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Scientists Give the OK to Share a Bed with Your Pet

Update Date: Jun 27, 2017 04:40 PM EDT
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I once asked an immigrant friend from Haiti what surprised him about life in the US. He said, "You let your dogs and cats right in the house!"

Not only that, we sleep with them.

About half of all pet owners sleep in the same bed or in the same bedroom as their animal companions. However, many in our society question if such a thing is healthy physically, emotionally, or socially. Many people have concerns about human-canine or human-feline co-sleeping.

You sleep with your dog? Well, why not, says a team of researchers from Appleton Institute of Central Queensland University in Wayville, Australia.

Bradley P. Smith and others examine the origins of how we sleep. They ask, are such worries about co-sleeping justified? And perhaps more importantly, how did we arrive at our concepts of how to sleep and who to sleep with in the first place?

The concept of isolated sleeping with one's spouse in a private bedroom is not only a very modern concept, but it is quite novel in our history. The Australian team went back to 500 CE to examine all the varieties of co-sleeping. For a thousand years it was not unusual for people to sleep in each other's bedrooms, or beds, with nary a thought to it being inappropriate. Travelers, students, whole families would share beds and bedrooms--most the with idea that it promoted safely, better sleep, and social bonding.

Sometime early in the Victorian era, the concept of a private bedroom and individualized sleeping arose. A sense of inappropriateness grew around communal sleeping and co-sleeping. Sleeping with friends and family in group situations fell out of favor--one might sleep alone or with a wife or husband, but never in groups. People traded in a thousand years of social behavior for the isolated bedroom, a new ideal.

Knowing that such a cultural shift had occurred, the scientists began to look at human-canine co-sleeping. Sleeping with dogs and other animals has always been commonplace in many societies, from aboriginal Australians, to Kenyan herders, to most farmers in rural England for thousands of years. People slept in the same room with sheep for centuries. Dogs provided protection. Cats kept rodents away.

But it turns out that only in about six of 53 societies did people sleep with dogs in their bed--that appears to be a modern development as canines were increasingly viewed as object of affection. A changing view of dogs or cats as "extended selves" played a role in increased animal-human interactions. This is just another example of the shifting historical patterns of sleeping.

The team studied the history of adult-adult, adult-child, and adult-animal co-sleeping. They argue that what we think of as accepted sleeping arrangement depends on the culture, the time, and the place.

If we have uneasiness about unconventional sleeping it is a worry brought on by modern social norms. There are pros and cons to sleeping with animals, but it seems that half of all pet owners just figure that holding Fido at night seems to be a good idea.

History seems to be on their side.

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