Over the past seven years, one of the most consistent things in my life has been chronic pain, which hits the hardest when I’m trying to fall asleep. And sleep is something I need in order to better manage my chronic pain; being up all night because of the pain, then, makes me feel like my body is outright mocking me.
On the bright side, my pain levels tend to decrease when my family dog, Lucky, jumps into my bed with me. Ultimately, I do think my puppy’s cuddles help me sleep better and, it turns out, I’m far from the only chronic pain patient who experiences this.
The pain makes me feel like my body is outright mocking me.
In September 2018, the University of Alberta and University of Calgary released a joint study called Undercover Dogs: Pet Dogs in the Sleep Environment of Patients with Chronic Pain which looked to see if dogs helped or interfered with people’s sleep.
This study was part of a larger qualitative study that “explored the experiences of people with chronic pain related to pet dog ownership.” The researchers asked seven people – all with chronic pain for at least eight years and in a pain management program in Western Canada – if their dog positively or negatively affected their sleep.
The participants all reported positive experiences, saying: “the actual physical presence of their dog was reassuring, prevented loneliness, and reduced stress.” Many had also described how their dogs have helped them keep a nightly routine because their pets want to go to bed by a certain time. It is tiring being super cute, after all.
Two of the participants told the researchers that their dogs have disturbed their sleep in the past but did not see this as a major interference. Personally, Lucky sometimes sleep talks in a high-pitched bark which I find funny and adorable more than disruptive.
As the sample size of this study was small, the researchers wrote that more studies are needed to further explore how the sleep of people with chronic pain is impacted by their pet dogs.
“The actual physical presence of their dog was reassuring, prevented loneliness, and reduced stress.”
I have always felt that my dog’s affection and attention has helped with pain management and, judging by this research, there seems to be some logic behind my thinking. I will also take any excuse to hang out with my dog 24/7. So, if he can help me manage my pain levels while falling asleep, that’s an incentive to let him continue to sleep on my bed. While pets are wonderful, chronic pain warriors who love animals and need more assistance than what an average dog could do may want to look into getting an emotional support animal, therapy dog, or service dog.
Trying to fall asleep when you are in pain is a challenge and finding solutions to fall asleep often involves trial and error. I do not sleep perfectly when I am around my dog but he helps, and I feel a sense of happiness when I wake up in the morning and see his adorable face.