The background is a series of popular sleep studies
A while back Dr. Lois Krahn, a sleep medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine, set out to explore the impact of pets on human health - in particular on the quality of nocturnal sleep. One of her most popular studies, released in late 2015, was conducted by means of a questionnaire where 150 respondents were asked whether they believed their pets influenced the quality of their own sleep. While the general consensus in the medical community was that allowing dogs and cats in the bedroom is always a risk - especially for folks with sleep disorders - the study pointed out that 41% of respondents believed that having a pet in the bedroom leads to better sleep, whereas 20% of the respondents reported sleep disturbances because of pets. In other words, certain categories of people feel more cozy and secure when they sleep with their pet.
Looking for quantitative data to validate these findings
At FitBark, we couldn't be any more flattered when Dr. Krahn and her project team (led by Dr. Salma Patel of the Department of Internal Medicine) reached out to describe how they wanted to put in place a rigorous system to monitor the quality of sleep of pairs of dogs and humans. While using a clinical-grade human accelerometer on dogs was an option, they were pleased with FitBark's availability of 1-minute raw data, compact size, Bluetooth connectivity (as opposed to a cable connection for data transfer) and the availability of an iOS and Android app. At the other end of the leash, pet owners wore a Respironics Actiwatch© for 7 nights. Humans with sleep disorders, as well as puppies and multiple pets were excluded.
The study, entitled "The significance of the home sleep environment: the effect of dogs on human sleep", is the first of its kind to objectively evaluate the effects of dogs on human sleep. The results confirm the outcome of the previous studies, in that humans with dogs in the bedroom were typically able to maintain good sleep efficiency (>80%). In other words, a dog's presence in the human bedroom may not be as disruptive to human sleep as previously suspected. This is great news for dog lovers! But do all dogs sleep equally well, asked the team at Mayo?
Harnessing the power of the FitBark database to analyze dog sleep
The goal for a second study, entitled "Sleep of common dogs within the United States by breed, age and weight and its implications on human sleep" was to provide health care providers as well as dog owners with objective data on how certain types of dogs are expected to sleep at night. Why? Because humans may be able to sleep better if they select dog companions who also sleep well at night! The team at Mayo accessed anonymized data from the FitBark database for 900 dogs belonging to 18 common dog breeds listed by the American Kennel Club. They only considered US dogs over 1 year of age, on days when the FitBark was worn for at least 20 hours.
The study identified dog breeds that might be best to enhance sleep such as Siberian Husky, Boxer, Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever. Sleep efficiency was also better for dogs of larger size in both the adult and senior populations. The median sleep efficiency in this study was around 86%, which is strikingly similar to the typical sleep efficiency in humans.
Why we love interacting with researchers and what this means to us
FitBark's data is currently powering 30+ research institutions worldwide in an effort not only to enhance our understanding of our pets, but also our mutual relationship. With users in 110+ countries, we are able to run studies and validate certain hypotheses based on information that already resides in our database. No dogs or humans were harmed, or even bothered, in this second study. The data is there - thanks to many FitBark users who contribute to citizen science! - and it's available for vet schools and research institutions to analyze.
What's even better, our deep interactions with the medical community enable us to develop new metrics that have the potential of helping all dog owners better care for their pets. For example, all FitBark users can now visualize their dog's sleep efficiency (we call it "sleep score" for simplicity) in the FitBark mobile app. A low sleep score may be correlated with certain behavioral and medical issues (read more here).
We're proud to be of service not only to dogs, but also to humans. We're all about enhancing our relationship and our bond. We're all about getting healthy together. We're all about One Health.
Abstracts and scientific highlights from the Journal of Sleep and Sleep Disorders Research are available here (search for studies 0527 and 0528).