Sleep Disorders in Dogs

Is your dog getting enough sleep? Here’s a look at the various sleep disorders that can affect our canine companions, along with some natural ways to treat them.

Just like people, dogs can develop disorders that interfere with their ability to get a good night’s sleep. Some may be harmless, but others can be serious and even life-threatening if left unaddressed. Diagnosing and treating a sleep disorder begins with knowing your dog and sensing when something isn’t quite right. Once you and your vet have determined the root of the problem, a variety of natural approaches can be used to treat it.

According to veterinarian Dr. Nancy Scanlan, it is normal for dogs to sleep during the day as well as at night. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is as important to dogs as it is to us, and both species will develop problems if they do not get enough of it. You’ll know your dog is experiencing REM sleep when you observe the following:

  • Your dog’s eyes move under his closed eyelids.
  • His paws may jerk or convulse.
  • Some dogs bark in their sleep, their ears might twitch, or their mouths may move.


The following sleep problems can affect dogs as well as people:

1. Insomnia

True insomnia is rare in dogs and is usually a symptom of some other underlying illness that is causing pain and/or anxiety. For example, a dog with severe skin allergies may find it hard to sleep due to incessant itching. If your dog appears to be having difficulty falling or staying asleep, a checkup with your vet should be a priority.

2. Narcolepsy

Though not curable, narcolepsy is not painful or life-threatening. It is a disorder of the nervous system that causes a dog to suddenly collapse and fall asleep. It is genetic and affects some breeds more than others.

3. Obstructive sleep apnea

As in humans, sleep apnea can be life-threatening. It is caused when your dog stops breathing suddenly due to a narrowing of the airways. It is most often seen in flat-faced or obese dogs. Chronic, loud snoring can be a predictor of this condition.

4. REM sleep behavior disorder

This problem is suspected if your dog experiences extreme movements or behaviors during sleep, such as running motions, biting, barking or whining. It can look like a seizure but can be interrupted by gently waking your dog and soothing her.


Because the symptoms of sleep-based conditions can mimic those of other illnesses, they can be challenging to diagnose. Treating a dog’s sleep disorder first involves determining what’s causing the problem. In the case of obstructive sleep apnea, for example, a medically-managed weight loss plan will be effective in correcting the issue.

Start by ensuring your dog has a healthy lifestyle, including a natural, whole-foods diet. Minimizing stress, and making sure your dog gets regular daily exercise, are both helpful strategies. Also make sure your dog has a comfortable, secure place to sleep.

A variety of supplements are commonly used for canine sleep issues. Pharmaceuticals should be a last resort, to be used in cases where the sleep disorder could be harmful or life-threatening, or when other approaches fail to correct it.

  • A vitamin and mineral supplement is often recommended to ensure your dog’s levels of crucial nutrients are maintained.
  • Melatonin is a natural compound that can be given at night about half an hour before bedtime to ease dogs who seem to have a problem settling down to sleep. Consult with your vet before giving your dog melatonin.
  • Bach Rescue Remedy can be helpful in alleviating a dog’s stress and aid him in relaxing.
  • Aromatherapy can also have a calming effect — lavender is one of the most relaxing essential oils. Use a diffuser, or dab a little diluted oil on his coat or ears. Be sure to use only the highest quality, pure essential oils.
  • Chamomile is a calming herb that can be given as a tea.

According to Dr. Scanlan, more severe cases might need the help of a holistic veterinarian who can prescribe precise Chinese or Western herbal formulas, or a homeopathic remedy to match the problem.

Signs of sleep deprivation in dogs

A lack of quality sleep manifests in dogs as increased anxiety and/or aggression. These signs can develop suddenly or more gradually. Because they can be symptomatic of many different conditions, it’s important to take your dog to the veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.

Are you interrupting your dog’s sleep?

Dr. Scanlan says sleep problems in dogs can have a couple of secondary causes that originate with their humans.

  • One can occur when a person keeps waking up their dog during the day, not understanding that daytime sleep is as important for dogs as nighttime sleep.
  • The other is a restless dog parent. If someone has trouble sleeping themselves, and the dog sleeps in the same room, he’ll usually wake up multiple times during the night with his person. The important takeaway here is to ensure your dog can sleep when he needs to, both day and night.

Although sleep disorders in dogs can be challenging to pin down, they can be successfully treated once an accurate diagnosis has been reached.


Linda Caradine

Linda Caradine is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and the Executive Director of Other Mothers Animal Rescue, founded in 2005 to give pregnant dogs and cats a second chance at a good life. Linda\’s work has appeared in a variety of publications, and she is currently working on a book about starting and running her rescue organization.

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