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The Sleepy Cycle of Dogs

Posted Dec 28. 2022

Photo Credit: Alesksey Boyko/ Shutterstock

Earlier this month, I posted a reel of Zara whimpering in her sleep. In the caption, I talked about the sleep cycle of dogs. A few weeks later, we're close to 1 million views with 100 comments about how I don't know anything about dogs and their sleep cycle. They're right, I don't, but I did do a bit of my own research because I was curious. So, for everyone out there, please have an open mind when reading this. Let's get started!

Disclaimer: All statements made in this post are my own personal opinions and from my own research

The Sleep Cycle

Dogs have a similar sleep cycle to us humans, however, unlike humans who go through 4or 5 cycles, dogs go through 20 or more. Dogs have three stages of sleep, the first being non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and slow-wave sleep (SWS). The second stage is the rapid eye movement phase, REM for short. The third stage is a mixture of the first two stages. We will go deeper into each phase and then discuss what you should do as a dog owner when you witness your dog displaying certain behaviors. Remember, I'm just a dog mom who loves her dog and wants to know everything I can to take care of her.

Stage One: Non-Rapid Eye Movement and Slow-Wave Sleep

During this cycle, your dog enters a light sleep. You'll notice slow, deep, rhythmic breathing and that your dog can still wake up from noises. Your dog's heart rate will slow down, and blood pressure will drop.

Stage Two: Rapid Eye Movement

After around 10 to 20 minutes of sleep, your dog enters stage two. During this stage, your dog may whimper, bark, twitch, or make any other movements. This may indicate that your dog is dreaming. What they are dreaming about is uncertain. They can have good dreams like chasing a squirrel or even bad dreams like running away from the vacuum. They can also replay traumatic events or dream about things like being alone, fighting with another dog, or experiencing a thunderstorm.

" Studies indicate that dogs in the REM cycle have brain activity in the same area as when a dog is out hunting and chasing his prey, so the running behavior is linked to him dreaming of chasing rabbits or small prey. "

Stage Three:

To be honest, I'm not sure what stage three is called. I tried looking for more information, but I couldn't find the official name. After stage two, your dog will enter a light and deep sleep. They will go between the REM and SWS phases and will most likely be in their preferred sleep position.

Should I Be Concerned?

During the REM cycle which is stage 2 and 3 (since your dog will be going between REM and SWS), it will be a bit more difficult to wake your dog. If they are whimpering, you might feel the urge to comfort them and cuddle them. There is a safe way and an unsafe way to do so. Since your dog is deep in sleep, touching them may startle them, leading them to unpredictable behaviors. No one likes being woken up while they're peacefully sleeping, dogs included.

According to the Veterinary Centers of America,

" Approximately 60% of dog bites in children occur when the child wakes a sleeping dog. It is important to teach children to not wake a dog when he is sleeping. "

If you do need to wake your dog, whether it's because you need to leave for work and they should potty or if you're in the car and have reached your destination, there is a safe way to do so. For one, you can raise your voice and call their name. You can also move about the room, making noise until your dog wakes up. Dogs can feel vibrations on the floor; this is also a great strategy for waking deaf or senior dogs. Some owners may try to touch their dog, just remember, all dogs react differently.

When to Be Concerned

Usually, larger dogs require more energy, therefore, they tend to sleep more. In addition, age plays a factor. Puppies tend to sleep 18 hours a day.

If your dog has a normal sleep cycle and you notice a change, start taking note. If your dog usually sleeps for "X" number of hours and you notice they are now sleeping significantly less or more, without much change to their daily routine, consider taking them to the vet. Dogs can suffer from sleep disorders just like we do, which can affect their health.

Here are a few sleep disorders that dogs may experience:

  • Narcolepsy: If your dog falls asleep spontaneously at random times throughout the day, it may be narcolepsy. You should talk to your veterinarian during a checkup if you suspect this may be the problem. Dogs most likely to have this are Doberman Pinschers and Labrador Retrievers.

  • Sleep Apnea: Brachycephalic breeds like Bulldogs and Pekinese are the most common dogs to have this. Their narrower upper airways obstruct breathing during sleep. If your dog is a loud snorer or has irregular breathing, talk to your vet to help improve your dog’s sleep.

  • Hypothyroidism: This happens when your dog’s thyroid gland underperforms, slowing down your dog’s metabolism. This makes your dog sleepy. This is definitely a reason to see your vet and have the thyroid checked.

  • Cognitive Aging: The mental decline of an older dog will interrupt the sleep cycles. Your dog may become disoriented, anxious, and forget the house-training once in a while. Your vet is an excellent resource to help with doggy dementia symptoms and improve sleep patterns.

  • Sleep Deprivation: Dogs who don’t get enough sleep can become aggressive, anxious, and stressed. Making sure your dog has plenty of downtimes will help keep that happy, boisterous personality intact.


Congrats, you finally made it to the end! Thank you for being with me this far! So, what is the takeaway?

  1. Dogs experience a sleep cycle, just like humans, but their sleep cycle is different.

  2. If you want to wake up your dog, there is a safe way and unsafe way (of course all dogs react differently).

  3. Changes in sleep patterns may indicate an underlying issue.

I hope this information was insightful. As a first-time dog owner and crazy dog mom, I am always curious about Zara's behaviors and what I can do to be a more responsible dog owner. Just like us, dogs only have one life, so why not try to make it the best life possible.


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