It can be quite annoying if your dog doesn’t want to settle down and sleep at the same time that you do. Before you pour them out a dose of Nyquil (please don’t — that’s a terrible idea!), read about the many options first.
To help your restless dog sleep at night, you can give medications like Melatonin or Benadryl, provide them with more mental and physical exercise, or alter your existing approaches to sleep schedule and bedding. It’s best to start with non-medication solutions before resorting to drugs.
We’ll cover the many reasons your dog may be having trouble sleeping so that you can make the most informed decision about how to help your pup get some shuteye. We’ll then take a holistic look at medications, natural remedies and practices, as well as training and contextual/environmental concerns which affect how your dog sleeps so that you can find the solution that works best for you and your dog.
Reasons Your Dog Might Not Be Sleeping
Which approach you take to help your dog sleep better will be informed by your ability to understand the root causes, or why your dog is having issues in the first place.
Inability to sleep may be one of other symptoms which indicate your dog has a health condition which is causing them pain. Sleeplessness could also indicate conditions like dementia, diabetes, hyperthyroidism or a urinary tract infection.
If you suspect your dog might suffer from one of these health issues, it’s best practice to contact your vet and let them know of any other unusual behaviors or symptoms to help them identify what is wrong.
If your dog is unable to sleep because of pain, they might also be exhibiting other behaviors like pacing, panting, vocalizing and general restlessness.
If your dog has chronic pain, it’s possible that they don’t show it as obviously during the day because there are more distractions, but become really bothered by it at night.
There are a number of natural remedies and prescription medications you can give your dog for pain. Check with your vet first, of course.
Dementia (Canine Cognitive Dysfunction)
Dogs, like people, can also develop dementia as they age. The main ways dementia is expressed in dogs are:
- Confusion, often progressing or getting worse
- Reversal of sleeping patterns
- Difficulty adapting to new situations or routine change
Diabetes and Hyperthyroidism
The symptoms of diabetes in dogs include:
- increased thirst
- increased hunger
- increased urination
- weight loss
Hyperthyroidism is the condition when your dog has an over-productive thyroid gland. The symptoms of this in dogs include:
- Enlarged thyroid gland.
- Excessive thirst.
- Forced breathing.
- Heavy, rapid breathing.
- Increased appetite.
- Increased energy.
- Increased urination.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Shaggy hair texture.
- Weight loss.
These two conditions may disrupt your dog’s sleeping habits, but also have a number of other symptoms. While they may not be applicable to your pet, it’s good to always consider that something like sleeplessness might be connected to another issue that requires treatment rather than being a stand-alone issue.
Because sleeplessness in dogs is usually so rare, it can often be an indicator of anxiety and stress. An anxious dog will pace, whine and sometimes howl through the night.
Need to Pee
If your dog seems uncomfortable and unable to settle down, think back to the last time you let them out to pee. It’s important that your dog has a chance to relieve themselves before bed. While this may sound obvious, many times the answer to a dog’s sleeplessness can end up being this simple.
Also keep in mind that as your dog ages, they will need to relieve themselves more frequently. Depending on your schedule and your dog’s sleep schedule, you may have to add a trip outside in the night so they can sleep comfortably.
Frequent Urination and Health Issues
If you’re worried that your dog’s need to urinate might be a little excessive, you might want to think if they’re giving you any other clues that something might be off.
As a dog ages, it becomes more likely that a frequent urge to urinate may be the result of some other health condition which is increasing their need to urinate or limiting the control your pet has over these bodily processes (older dog incontinence). Here are just some of the conditions which could be causing frequent urination which might disrupt your dog’s sleep schedule:
- Urinary tract infection
- Kidney disease
- Hormonal diseases (i.e., diabetes)
- Gastro-intestinal disease
- Neuro-muscular disease
If you suspect your dog might have one of these conditions, it’s important that you take them to the vet. They will be able to determine the exact issue by sampling your dogs blood or urine and then be able to prescribe a course of treatment.
The reasons a dog may be having trouble sleeping may also differ depending on what stage of life they are at.
If you just got your puppy, they will most likely be feeling some separation anxiety from being away from their mother and litter-mates for the first time. They also are adjusting to the surroundings of their new and unfamiliar home with you. This gets better with time, especially if you set up clear sleeping routines and expectations.
Adolescent dogs have a lot of energy, and if not mentally and physically stimulated enough throughout the day, can grow restless at night.
Older dogs may suffer from pain or cognitive dysfunctions which may keep them from getting a good night’s sleep.
What Does a Normal Night’s Sleep Look Like for Dogs?
Dog’s typically have little problem falling asleep and sleep on average 12-14 hours a day.
Puppies require even more sleep, usually between 18-20 hours.
Dogs have polyphasic sleep cycles, meaning that they sleep 4-6 times per day for short periods of time. This differs from the average humans sleeping cycle which is categorized as monophasic, where there is one phase of sleep which lasts a longer time.
Dog’s get around 10% REM sleep in any given cycle, while for humans it’s around 25%, so it would make sense that they feel most rested when by sleeping more frequently in smaller amounts to maximize their time spent in that restful, REM sleep.
Most dog’s don’t sleep through the night because of their polyphasic sleep cycles, but this doesn’t usually pose a problem, unless your dog is becoming extremely restless in the night to the point where it’s negatively impacting your own quality of sleep.
Over the Counter Medications You Can Try (With Vet Approval, Of Course)
This is most commonly used as an antihistamine for people, but can also be used to similar effect for cats and dogs.
It’s exceedingly important to consult a veterinarian before administering diphenhydramine to your dog. Lower amounts will increase tiredness, but too much can cause the opposite effect, making your dog excited, agitated and experience increased heart rate, body temperature and tremors.
When combined with non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and naproxen, diphenhydramine can cause stomach ulcers and kidney injury.
Although very similar to in name and function diphenhydramine, doxylamine should not be used for dogs and cats and pet owners should be very careful using this substance around them.
Melatonin is a naturally derived hormone which helps regulate sleep by supplementing hormones produced by the pineal gland. It can be used in both humans and animals. It can also treat cognitive dysfunctions, separation anxiety, hyperactivity, sleep cycle disorders and sometimes epilepsy in dogs.
While this is a great option for your dog if they begin to develop issues with sleeping through the night, you need to be careful when administering melatonin to your dog. Some products include xylitol which can be toxic in large quantities and can cause low blood sugar and liver injury. Even if xylitol is not present, an overdose of melatonin can cause lethargy and an upset stomach.
Melatonin comes in many forms like drops, powders and capsules and can be mixed in with food if that helps your dog take it more easily.
Melatonin usually starts working around 15 minutes after being administered and the effects can last for up to 8 hours if the dosage is correct.
The dosages recommended by vets are loosely as follows:
- 1mg for dogs less than 10 lb
- 1.5 mg for dogs between 10-25 lb
- 3 mg for dogs 26-100 lb
- 3-6 mg for dogs over 100 lb
While these dosages are a good rule of thumb, you should still consult your vet before giving your dog melatonin for the first time. It’s possible melatonin could react poorly with other medications they might be taking, and it is not always recommended for pregnant dogs and puppies.
CBD oil won’t get your dog high, but rather produces a sedative effect. The use of CBD has become more widespread to treat dogs for a broad range of ailments.
Vets are not allowed to prescribe CBD oil, but they are allowed to talk with you about its use. Definitely ask your vet if they think CBD oil is worth trying to help with your dog’s sleeplessness.
We have used CBD oil from holistapet.com with good results. It is formulated specifically for pets and contains 0% THC. Manufactured in the U.S., it is 100% organic, contains no GMO or additives, and is vegan. We recommend purchasing it in dropper bottle form, where it can easily be given directly on the dog’s tongue or onto food.
Regardless of where you get your CBD Oil, make sure you find a product that has been tested by a third-party and comes with a Certificate of Analysis (COA). This COA will detail how much CBD and THC the product contains and list any test results for contaminants, pesticides, and so on.
Other Non-Medicinal Options
If you’re not so into the idea of medicating your dog to help them sleep (which we believe should be your last resort), there are a number of other things you can try to help calm them down and regulate their sleeping cycles.
Essential oils like lavender are known to have a calming effect on humans and might similarly affect dogs too.
A little spray of essential oils on their bed before bedtime could be just what your dog needs to wind down after a day of activity.
Dogs love to be massaged around their back, stomach, neck and head. It lets them know that you are there for them and has a soothing effect on the body.
Licking and chewing are also activities your dog finds soothing. Dogs already do this when they’re stressed or overstimulated so it can be a good idea to try to facilitate this self-soothing behavior before bedtime.
You can buy your pup a few standard chew toys, or you might also give licking toys a try. You can coat these with peanut butter for an enticing treat.
Play Calming Music
A study done by the Scottish SPCA on kennel dogs found that listening to music is relaxing for dogs. In the study, stress indicators (heart rate, saliva, and observed behavior) of dogs exposed to classical music decreased and they spent less time standing and barking than those who weren’t exposed to music.
So there’s substantial evidence that putting calming music on in the hours leading up to bedtime could help your dog start to wind down.
Mental stimulation is important for you dogs overall wellbeing and can also help promote restful sleep at night. It’s important, especially when your dog is a puppy, to practice training cues with them at least a few times a day. This will not only keep them sharp on their training and help them be generally more manageable, but it is also fun for them and can wear them out before it’s time to go to sleep.
If your dog is seeming really bored, you might also look into using a puzzle feeder for your dog’s evening meal or as a desert. This will keep them occupied up to several hours before bed with activity which will engage their brain.
It might also be the case that your dog isn’t settling down for bed because they haven’t gotten enough exercise. This can become a problem especially if your dog is a working breed that requires lots of activity and stimulation.
Playing for a good 10-20 minutes before you start to unwind in the evening will tire them out physically and mentally which will help them feel ready to sleep later on.
Physical activity can also promote urination or a bowel movement earlier on and reduce the likelihood that your pup needs to relieve themselves in the night.
Establishing a Sleep Routine
This should ideally be done when your dog is a puppy. If you allow your dog to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, this will become a norm for them and be annoying for you.
Whatever bedtime routine you decide to stick to should include a final potty break as the final step before sleep. This will make it easier for your dog to get through the night without needing to pee and will set up the expectation that nighttime is for resting.
Sometimes, you may have to withhold water after a certain time in the evening so your dog won’t feel the need to go out during the night. While we like to always have water available for our dogs, withholding can help break the habit of a dog guzzling a large quantity right before bed.
Just be sure to have plenty of fresh water available in the morning and for the rest of the day.
Crate Training for Puppies
Crate training is the absolute most important element for training a puppy to sleep through the night. Puppies actually prefer a confined space for sleeping, so a crate with cozy bedding and, if you’d like, a crate covering to block out excess noise and light is highly recommended.
Very young puppies will have to be taken out during the night, but they are soon able to hold their bladder through the entire night.
Dogs who have been crate trained are usually more likely to sleep through the night than those that are free in the house. A dog that isn’t in the crate is much more likely to come ask to be let out when they wake up during the night, while one in a crate will generally lay back down and go to sleep.
Think About Your Dog’s Sleep Environment
If your dog is not sleeping in a crate, it’s important to still think about how their sleep environment might be helping or hindering their quality of sleep.
Your dog can be effected by environmental noises the same way you can, so it’s important to make sure their sleeping place is tucked away and quiet so that they won’t feel distracted or unsafe.
Bed Location and Quality
Along this line is the importance of where in the house your dog’s bed is placed. They’re pack animals, so if you make your dog sleep in a different room from you, it could be a source of anxiety for them. If your dog is having trouble getting to sleep, you might consider moving them into your room – they may just miss you.
Sharing a Bed with Your Dog?
Once a dog has been fully potty trained and sleeping well through the night, many people transition them to sleeping in the bed alongside them. This is, of course, up to you to decide (though once you say yes, it’s very hard to later change a dog’s mind about sleeping in the bed).
However, a study published by Medical Daily states that 63% of people who let their dogs sleep in their bed have poor quality sleep, and argues against the practice for the sake of your sleep and your pets. You both may disturb one another with snoring and tossing and turning. There is also the chance that it could make your allergies flare up if you have any.
But, from a training standpoint, having your dog sleep in your bed is not necessarily bad. It can be quite cozy and a great way to bond with your pet.
What’s most important is that you are actively deciding how and when your dog sleeps so that it suits your preferences and sleep schedule.
There’s No Silver Bullet for Sleeplessness
There are lots of techniques and options for helping your dog sleep through the night, but really it’s up to you to decide what is best based on the root cause of your dog’s sleeplessness and what solutions work best for your lifestyle, routine and goals.
Although it’s a tempting and totally legitimate option to give your dog medication to help them sleep, it’s good to know about other techniques like training and environmental changes to address those issues as well.
Developing a wider knowledge base on the different methods allows you the freedom to try a combination of approaches and find what works best for your pup’s particular situation.