A sleep disorder is any change or problem affecting the way that a dog sleeps. Dogs have a sleep rhythm just like people. Sleep starts with slow wave sleep or non-REM sleep and then progresses to REM sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement, so you’ll know when your pup is in this phase if you’ve ever seen his eyelids twitching while sleeping. Just like people, dogs will switch back and forth between the phases throughout sleep, and they will do this during naps and long sleeping periods overnight. The average dog sleeps anywhere from 12 to 14 hours a day while puppies sleep closer to 18 hours per day.
Non-REM sleep is when the body is asleep and there are slow brain waves, but it is easy to be woken up. During this phase, healing in the body takes place. After about 15 to 20 minutes, dogs enter the REM phase of sleep. This is a much deeper sleep, so it is difficult to be woken up during this time. However, the brain waves are moving much faster, and it is suggested that dogs might dream like people do. This is because learning is processed during REM sleep, and so visuals may come to mind during REM.
Sleep disorders will affect the length of sleep a pup can have, and they can also prevent dogs from entering deeper phases of sleep. In some cases, sleep disorders can decrease the amount of oxygen supply to the body, as is the case with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is when a dog isn’t breathing well while he is asleep. This may be due to being overweight or having a problem with his airways. Brachycephalic breeds like Boxers and Bulldogs can have very narrow nostrils and elongated soft palpates. These characteristics can partially obstruct the main airways, making breathing difficult, and thus limiting the amount of oxygen being acquired during sleep.
Sleep disorders can also be dangerous if sleep is very sudden like in cases of narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is when a dog suddenly falls asleep, unable to be roused for a few seconds or minutes, and then wakes up as if nothing has happened. It is a rare genetic condition that is known to affect some Doberman, Dachshunds, Labrador Retrievers, and Poodles. A narcoleptic dog could be in the middle of playing or eating and then suddenly fall asleep. Sometimes, owners can identify a trigger or cause to avoid, but great care must be taken to ensure that a dog doesn’t hurt himself when a narcoleptic episode occurs.
REM behavior disorder in dogs is kind of like sleepwalking in humans. Dogs can be physically active during the REM part of sleep, but this can be dangerous as well because dogs can injure themselves or may lash out with their claws and bite. This is an extremely rare but serious condition. REM behavior disorder has been known to affect dogs who have had illness due to tetanus.
Insomnia is when a dog has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. It isn’t actually a primary disorder in dogs but is most often caused by some underlying issue such as anxiety or a health problem. Dogs with insomnia can develop health issues as a result of poor sleep. It also means that their brains can’t process things very well, and their bodies cannot repair themselves in a way that a healthier dog can.