One of the lesser-known skills of service dogs is their ability to be trained to recognize when an individual is experiencing sleep disturbances. Service dogs can be trained to recognize cues and disrupt active behavioral patterns stemming from sleep disorders, scenarios of emotional distress, or physical health challenges. A few sleep disorders that service dogs can be trained for are nightmares and debilitating night terrors, narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, and sleepwalking.
An example of a behavior pattern or learned cue might be an individual crying out while asleep or exhibiting specific behaviors of stress. A service dog can be trained to recognize a certain situation unique to their caregiver and intervene by gently waking an individual having a nightmare, securing the environment of a sleepwalker, or functioning as a physical interactive reminder to interrupt anxiety-driven behaviors.
The Cyclical Impacts of Insomnia and PTSD
Insomnia is a very commonly reported sleep disorder associated with PTSD and is known in some circumstances to be connected to nightmares and ideations of suicide. Ultimately, insomnia, not unlike other health-related difficulties (chronic pain, immune health levels, etc.), can exacerbate already existing problems. There is still much to be learned surrounding PTSD and insomnia, however, we do already have evidence to support the benefits of veterans with PTSD working with service dogs. Specifically, studies with veterans in this category have shown that receiving a service dog and participating in training them helps to reduce PTSD symptoms with residual effects on anxiety, sleep disturbances, and nightmares.
Benefits of Co-Sleeping on Sleep Disorders
While it is not ideal for every individual, there is evidence-based research supporting how co-sleeping with service dogs, especially in individuals with sleep disorders, has numerous benefits. Co-sleeping with service dogs can ensure that it is engaged and alert to when their caregiver needs them to be involved most. Additionally, a fact that might be surprising to some, is that we now have research demonstrating that co-sleeping helps dogs build a sense of security, confidence, and independence in contrast to being forced to sleep independently. However, co-sleeping is not always possible or preferred by the caregiver, in which case simply having your service dog sleeping closely adjacent to your sleeping space can serve the same purpose. For individuals who suffer from PTSD, it is recommended that a service dog sleep within arm’s length of their caregiver.
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