Many dogs come alive when the lights go down. They might get the “zoomies,” or they may simply pace or want to play. Aside from separation anxiety, nighttime anxiety can be one of your canine care hurdles. This isn’t great news for us pet parents who are ready to turn in for the night.
Why Your Dog Is Restless at Night
Below are some reasons why your pup may be having difficulty sleeping or settling down for the night.
- Lack of exercise or mental stimulation. A dog with pent-up energy is like a kettle ready to whistle! If they haven’t had enough exercise during the day, they’re ready to party all night.
- Anxiety or stress. Changes in the environment, a new family member, or even thunderstorms can make your dog restless. All forms of anxiety, whether it’s senior dog anxiety or separation anxiety, can affect your dog’s life in more ways than just their sleep, so consult your veterinarian on how to handle canine anxiety.
- Medical issues. Just like us, dogs can suffer from certain ailments and chronic pain that make getting comfortable a tricky task. An example is hyperthyroidism, as excessive hormones can make it difficult for your pup to relax and sleep. Another possible disease that’ll make your pup restless at night is canine cognitive dysfunction, a disease that affects a senior dog’s brain.
- Diet. Restlessness can be caused by an upset stomach due to dietary indiscretion or eating something they shouldn’t, like garbage or table scraps. Food change can also cause digestive problems, which is why the transition should be done gradually over one to two weeks.
- Lack of routine. Dogs, like kids, thrive on routine. A chaotic schedule can throw their internal clock off balance and disrupt their sleep patterns.
Understanding what’s keeping your dog awake at night can be as easy as pie once you know what to look for. Howling or whining at night is quite common for anxious furry friends, especially for younger dogs. Our little pups may be adjusting to their new environment as they just recently separated from their moms. Other signs of restlessness may include pacing back and forth, whining or barking, and constantly changing sleeping positions.
How to Calm Down a Dog Before Bedtime
Helping your dog wind down for bedtime doesn’t have to be a tough task. With a few simple tricks, you can create an atmosphere that soothes your pup and sets the stage for a good night’s rest.
Step 1: Calm Them with Together Time
Spending time together at the end of the day is a great way for you both to unwind. You might start out with a little playing, perhaps some chase around the house or tug or war.
Look for your dog’s cues that they’re getting tired, like pausing or refilling on water. Then begin the transition into your pup’s bedtime routine together. Choose any quiet activity that you and your pooch both enjoy, like snuggling, stroking their coat, or a gentle ear rubbing.
This time together doesn’t have to be lengthy. Even 10–15 minutes may be enough for some dogs. The goal is to reassure your dog that you’re there for them. This is especially important if your dog’s sleeplessness is rooted in separation anxiety.
Step 2: Give a Calming Treat
Giving your dog a treat during your dog’s routine at bedtime will give him something special to look forward to every night. Associating bedtime with a yummy snack may also help you train your pup to settle down for bed.
Just like many dogs who seem to know somehow when it’s time for their people to get home or when it’s time for dinner, you may soon find that your own pooch is reminding you to give him his treat so he can go to sleep!
ElleVet’s organic Calm and Comfort chews support stress-free relaxation with their clinically tested blend of complete spectrum proprietary hemp oil! You can give this an hour before bedtime to help your pup keep calm.
What I love about these, and all of the products from ElleVet, including their hemp oil, is that they’re veterinarian-tested and recommended. With their dosage guide, I can confidently give my pets the right dose, knowing that it’s safe for their specific weight class.
Step 3: Provide a Secure, Comfy Place to Sleep
Does your dog sleep in the same place every night? Most likely, the answer is yes! Whether it’s their own dog bed, a favorite spot on the floor, or a place in bed with you, most pups sleep the best when they’re in their normal sleeping spot.
My dog, Tulip, sleeps in bed with us, usually right between us, with her head poking out. But when she takes her naps, she loves her peach-colored round donut bed. It’s great for dogs who love to curl up, and I love it because I can throw the whole thing in the washing machine.
My dog, Chilly, who passed over the rainbow bridge in 2021, loved a bed with bolster sides. It gave him enough room to sprawl out a bit with the added security of something to snuggle up against for the night. This one is made with memory foam (great for a senior dog’s aching joints), and it has a machine-washable cover.
If your dog sleeps on the bed with you, consider giving them their own designated spot on the bed, using a blanket to carve out a little nest. They may wander from it during the night, but knowing they have their own area can help them feel secure enough to fall asleep at night.
If your dog won’t sleep at night, take a look at his bed. If he doesn’t use it or no longer uses it regularly, he likely needs a new bed better suited to his needs.
Step 4: Find His Favorite Cuddle Toy
Do you remember how safe and secure you felt as a child when you snuggled in bed with your favorite teddy bear? Well, dogs can also find security from a special soft toy.
Now, not just any old toy will make the paw-fect bedtime buddy. Don’t give him anything with squeakers—that will probably just wind him up and get him in the mood to play! Similarly, anything you usually use to play fetch or tug with may not be the best choice. Ideally, you want a toy that only comes out at bedtime or other “down” times.
This adorable duck makes the perfect bedtime buddy. It’s super soft, squeak-free, and it won’t encourage thoughts of rambunctious play.
Step 5: Use Calming Scents and Sounds
Many pet parents ask, “What can I give my dog to sleep at night?” However, rather than immediately turning to medications, you might try some more natural therapies.
Some scents can have a calming effect on the human members of the family, and the same is true for our tail-wagging friends. Spraying your dog’s bed or bedtime toys with a calming blend of essential oils is a great way to alleviate any lingering anxiety from the day and get your pup ready to sleep through the night.
I love this all-natural essential oil spray from ThunderEssence, the makers of the ThunderShirt! It’s made with lavender, chamomile, and Egyptian geranium essential oils, and it smells amazing! I’m tempted to spray it on my own pillow, but for now, I’ll save it for Tulip’s bed and cuddle toys!
Your pup’s sensitive hearing may be able to pick up unfamiliar sounds or noises that you can’t. This can make them anxious or curious. Calming music, like classic music, can also help calm down a dog and get him ready for bed. I use the Zoundz app for my pets. It’s designed specifically to reduce a dog’s anxiety. I also love that every download contributes toward the Harmony Project, a program designed to alleviate anxiety in shelter pets.
What If My Dog Is Restless at Night While I’m Crate-Training Him?
If your dog is restless while you’re crate training him at night, start by placing the crate in your bedroom so he doesn’t feel alone. Introduce the crate positively with treats and toys to make it inviting. Gradually increase the time the dog spends in the crate with the door closed during the day. When the dog is sleepy, encourage him to nap in the crate. Once he’s used to the crate during the day, he should be more comfortable at night. Check out this guide on how to crate-train anxious and senior dogs.
Should I Sleep with My Dog?
I mentioned that I sleep with Tulip, but deciding to sleep with your dog is a personal choice! Sleeping with your pup has quite a few potential benefits, such as emotional support and physical health improvements, including reduced anxiety (for both of you) and lower blood pressure. It also promotes bonding and can strengthen your immune system. However, sleeping with your pup may also disturb your sleep and make your allergies or other health issues worse.
You may want to wait until a dog is fully trained and to ensure they also have their own bed, which provides them with their own personal space. This approach can help manage any restlessness at night and maintain a good sleep environment for both you and your pet.
When to Get Help from the Professionals
Even with our best efforts, some dogs will always be more naturally prone to hyperactivity and anxiety. As pet parents, we sometimes wonder if we did something to cause our dog’s anxiety. Did we not give them enough love? Enough exposure to noises and people?
Dr. Lisa Radosta, DVM, assured me this is often not the case with most dogs who have not experienced trauma (like being surrendered to a shelter). Just like people, some dogs are simply coded to have more anxiety. It’s literally in their DNA!
You can learn more about that in this post about separation anxiety.
So, if you’ve tried the above tips and your dog is still experiencing symptoms, it may be time to call in your dog’s veterinarian or a behavior consultant.
I always recommend finding help through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Here you can obtain contact info for a certified veterinarian who specializes in behavioral issues like anxiety. Who better to advise you on your dog’s health and behavior than a veterinarian?
With help, even the most anxious dog (and his mom or dad) can get a good night’s sleep!