As a Sleep Wellness Coach, one of the questions I frequently get asked by people who have trouble getting consistently refreshing sleep is about their pets. Specifically, “Is it bad if I sleep with my pet?”
When people ask this question, they’re looking for a definitive answer from an “expert”.
What if I said, “Yes, it is bad, for reasons X, Y, and Z”.
You adore Fluffy or Fido, so you might respond with, “Oh, that makes sense. But I love sleeping with my pet.”
You received the expert answer and you decide not to make any changes. You subtly rebel because it feels like I’m telling you what to do, and you don’t want to do it. You fail to get curious.
If, say, you’re in a disagreement with someone about whether or not to sleep with your pets–and you’re on the “against” side–you’ll likely feel vindicated. Yet, the expert answer is not likely to change either party’s perspective.
But here’s the good news! I’m not an expert.
I am a coach who guides people to discover their own answers to questions such as this. So the only real answer is: “it depends”.
Allow me to help you get curious about your answers.
What benefits are there to sleeping with your pets?
Every behavior we have–even those we might label as “bad habits”–provide us with benefits.
List out all the benefits you can think of to sleeping with your pet.
As an example only, here are some of mine:
- I know where they are (i.e. they’re not getting into trouble in the house or with each other)
- I like the company (my partner comes to bed many hours later)
- I like the warmth and weight of my cats lying on or up against me
What drawbacks are there to sleeping with your pets?
You wouldn’t be asking a question about whether it’s bad to sleep with your pet if you didn’t have some concerns.
So what are the drawbacks? List them out now.
As an example only, here are some of mine:
- Suffering from “cat paralysis”: I’m “unable” to move easily if my body becomes stiff, or the weight of them causes something to fall asleep.
- I put “unable” in quotes above because while I’m completely capable of moving, I hesitate to disturb the sleep of my precious felines. This often creates a mental dialogue about how to do it carefully, which can wake me up more fully.
- I sometimes worry that my significant other might roll over and squoosh one of them.
- On occasion they physically argue about each other’s position.
What do you value?
Now you might look at my examples and think: she has 3 benefits and 4 drawbacks. Clearly the drawbacks indicate that she should not be sleeping with her cats!
But if you’ve ever done a pros/cons list, you have likely experienced that they don’t always help you decide what to do. The 2 sides can feel too “even”, and then you’re still stuck.
Or, the lists make it pretty clear, but there’s still a feeling of resistance: you just don’t want to.
Here’s where values come into play.
My 3 benefits point to something that, based on my life experiences, I value deeply: a feeling of safety. (Especially during these “pandemic years”, where we’re all experiencing much more instability.)
Your benefits are tied to your values, and there’s some weight to these values. This means that it’s not just about which side of the paper your reasons are written down on.
Do you know what your values are, and how your benefits are tied to them?
Tip: If you’re not sure what you value, a search for “list of values” will give you a ton of ideas.
What changes might you experiment with for a time, to see what impact your pets have on your sleep?
The benefits then, point to what you value deeply, and this may be why you’re reluctant or flat out not making changes.
But if you’re concerned about the quality of your sleep, there’s still a part of you that desires to make an improvement. Don’t worry, you’re never truly stuck!
When you look at your list of drawbacks, you may notice they also reflect values.
If I were to identify a theme, each of my drawbacks “up-level” the amount of physical and mental activity in the bed. (And I can’t think of any circumstance where such activity is NOT a deterrent to sleeping).
While I certainly do value reducing mental and physical agitation, I don’t value it as much as safety. Feeling safe–especially at night–is a requirement for me to surrender to sleep. It’s why I do other parts of my bedtime routine, such as check the house is locked and insert earplugs.
This means that while they do interfere with my sleep, my pets will remain in my bed. And, I can still look for changes to experiment with, to see if they help reduce the drawbacks.
Some ideas might be:
- Decide that when I need to move, I will just move and trust that my pets will adjust. (After all, THEY get to sleep all day long!)
- Remind myself that when either of us move, they leap out of bed with–well, cat-like reflexes! 😀
- Decide that when there’s an argument, they will be shoo-ed out of the room, door closed, no second chances. (Despite popular belief, most felines are trainable with patience and consistency.)
Take 5 minutes now to brainstorm YOUR list of possible changes.
Which change is the most interesting to you to explore in the next few weeks?
Once you have your list of possible experiments, which one feels lightest? Easiest? Most interesting? Has the potential for the most impact if it is successful?
Commit to experimenting with that ONE change for at least a few weeks.
If you think you need to “fix” your sleep to make your experiment successful, you’re just a tad off base.
To be successful, all you need to do is commit to doing the experiment, and be curious about the results.
Which one experiment will you commit to? What did you learn?
I love hearing about people’s sleeping habits, challenges, and discoveries! I invite you to send me a note when you embark on your experiment, and message me about your findings.