Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Why Can't My Puppy Go Back to Sleep After Going Potty?
If your puppy won't go to sleep after going potty, you likely wake up with dark circles under your eyes and toss and turn, and perhaps, even started considering getting earplugs.
You might as well feel stuck between a stone and a hard place because your puppy needs to be taken out to potty, there's no way around that, but then once you take him back inside and crate him or place him in his playpen, he is wide awake and whining because he wants to stay out and play. What gives?
This may seem like an annoying habit, but we must give our dogs some credit. After all, how many times do we have a hard time falling asleep once we wake up? This tendency even has a name: "sleep maintenance insomnia."
Harvard defines this as "difficulty staying asleep, or waking too early and struggling to get back to sleep."
What Science Has to Say
Here's the thing: there are many factors that play a role in keeping us (and our pets) wide awake after waking up. Take, exposure to light for instance.
Both us and our dogs come equipped with specialized cells in our retinas meant to inform the brain whether it is night or day. It, therefore, comes naturally for our bodies to struggle after being exposed to artificial light at night and return to sleep once awakened.
So if that late night or early morning potty break causes you to turn on the lights or take your pup out at dawn, at the break of day, that may disrupt your pup's patterns of sleep (and yours as well!) causing difficulty in falling asleep.
Indeed, according to Harvard, "Exposure to light in the late evening tends to delay the phase of our internal clock and lead us to prefer later sleep times. Exposure to light in the middle of the night can have more unpredictable effects, but can certainly be enough to cause our internal clock to be reset, and may make it difficult to return to sleep.."
So if light disrupts our sleep, we can expect it to affect the sleep of our canine companions as well!
Other Factors at Play
On top of the above, consider that just getting up and moving disrupts the sleep cycle.
Just as it happens with you when you sit up and use the restroom in the middle of the night, the moment you take your puppy out of the crate and outside to potty, his heart rate will quicken and nervous system will become more active, both circumstances that are known for not being conducive to sleep.
Not to mention, exposure to anything that may catch your pup's attention as he's taken out to potty (like seeing his toys or night-time critters), can be so stimulating that your pup struggles going right back to sleep!
13 Tips to Help Them Fall Back Asleep
So if your pup struggles to fall asleep after going potty, what can you do about it? There are several options you can try, and see whether they help.
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1. Anticipate Your Puppy
If you are a light sleeper and you know your pup moves around the crate around the time she needs to potty, take her out before she has a chance of whining. You want to keep her as much in a sleepy state as possible when you take her out.
2. Skip the Lights
Try taking your puppy out to potty without turning the lights on. You can keep night lights throughout the hallway to help you see. Of course, if you are worried about tripping, or have stairs, avoid this and possibly use a flashlight instead.
3. Act Matter of Fact
When you take your puppy out to potty in the night, act matter of fact. No baby talking or play allowed. Just take him out, let him do his deed and then straight back inside.
4. Avoid Exposure to Stimulation
Avoid exposure to stimulating sights and sounds. Keep your puppy's toys out of sight and avoid taking your puppy to potty close to where there may be night-time critters or rabbit droppings.
5. Keep Your Puppy on Leash
To prevent excessive stimulation, keep your puppy on leash when you take him to potty in the yard. This is to avoid your puppy having too much fun, running amok around in the yard, possibly trying to chase night-time critters.
Exercise may activate the alerting mechanism in the brain, making it more difficult for your pup to fall asleep.
6. Keep the Room Dark
Keep the room where your pup sleeps in dark. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or place a blanket over your pup's crate to avoid any light (even from the moon) from entering the room. As mentioned, any light acts as a powerful cue that tells your pup's brain that it's time to wake up.
7. Keep Some White Noise On
White noise (TV or radio on) can help so the puppy doesn't feel lonely or wakes up to external noises. The white noise sounds may keep the pup from hearing birds, the heating coming on or neighbors driving early to work which may act as a wake-up call.
8. Keep Your Puppy in the Bedroom
If you just got your puppy, keep him in the bedroom (with the crate next to your bed) at least for the first days. Young puppies who have been separated from their moms and littermates, miss them dearly and are terrified of being alone. Your reassuring presence will help him fall back asleep as he knows he's not alone.
9. Provide a Snuggle Puppy
Young puppies may struggle falling back asleep when they miss their mom and siblings. Provide your young puppy with a Snuggle Puppy behavioral aid. This stuffed animal not only provides warmth, but also produces a ticking sound that mimics mother dog's heartbeat, helping young pups feel comfy and more relaxed.
10. Avoid Excessive Napping
Sure, it's important that your puppy gets lots of sleep, but try not to overdo it, especially in the evening. Just as it happens with us, your pup's pressure to sleep builds up every waking hour. The longer your pup is awake, the stronger the drive to sleep becomes.
You can therefore distract your puppy with some training, brain games (or maybe even a car ride) so that he no longer naps too much in the evening. Avoid over the top play close to bedtime though as that may have the opposite effect.
11. Postpone Sleeping Time
If your puppy gets up in the middle of the night or early wee hours of the morning, you can try to postpone your pup's sleeping time, in hopes of him needing to potty later on.
For instance, if your puppy wakes up at 3 AM to potty and he goes to bed at 9, try taking him to bed at 11 after going potty one last time and see if he can hold it up 5-6 AM which you can set up as temporary wake-up time (that you can gradually stretch each day as your pup develops a better ability to "hold it" and you finally hit a "normal" waking hour.
12. Ask Your Vet About Limiting Water
Some puppy owners have success limiting water in the evening. They simply stop providing water at a certain time in the evening to reduce the number of trips outside. Consult with your vet about this as some puppies may have health conditions where restricting water can be dangerous (as in the case of diabetes insipidus).
13. Delay Your Pup's Breakfast
In the morning, avoid serving your pup breakfast right away after going potty in the yard. Your pup may learn to chain together "Wake up→ pee→ FOOD!!" which may lead to a puppy who wakes up early in hopes of peeing and then expecting his breakfast.
When Are Puppies Fully Potty Trained?
Fortunately, as your puppy develops, you'll have to take him out less often too potty, which should eventually lead to more restorative sleep for both you and your puppy.
But when are puppies fully potty trained? According to Stanley Coren, author of the book Born to Bark: My Adventures with an Irrepressible and Unforgettable Dog, full bladder and bowel control in puppies isn't usually attained until the puppy is 5 to 6 months old.
However, not everything is cut and dry when it comes to living creatures and there may be individual variations from dog to dog. Indeed, it's not unheard of for some puppies to still have accidents at 8 months or even up to a year.
Regardless of how long it takes, as seen, you have several options to make your life much easier and help you and your puppy catch some well-deserved zs.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli