Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
If you are wondering how to make your dog sleep at night, most likely you are dealing with a restless dog who is having trouble drifting off into dreamland. Just like us, dogs need their daily dose of beauty sleep. After all, a good night's sleep for Rover is just as important as diet and exercise.
In order to help your dog sleep better through the night, you first need to figure out why they are not sleeping at night in the first place. This may require you to put on your detective hat and carefully investigate what may be going on. Until the day dogs can talk, it is up to us, dog owners, to carefully evaluate what may be going on with our beloved canine companions.
No worries; you don't have to do all the homework alone. This guide will help you identify some common causes as to why dogs may struggle to doze off along with several tips to help grant your dog some restorative sleep.
Please note though that several of these causes may require a veterinary visit in order to confirm or rule out several medical conditions that can play a role in not allowing dogs to get some shut-eye. You, therefore, want to play it safe and make sure your beloved dog isn't suffering from some health problem. When health problems in dogs are tackled early, they are more likely to resolve with proper treatment.
Once you have medical conditions ruled out, you can then evaluate less serious causes of not sleeping and take action to finally help your dog fall asleep almost instantly.
1. A Sign of Pain
As mentioned, if your dog is acting restless and unable to sleep, it is fundamental to rule out medical problems. There are many painful conditions in dogs that may interfere with a dog's ability to sleep. Affected dogs may be panting, have an increased heart rate, act restless, and may struggle with laying down.
It would be impossible to list all possible painful conditions, but here are some possible conditions that may cause pain.
- A neck disc issue or issue with a disc in the dog's back will frequently cause a dog to be restless. The dog may be unable to lay down to rest and will avoid steps and jumping since that feels uncomfortable. These dogs may try to lie down and get up upon feeling the pain.
- A case of arthritis may be painful enough to cause a dog pain and inability to fully relax to go to sleep.
- Anal gland issues may cause a dog to act restless, often licking their bottom and possibly scooting their bum on the carpet or grass. It is painful for these dogs to sit down and defecate when the anal glands are painful.
Of course, only your vet can diagnose painful conditions. Pain killers may need to be prescribed. Consider though that most over-the-counter pain meds designed for humans may be problematic for dogs, so please take your dog to the vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Once your dog is on pain meds, it helps to provide your dog with a comfortable bed. For dogs with arthritis, nowadays there are comfy orthopedic beds and some beds can even be heated.
2. A Digestive Disorder
If your dog is acting restless, panting, and appears in general discomfort, it could very well be your dog is suffering from some type of digestive disorder. Many dogs affected by digestive disorders will lose their appetite, drool, and smack their lips. Licking lips excessively in dogs may be an indication of nausea.
Now in dogs, certain digestive disorders can be problematic, and even life-threatening in some cases. To play it safe please see your veterinarian. Here are some serious and less serious digestive disorders that may cause dogs to be unable to relax and sleep.
- A sign of a dog upset stomach. In the case of an upset stomach (gastritis) affected dogs have often eaten something that didn't agree with them or the dog may have developed too much stomach acid production. In general, affected dogs will pant, act restless and drool, and sometimes vomit.
- A sign of bloat. Blood is the build-up of gas in the dog's stomach causing a distended stomach. While bloat in itself is not generally life-threatening, problems start when the stomach flips over leading to a life-threatening condition called gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). Signs of GDV include a distended abdomen, restlessness, panting, unproductive retching. GDV is an emergency where every second counts. It is more common in deep-chested breeds.
- A bout of pancreatitis. Pancreatitis in dogs is a painful condition causing abdominal pain. Affected dogs may pant, assume the prayer position (stretching the front legs down with the butt in the air as if doing a play bow), drool, and have vomiting. This condition can too turn life-threatening if left untreated.
- Diarrhea. Some dogs may act restless and pant when they get a bout of diarrhea. Unable to express their uncomfortable feeling, these dogs may shiver, pant, and pace around the house until they can no longer control the urge. At some point, they may rush towards the door or and end up having an explosive bout of diarrhea on the carpet.
Because some of these conditions are life-threatening, it is therefore important to see the vet if your dog is acting restless or showing concerning signs of a digestive problem.
3. A Sign of Discomfort
Sometimes, dogs may act restless and be unable to sleep because of some underlying problem causing them to not be too comfortable. Not always it is possible to find out what may be amiss, but these are some general pointers.
- Presence of a fever. Dogs who have a high temperature may be panting and unable to sleep because they feel hot. Taking the dog's temperature may help rule out the presence of a fever. A dog's normal rectal temperature is 101 to 102.5 degrees.
- If your dog is older and unable to lie down and appears restless, you need to worry about the possibility of a heart problem. "I have seen dogs with congestive heart failure acutely be unable to remain in a resting posture, because it prevents them from filling the lungs with air completely. This is called orthopnea," says a veterinarian working for Just Answer.
- An itchy situation. Dogs who are scratching a lot may be suffering from a skin condition causing them to be unable to sleep. The presence of fleas or allergies, which can be due to food or airborne particles (ragweed, grass, pollen, etc.) can cause problems, but there are many other skin conditions known for causing itchiness.
- Too hot or cold. Is the area your dog is sleeping too hot or cold? Is your dog on any medications? Prednisone is a drug that may cause your dog to feel hot, pant and act restless. Low thyroid levels in dogs instead may cause dogs to feel cold.
- Is your dog thirsty? Thirst can make a dog restless at night. Make sure your dog has access to water before going to bed. Nobody likes to sleep with a dry mouth.
- Does your dog have to potty? Make sure your dog is "empty" before it's time to go to bed at night. Yes, this means, empty of pee and poop!
- Is your dog on any medications? Some medications can make dogs restless. Prednisone, for instance, is known for causing panting, excess hunger and thirst which may lead to a restless night.
Based on what is causing your dog's discomfort, you may need to take different steps. For instance, if your dog has a fever or is itchy or is older, you will have to take your dog to the vet to find the underlying cause.
If the room is too hot or too cold, you can easily remedy this by turning on the A/C more or kicking your heat up a notch. If your dog is restless, taking him out to see whether he needs to go potty may be worth it. If he goes and acts normal again, then bingo, you got it right! If your dog is on medications, consult with your vet to report a possible side effect.
4. A Sign of Anxiety
Anxiety interferes with a dog's ability to sleep. A dog who is concerned about something may pace back and forth, whine and seek shelter or the owner's comfort. Of course, dogs in pain or discomfort or suffering from a digestive disorder may act the same way, so it's not always easy to discern anxiety from some medical disorder.
What anxiety triggers may cause your dog to be unable to sleep? Here a few possibilities.
- A storm is approaching. Dogs who fear thunderstorms may sense them before we actually hear the first rumbles.
- Many dogs dislike changes. A new baby, a new pet, the loss of a dog, an owner who is away, are all triggers known for turning a dog's life upside down and triggering anxiety.
- Crate anxiety. If your dog is restless in the crate, it could be not enough time was dedicated to making the crate a pleasant place to be. Some dogs suffer from containment phobias.
- If your dog is closed in a room or in a crate that is distant from you, your dog may act restless and anxious often barking and whining and scratching at the door due to separation anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety are unable to relax when away from their favorite person. If possible, record your dog's nighttime behavior and show it to a dog trainer or dog behavior professional. Dogs with separation anxiety tend to show the same symptoms when left alone during the day.
Anxiety is tricky to work on because it impairs a dog's ability to cognitively function and therefore interferes with certain types of learning. Consider finding the source of your dog's anxiety and try to decrease exposure to it through management.
To get to the source of the problem and tackle the underlying emotions, you may need to implement a desensitization and counterconditioning program with the help of a dog behavior professional. Severe cases may benefit from prescription anti-anxiety meds. Mild cases may benefit from over the counter calming aids such l-theanine.
A dog appeasing pheromone (such as Adaptil) may ease anxiety and promote a feeling of well being. The diffuser may be especially useful to create an area and support use of a desired area for resting. The collar is most useful for dogs who experience anxiety all the time.
— Theresa DePorter, board-certified veterinary behaviorist
5. Presence of Outdoor Stimuli
Sometimes dogs may act restless and start pacing, whining and barking upon detecting stimuli outside which interfere with the dog's ability to relax.
- For example, nocturnal critters may cause your dog to act restless. Perhaps you have critters under the deck or in your attic.
- If your dog is intact (not neutered), perhaps he can smell a female dog in heat. Many intact male dogs can smell them from quite a distance.
- Outdoor noises may interfere with your dog's ability to sleep. Perhaps the trash truck is passing or there are neighbors making noise. Maybe there is a new dog in town and his barking is alerting your dog.
If your dog is bothered by sounds, you can use a white noise machine or a fan to make the sounds less salient. There are also many music CDs made just for dogs to help them fall asleep and several Youtube channels also offer music for dogs for free.
Of course, going to the source of the problem is important. Have an exterminator stop by to remove any unwanted critters (hopefully, using animal-friendly techniques!). If your dog is not neutered, close windows and doors to minimize the wafting scents (although the almighty nose is hard to overpower!) and take him on a car ride somewhere instead of going on neighborhood walks since many female dogs in heat tend to urine mark nearby.
If you find an outdoor noise that bothers your dog causing him stress, you can try the hear that method for noise-sensitive dogs.
6. The Age Factor
Age can be a factor when struggling with getting your sleep-deprived dog to go to sleep at night. Dogs, just like people, go through developmental stages and these can surely have an impact on how much they sleep. Here are some age factors to consider.
- Very young puppies. If you just got your puppy from a breeder, the first few nights may be tough. Your puppy will miss his mom and littermates and he may feel a bit anxious being a new place with new sights, sounds and smells. Fortunately, things get better with time.
- Young puppies with developing bladders and bowels may struggle to sleep too! If they are whining and restless, try to take them out for a potty break.
- Adolescent dogs. When dogs are in their teenage stage, they are often full of boundless energy and have a strong need for mental stimulation. If their needs aren't met, they may act restless st night.
- Senior dogs. Sadly, some senior dogs start suffering from physical and cognitive problems as they age. One common cognitive problem is canine cognitive dysfunction, a sort of Alzheimer's disease affecting dogs.
For young puppies consider keeping them in a crate nearby you the first nights so you are there to help reassure them. A Snuggle Puppy Behavioral Aid can turn helpful considering that this stuffed animal can mimic the warmth of mom and siblings and has a beating heart too!
Always make sure your puppy is sent to bed with an empty bowel and bladder and take him out at night if he's restless and whining as he may need another potty break.
Make sure adolescent dogs are provided with enough exercise, training, socialization and mental stimulation during the day so as to grant more restful nights.
Senior dogs who stare at the wall at night, act restless due to sleep-wake cycle alterations, get lost around the home and act confused, should be assessed by a veterinarian for canine cognitive dysfunction. Dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction can be managed with prescription medications (Anipryl) when this condition is caught early.
The addition of a predictable nighttime routine and a relaxing, comfortable place to sleep can be helpful. Much like a newborn baby, geriatric pets benefit from signals that nighttime is approaching and it is time to get ready to sleep.
— Dr. Mary Gardner, Dani McVety
12 Ways to Make a Dog Sleep at Night
As seen, the reasons why your dog may not sleep well at night can be several. Addressing these reasons is therefore important for the resolution of the problem. Here are some general guidelines on how to make a dog sleep at night.
- Always rule out medical conditions first.
- Make sure your dog is allowed to go potty before bedtime.
- Make sure your dog has drank and eaten.
- If your dog is crated, try covering the crate with a blanket to reduce visual stimulation.
- Make sure your room temperature is comfortable for your dog. Dogs with heavy coats may like to sleep on cold tiles and in cooler rooms such as bathrooms.
- Use white noise to buffer sounds.
- Provide your dog with a comfortable bed.
- Create a predictable night-time routine. Dogs are routine-oriented beings that thrive on knowing what happens next. Take your dog to potty before bedtime, invite your dog to his bed, provide him a bed-time snack, lower the lights and tell your dog nigh-night.
- Make sure your dog's needs for exercise, training and mental stimulation are met. Offer walks, encourage brain games and play with your dog during the day. Your goal is to get a tired dog by the evening. Make sure to offer these activities though some time before bedtime as it may take some time for your dog to wind down.
- If your dog has undergone surgery and needs to rest, you can ask your vet for sedatives. Plain Benadryl (always ask your vet first and for accurate dosages) can help sometimes, but in some cases, stronger prescription sedatives are needed.
- Melatonin can help adjust sleep patterns in dogs that are very active at night and failing to fall sleeping at the correct time, as is often the case of dogs with sundowner syndrome. Basically, this supplement works by re-setting the dog’s biological clock. Ask your vet for dosages and instructions
- Consider trying calming aids such as DAP diffusers such as Adaptil, Sentry Calming Collar for Dogs, Bach flowers.
Can You Use Human Sleeping Aids in Dogs?
It may be tempting to want to give dogs sleeping aids used for humans in hopes of granting Rover a good nights' sleep, but please don't! These pills are human formulations and not crafted with dogs in mind.
Many veterinarians deal almost every day with the accidental ingestion of sleeping pills dog owners have dropped to the floor or left on the counter without supervision. For example, Nyquil contains acetaminophen (Tylenol) which should not be given to dogs. Also, some sleep aids may contain xylitol which is very toxic to dogs!
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.
© 2020 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 14, 2020:
Hi Devika, for sure. When my dogs got older they started having trouble sleeping, and those were the first signs of them getting aches and pains.
Devika Primic on May 13, 2020:
Dogs make good pets but if they do not sleep something is definitely bothering hem. You make me see that in your hub.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 08, 2020:
I am not sure when the first meds for canine cognitive dysfunction came out, but it could very likely be they are rather recent. I know for sure they were available around, 2006- 2007 as we filled several prescriptions for Anipryl back then.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 04, 2020:
You have given us so much useful information in this article that pertains to the youngest of puppies to senior dogs. One of my mother's dogs developed canine cognitive dysfunction. I had no idea that there was a medication that could help with that. Perhaps it was not available at the time since this happened many years ago.