A Multispecies Approach to Co-Sleeping

Integrating Human-Animal Co-Sleeping Practices into Our Understanding of Human Sleep

Abstract

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.

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Smith, B.P., Hazelton, P.C., Thompson, K.R. et al. A Multispecies Approach to Co-Sleeping. Hum Nat 28, 255–273 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-017-9290-2

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Keywords

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