening and are now ready to go play. 

Even if they're not leaving toys on your pillow or walking across you in the middle of the night, their movements and noises can disrupt your sleep.  If you suspect you're being lightly awakened during the night by your pets, you may have to change your sleeping arrangements.

The easiest idea is to leave pets out of the bedrooms entirely.  It may take several nights of listening to scratching and howling but eventually Rover and Fluffy will get the idea. 

One good point of sleep hygiene and the curing of sleep debt is that, if you cannot get to sleep early enough at night, an early morning walk with the dog or cat can help.  Exercise coupled with morning sunshine can help reset your body's internal alarm. 

While it may seem like a nice idea to have the dog and cat and hamsters share your bedroom, everyone may be much happier when you get a restful night's sleep and are up early and refreshed in the morning. 

 
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