Human Nature

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 255–273 | Cite as

A Multispecies Approach to Co-Sleeping

Integrating Human-Animal Co-Sleeping Practices into Our Understanding of Human Sleep
  • Bradley P. SmithEmail author
  • Peta C. Hazelton
  • Kirrilly R. Thompson
  • Joshua L. Trigg
  • Hayley C. Etherton
  • Sarah L. Blunden


Human sleeping arrangements have evolved over time and differ across cultures. The majority of adults share their bed at one time or another with a partner or child, and many also sleep with pets. In fact, around half of dog and cat owners report sharing a bed or bedroom with their pet(s). However, interspecies co-sleeping has been trivialized in the literature relative to interpersonal or human-human co-sleeping, receiving little attention from an interdisciplinary psychological perspective. In this paper, we provide a historical outline of the “civilizing process” that has led to current sociocultural conceptions of sleep as an individual, private function crucial for the functioning of society and the health of individuals. We identify similar historical processes at work in the formation of contemporary constructions of socially normative sleeping arrangements for humans and animals. Importantly, since previous examinations of co-sleeping practices have anthropocentrically framed this topic, the result is an incomplete understanding of co-sleeping practices. By using dogs as an exemplar of human-animal co-sleeping, and comparing human-canine sleeping with adult-child co-sleeping, we determine that both forms of co-sleeping share common factors for establishment and maintenance, and often result in similar benefits and drawbacks. We propose that human-animal and adult-child co-sleeping should be approached as legitimate and socially relevant forms of co-sleeping, and we recommend that co-sleeping be approached broadly as a social practice involving relations with humans and other animals. Because our proposition is speculative and derived from canine-centric data, we recommend ongoing theoretical refinement grounded in empirical research addressing co-sleeping between humans and multiple animal species.


Co-sleeping Human-animal co-sleeping Human-animal relationship Social norms Pets Dogs 


  1. Adams, G., & Johnson, K. (1994). Behavioural responses to barking and other auditory stimuli during night-time sleeping and waking in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris). Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 39, 151–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arber, S., Meadows, R., & Venn, S. (2012). Sleep and society. In The Oxford Handbook of Sleep and Sleep Disorders (pp. 223–247).Google Scholar
  3. Archer, J. (1997). Why do people love their pets? Evolution and Human Behavior, 18(4), 237–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Australian Companion Animal Council (2010). Contribution of the pet care industry to the Australian economy (7th ed., pp. 1–84). East Kew.Google Scholar
  5. Ball, H. (2002). Reasons to bed-share: why parents sleep with their infants. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 20, 207–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ball, H. (2006). Parent-infant bed-sharing behavior. Human Nature, 17, 301–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beatson, R. M., & Halloran, M. J. (2007). Humans rule! The effects of creatureliness reminders, mortality salience and self-esteem on attitudes towards animals. British Journal of Social Psychology, 46, 619–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Beck, A. (1975). The public health implications of urban dogs. American Journal of Public Health, 65, 1315–1318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Beck, L., & Madresh, E. (2008). Romantic partners and four-legged friends: an extension of attachment theory to relationships with pets. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People & Animals, 21, 43–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Beetz, A., Julius, H., Turner, D., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Effects of social support by a dog on stress modulation in male children with insecure attachment. Frontiers in Psychology, 3. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00352.
  11. Belk, R. (1988). Possessions and the extended self. Journal of Consumer Research, 15, 139–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Belk, R. (1996). Metaphoric relationships with pets. Society and Animals, 4, 121–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Beninati, W., Harris, C., Herold, D., & Shepard, J. (1999). The effect of snoring and obstructive sleep apnea on the sleep quality of bed partners. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 74, 955–958.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Blunden, S., Thompson, K., & Dawson, D. (2011). Behavioural sleep treatments and night time crying in infants: challenging the status quo. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 15, 327–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss: retrospect and prospect. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 52, 664–678.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Brazelton, T. (1992). Touchpoints: Your child’s emotional and behavioral development. Reading: Addison Wesley.Google Scholar
  17. Brown, S.-E. (2002). Ethnic variations in pet attachment among students at an American school of veterinary medicine. Society and Animals, 10, 249–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Brown, S.-E. (2007). Companion animals as selfobjects. Anthrozoös, 20, 329–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Brown, S.-E. (2011). Self psychology and the human–animal bond: an overview. In C. Blazina, G. Boyraz, & D. Shen-Miller (Eds.), The psychology of the human-animal bond (pp. 137–149). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Campbell, S., & Tobler, I. (1984). Animal sleep: a review of sleep duration across the phylogeny. Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews, 8, 269–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Chomel, B., & Sun, B. (2011). Zoonoses in the bedroom. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 17, 167–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Cleaveland, S., Laurenson, M., & Taylor, L. (2001). Diseases of humans and their domestic mammals: pathogen characteristics, host range and the risk of emergence. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B: Biological Sciences, 356, 991–999.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Clutton-Brock, J. (1999). A natural history of domesticated mammals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Cortesi, F., Giannotti, F., Sebastiani, T., Vagnoni, C., & Marioni, P. (2008). Cosleeping versus solitary sleeping in children with bedtime problems: child emotional problems and parental distress. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 6, 89–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Crawford, C. (1994). Parenting practices in the Basque country: implications of infant and childhood sleeping location for personality development. Ethos, 22, 42–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Crawford, E., Worsham, N., & Swinehart, E. (2006). Benefits derived from companion animals, and the use of the term “attachment.” Anthrozoös, 19, 98–112.Google Scholar
  27. Crook, T. (2008). Norms, forms and beds: spatializing sleep in Victorian Britain. Body & Society, 14, 15–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Dekkers, M., & Vincent, P. (1994). Dearest pet: On bestiality. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  29. Dittami, J., Keckeis, M., Machatschke, I., Katina, S., Zeitlhofer, J., & Kloesch, G. (2007). Sex differences in the reactions to sleeping in pairs versus sleeping alone in humans. Sleep and Biological Rhythms, 5, 271–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Duthuluru, S., Stevens, D., & Stevens, S. (2014). Sleep quality due to co-sleeping with pets. SLEEP, 37, Abstract Supplement (0540), American Academy of Sleep Medicine, A189.Google Scholar
  31. Ekirch, A. (2001). Sleep we have lost: pre-industrial slumber in the British Isles. American Historical Review, 106, 343–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ekirch, A. (2006). At day’s close: Night in times past. New York: WW Norton.Google Scholar
  33. Elias, N. (1929). The civilising process. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  34. Ferber, R. (1985). Solve your child’s sleep problems. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  35. Forbes, J., Weiss, D., & Folen, R. (1992). The cosleeping habits of military children. Military Medicine, 157, 196–200.Google Scholar
  36. Frantz, L. A., Mullin, V. E., Pionnier-Capitan, M., et al. (2016). Genomic and archaeological evidence suggest a dual origin of domestic dogs. Science, 352, 1228–1231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Germo, G., Chang, E., Keller, M., & Goldberg, W. (2007). Child sleep arrangements and family life: perspectives from mothers and fathers. Infant and Child Development, 16, 433–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Goldberg, W., & Keller, M. (2007). Co-sleeping during infancy and early childhood: key findings and future directions. Infant and Child Development, 16, 457–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Gray, P., & Young, M. (2011). Human-pet dynamics in cross-cultural perspective. Anthrozoös, 24, 17–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Heron, P. (1994). Non-reactive co-sleeping and child behavior: Getting a good night’s sleep all night every night. Master’s thesis, Department of Psychology, University of Bristol.Google Scholar
  41. Herzog, H. (2014). Should pets be banished from the bedroom? Psychology Today. Accessed 24 July 2014.
  42. Hislop, J. (2007). A bed of roses or a bed of thorns? Negotiating the couple relationship through sleep. Sociological Research Online, 12, 2. doi: 10.5153/sro.1621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hofer, M. (2006). Psychobiological roots of early attachment. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15, 84–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jagoe, A., & Serpell, J. (1996). Owner characteristics and interactions and the prevalence of canine behaviour problems. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 47, 31–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Jenni, O., & O’Connor, B. (2005). Children’s sleep: an interplay between culture and biology. Pediatrics, 115, 204–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Keller, M., & Goldberg, W. (2004). Co-sleeping: help or hindrance for young children’s independence? Infant and Child Development, 13, 369–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kurdek, L. A. (2008). Pet dogs as attachment figures. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 25, 247–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kurdek, L. (2009). Pet dogs as attachment figures for adult owners. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 439–446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kwong, M., & Bartholomew, K. (2011). “Not just a dog”: an attachment perspective on relationships with assistance dogs. Attachment & Human Development, 13, 421–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Larson, G., Karlsson, E., Perri, A., Webster, M., Ho, S., Peters, J., Stahl, P., Piper, P., Lingaas, F., Fredholm, M., Comstock, K., Modiano, J., Schelling, C., Agoulnik, A., Leegwater, P., Dobney, K., Vigne, J., Vilà, C., Andersson, L., & Lindblad-Toh, K. (2012). Rethinking dog domestication by integrating genetics, archaeology, and biogeography. Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences (USA), 109, 8878–8883.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lee, N. (2008). Awake, asleep, adult, child: an a-humanist account of persons. Body & Society, 14, 57–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lewis, R., & Janda, L. (1988). The relationship between adult sexual adjustment and childhood experiences regarding exposure to nudity, sleeping in the parental bed, and parental attitudes toward sexuality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 17, 349–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Love, S. (2010). Zoonoses—animal diseases transmissable to humans. Resource document. NSW Department of Primary Industries.
  54. Lozoff, B., Wolf, A., & Davis, N. (1984). Cosleeping in urban families with young children in the United States. Pediatrics, 74, 171–182.Google Scholar
  55. Mandansky, D., & Edelbrock, C. (1990). Cosleeping in a community sample of 2- and 3-year-old children. Pediatrics, 86, 197–203.Google Scholar
  56. Mao, A., Burnham, M. M., Goodlin-Jones, B., Gaylor, E., & Anders, T. (2004). A comparison of the sleep-wake patterns of cosleeping and solitary-sleeping infants. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 35, 95–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Martens, P., Enders-Slegers, M.-J., & Walker, J. (2016). The emotional lives of companion animals: attachment and subjective claims by owners of cats and dogs. Anthrozoös, 29, 73–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. McCaul, K. (2008). The persistence of traditional healers in the 21st century and of anthropology’s struggle to understand them. Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia, 33, 129–159.Google Scholar
  59. McKenna, J., & Gettler, L. (2016). There is no such thing as infant sleep, there is no such thing as breastfeeding, there is only breastsleeping. Acta Paediatrica, 105, 17–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. McKenna, J., & McDade, T. (2005). Why babies should never sleep alone: a review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bedsharing and breast feeding. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, 6, 134–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. McKenna, J., & Volpe, L. (2007). Sleeping with baby: an internet-based sampling of parental experiences, choices, perceptions, and interpretations in a western industrialized context. Infant and Child Development, 16, 359–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. McKenna, J., Ball, H., & Gettler, L. (2007). Mother-infant cosleeping, breastfeeding and sudden infant death syndrome: what biological anthropology has discovered about normal infant sleep and pediatric sleep medicine. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 50, 133–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. McNamara, P., Belsky, J., & Fearon, P. (2003). Infant sleep disorders and attachment: sleep problems in infants with insecure-resistant versus insecure-avoidant attachments to mother. Sleep and Hypnosis, 5, 17–26.Google Scholar
  64. Meadows, R. (2005). The‘negotiated night’: an embodied conceptual framework for the sociological study of sleep. The Sociological Review, 53, 240–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Meadows, R., Arber, S., Venn, S., & Hislop, J. (2008). Unruly bodies and couples’ sleep. Body Society, 14, 75–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Miletski, H. (2005). A history of bestiality. In A. L. Podberscek & A. M. Beetz (Eds.), Bestiality and Zoophilia: sexual relations with animals. West Lafayette: Berg.Google Scholar
  67. Mindell, J., Sadeh, A., Wiegand, B., How, T., & Goh, D. (2010). Cross-cultural differences in infant and toddler sleep. Sleep Medicine, 11, 274–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Moon, R. (2011). SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: expansion of recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment. Pediatrics, 128, e1341–e1367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Morelli, G., Rogoff, B., Oppenheim, D., & Goldsmith, D. (1992). Cultural variation in infants’ sleeping arrangements: questions of independence. Developmental Psychology, 28, 604–613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Mosenkis, J. (1998). The effects of childhood co-sleeping on later life development. Master’s thesis, Department of Cultural Psychology, University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  71. Noonan, E. (1998). People and pets. Psychodynamic Counselling, 4, 17–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Okami, P. (1995). Childhood exposure to parental nudity, parent-child co-sleeping, and “primal scenes”: a review of clinical opinion and empirical evidence. Journal of Sex Research, 32, 51–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Okami, P., Weisner, T., & Olmstead, R. (2002). Outcome correlates of parent-child bedsharing: an eighteen-year longitudinal study. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 23, 244–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Ortner, S. (1974). Is female to male as nature is to culture? In M. Rosaldo & L. Lamphere (Eds.), Women, culture and society (pp. 67–88). Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Plaut, M., Zimmerman, E., & Goldstein, R. (1996). Health hazards to humans associated with domesticated pets. Annual Review of Public Health, 17, 221–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Ramos, K., Youngclarke, D., & Anderson, J. (2007). Parental perceptions of sleep problems among co-sleeping and solitary sleeping children. Infant and Child Development, 16, 417–431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Richard, C., Mosko, S., & McKenna, J. (1998). Apnea and periodic breathing in bed-sharing and solitary sleeping infants. Journal of Applied Physiology, 84, 1374–1380.Google Scholar
  78. Sadeh, A. (2007). Consequences of sleep loss or sleep disruption in children. Sleep Medicine Clinics, 2, 513–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Sadeh, A., Tikotzky, L., & Scher, A. (2010). Parenting and infant sleep. Sleep Medicine Rreviews, 14, 89–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Sadeh, A., Mindell, J., & Owens, J. (2011). Why care about sleep of infants and their parents? Sleep Medicine Reviews, 15, 335–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Shepard, J. (2002). Pets and sleep. SLEEP, 25, Abstract Supplement (743.U), American Academy of Sleep Medicine, A520.Google Scholar
  82. Smith, B. (2012). ‘The pet effect’: health related aspects of companion animal ownership. Austalian Family Physician, 41, 439–442.Google Scholar
  83. Smith, B., & Litchfield, C. (2009). A review of the relationship between indigenous Australians, dingoes (Canis dingo) and domestic dogs (Canis familiaris). Anthrozoös, 22, 111–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Smith, B., Thompson, K., Clarkson, L., & Dawson, D. (2014). The prevalence and implications of human-animal co-sleeping in an Australian sample. Anthrozoös, 27, 543–551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Stein, M., Colarusso, C., McKenna, J., & Powers, N. (1997). Cosleeping (bedsharing) among infants and toddlers. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 18, 408–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Thoman, E. (2006). Co-sleeping, an ancient practice: issues of the past and present, and possibilities for the future. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 10, 407–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Thompson, K. (2010). Because looks can be deceiving: media alarm and the sexualisation of childhood – Do we know what we mean? Journal of Gender Studies, 19, 395–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Thompson, K. (2013). Save me, save my dog: increasing natural disaster preparedness and survival by addressing human-animal relationships. Australian Journal of Communication, 40, 123–136.Google Scholar
  89. Thompson, K., & Smith, B. (2014). Should we let sleeping dogs lie … with us? Synthesizing the literature and setting the agenda for research on human-animal co-sleeping practices. Humanimalia, 6, 114–127.Google Scholar
  90. Triebenbacher, S. L. (1997). Children’s use of transitional objects: parental attitudes and perceptions. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 27, 221–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Triebenbacher, S. (1998). Pets as transitional objects: their role in children’s emotional development. Psychological Reports, 82, 191–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Trigg, J., Thompson, K., Smith, B., & Bennett, P. (2014). An untapped resource: Archetyping the human-animal bond for risk communication with animal owners and responders. Palmerston North: Paper presented at the Society for Risk Analysis - Australia and New Zealand (SRA-ANZ): Risk beyond the Numbers, 26–27 August, Massey University.Google Scholar
  93. Trigg, J., Smith, B., & Thompson, K. (2015). Does emotional closeness to pets motivate their inclusion in bushfire survival plans? Implications for emergency communicators. Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 30, 24–30.Google Scholar
  94. Trigg, J., Thompson, K., Smith, B., & Bennett, P. (2016). An animal just like me: the importance of preserving the identities of companion-animal owners in disaster contexts. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 10, 26–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Troxel, W., Robles, T., Hall, M., & Buysse, D. (2009). Marital quality and the marital bed: examining the covariation between relationship quality and sleep. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 11, 389–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Veevers, J. (1985). The social meaning of pets: alternative roles for companion animals. Marriage & Family Review, 8, 11–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Vilà, C., Savolainen, P., Maldonado, J., Amorin, I., Rice, J., Honeycutt, R., Crandall, K., Lundeberg, J., & Wayne, R. (1997). Multiple and ancient origins of the domestic dog. Science, 276, 1687–1689.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Voith, V., Wright, J., & Danneman, P. (1992). Is there a relationship between canine behavior problems and spoiling activities, anthropomorphism, and obedience training? Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 34, 263–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Walsh, F. (2009). Human-animal bonds, I: the relational significance of companion animals. Family Process, 48, 462–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Welles-Nystrom, B. (2005). Co-sleeping as a window into Swedish culture: considerations of gender and health care. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 19, 354–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Williams, S., & Crossley, N. (2008). Introduction: sleeping bodies. Body & Society, 14, 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Williams, S., Meadows, R., & Arber, S. (2010). The sociology of sleep. In F. Cappuccio, M. Miller, & S. Lockley (Eds.), Sleep, health and society: From aetiology to public health (pp. 275–299). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Woodward, L., & Bauer, A. (2007). People and their pets: a relational perspective on interpersonal complementarity and attachment in companion animal owners. Society and Animals, 15, 169–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Worthman, C., & Brown, R. (2007). Companionable sleep: social regulation of sleep and cosleeping in Egyptian families. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 124–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  105. Worthman, C., & Melby, M. (2002). Toward a comparative developmental ecology of human sleep. In M.A Carskadon (Ed), Adolescent sleep patterns: Biological, social and psychological influences (pp. 69–117). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  106. Zilcha-Mano, S., Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. (2011). An attachment perspective on human–pet relationships: conceptualization and assessment of pet attachment orientations. Journal of Research in Personality, 45, 345–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  107. Zilcha-Mano, S., Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. (2012). Pets as safe havens and secure bases: the moderating role of pet attachment orientations. Journal of Research in Personality, 46, 571–580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Appleton InstituteCentral Queensland UniversityWayvilleAustralia

Personalised recommendations