August 14, 2020 5 min read

Table of Contents

Why isn’t the dog sleeping at night?

Many people talk about puppies getting their humans up, but senior dogs often have a much harder time sleeping through the night. There are numerous reasons your dog isn’t sleeping at night, including medical conditions, pain, and environmental changes.

If your dog, regardless of age, suddenly has issues sleeping, it is time to consult your vet. Sudden behavioral changes are often a red flag; something is wrong with your pup.

Canine Dementia

Canine dementia also referred to as canine cognitive dysfunction, is similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. Canine dementia is a common issue that affects 28% of dogs between the age of 11 and 12, and 60% of dogs 15+ years old.  

Unfortunately, there is no test for canine dysfunction. Instead, it is diagnosed through the process of eliminating other health conditions and evaluating other changes in your dog. Symptoms of canine dementia include:

  • Idiopathic Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive panting
  • Confusion
  • Staring at the wall  
  • Change in energy
  • Change in appetite
  • Disorientation
  • Change in behavior – may become more barky or reactive to changes
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia, also known as Sun Downers – Dogs with Sun Downers, show signs of extreme anxiety and will often spend the night pacing and panting and overall acting agitated.

Having had a dog with canine dementia, I can relate to other pet parents not sleeping through the night and understand how much it impacts day to day life. There are a few things you can try to help manage your dog's dementia, but like Alzheimer’s disease, there is no cure.

Some things to try to help get your dog to sleep through the night:

  • CBD – CBD oil may help reduce symptoms of anxiety
  • Diet - There are some foods formulated to aid in boosting brain function in seniors
  • Melatonin helps to get your dog to sleep through the night. However, consult your vet before adding any supplements to your dog’s diet.
  • Increase fatty acids in your dog’s diet, such as omega-3 and omega-6; both are proven to aid in brain function.
  • Anti-anxiety supplements or medications
  • Anti-anxiety alternative methods such as:
    • ThunderShirt
    • Pheromone plug-ins, sprays, or collars
    • Essential Oils
    • Acupuncture
    • Massage therapy

Pain a Common Cause of Insomnia in Dogs

Another common cause of insomnia is pain. Common causes of pain that may result in insomnia include:

  • Arthritis
  • Large tumors that press on internal organs or nerves such as along the spine
  • Bone cancer
  • Joint pain from ailments like hip or elbow dysplasia

Though other medical conditions that pain these are by far the most common medical conditions, especially in senior dogs.  

The first step in easing your dog’s pain is determining the root cause. During the initial evaluation, your vet will perform a physical and often run other non-invasive tests such as bloodwork. Once the vet determines the origin of the pain, they recommend the proper course of action. However, in addition to the medications from your vet prescribes, you may want to consider adding alternative treatments, such as:

  • CBD Oil
  • Fish Oil
  • Orthopedic bed with memory-foam and gel cooling system
  • Joint pain supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin

Other Medical Conditions that Cause Insomnia in Dogs

Though canine dementia and pain are by far the most common causes of insomnia in dogs, there are few other conditions that may impact your dog’s sleeping habits.

  • Cushing’s Disease – Because this disease causes increased urination your dog may need to go out multiple times throughout the night
  • Seizures – Seizures can happen any time of the day, but are known to be more frequent at night
  • Sleep Apnea – Sleep apnea is rarer but is seen in dogs that are obese or are flat-faced like bulldogs.
  • Blindness – Sometimes, when dogs begin to lose their sight, their hearing becomes heightened, causing them to notice sounds, they may not have cared about before.

Environmental Factors can Significantly Impact Your Dog’s Sleep Schedule

Notable environmental changes can significantly impact your dog’s sleep, ultimately resulting in insomnia. 

Some environmental factors include: moving, new household members, including a new dog or other pet, home construction, or the death of a family member.  

There are some more subtle changes that we, as humans, may not notice but can cause changes in your dog’s behavior. For example, a new neighbor moves in and brings new noises such as loud cars or music, dogs, or children. We may think nothing of it, but dogs have much better hearing than humans.

Also, your mood or change in schedule can greatly disrupt your dog's behavior. Dogs are very intuitive and will often show signs of stress when their humans are upset. We may not always recognize it, but our dogs often act as a mirror to our mood.

A great example is COVID-19. Many dogs are impacted by the quarantine and lockdown, mainly because they feed off our stress. Plus, the family's schedule may also change your dog's routine, resulting in insomnia.

Many dogs who loved going to the dog park to see their canine buddies and get some exercise are also beginning to show signs of anxiety due to the lack of exercise.

And to throw your dog's world off, even more, you likely have returned to work, changing the routine once again.

The good news is, with your help, that many dogs can recover from stress brought on by environmental changes. Providing supportive care for your dog may help reduce their anxiety. Some of the things you can do to help your dog:

  • Increase their exercise if your dog is healthy enough, dogs should get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day
  • Brain games such as puzzle toys or treat balls to redirect behavior
  • Anti-anxiety supplements, chews, or therapies

Helping Your Dog Catch Some Z’s

So, if your dog won’t sleep through the night anymore or has a hard time settling down in the evening, it is vital you consult your vet to determine the cause of your dog’s insomnia. 

After diagnosis, you can work with your vet to manage if not resolve your dog's insomnia. Thankfully, there are several alternatives and holistic therapies available to help get you and your dog a better night’s sleep.


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Meet The Author

Jessica Mabie author of Help! My Dog Won't Sleep at night

Jessica Mabie specializes in writing about pets, travel, and food. She has always loved dogs, and, at the age of 14, she started volunteering at a neighborhood vet clinic. While at the U of M, she continued her work with dogs as an obedience trainer and vet tech. Jessica uses her experience as a volunteer with American Brittany Rescue as well as aiding in her writing. So, if you happen to see her out and about with her family don’t hesitate to say “Hi!”, (You’ll know it’s her since few are so daring as to have 4 Britts).