Sleep disorders are common complaints for most of us, but they can also accompany serious illnesses where special treatment is needed. There are many traditional methods for dealing with light sleep disorders, but you might never have heard of the less established methods such as the use of animals like emotional support animals, therapy dogs, and service dogs. Actually, using animals to treat sleep disorders is not as unusual as you think. We will explore how animals and service dogs help eliminate sleep disorders and how to protect the owners from danger.
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How can service dogs help people with sleep disorders?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 50 to 70 million American adults suffer from sleep disorders, and one in three adults does not get enough sleep. Sleep problems are becoming more widespread not only in America but also in other developed countries. At the same time, the CDC found that almost 70% of American households have one or more pets and 40% of them own one or more dogs. Since pets can stimulate the secretion of human endorphins, which can fight depression and anxiety, animal-assisted sleep disorders therapy is gradually evolving in the modern medical field.
People who have sleep disorders might experience sleep apnea, night terrors, narcolepsy and somnambulism. Sleeping with a trained service dog can reduce some of the symptoms and alert the owner to risks. Service dogs play an important role when symptoms attack. For example,
Nightmares and debilitating night terrors. People who have chronic nightmares or debilitating night terrors are prone to get into an anxious and fitful situation at midnight. Sleeping with a trained service dog helps them to feel comfortable, as the dog can wake them up as soon as the symptoms occur.
Narcolepsy is the ailment that causes someone to fall asleep unchecked at any time of the day, even in public. A service dog for Narcolepsy is one of the treatment options available to help manage the symptoms. The service dog has the responsibility to wake the owner, to prevent him/her from being injured by a hard surface, and/or fetch medication or medical help. They can warn their owner when a narcoleptic episode is about to occur and end the episode with a face lick.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a serious illness for people who live without medical supervision. The service dog can wake the owner if the positive airways pressure device slips off or the breathing is interrupted. Moreover, the trained dog provides companionship and another physical presence to be alert for various dangers throughout the day.
Sleepwalking is also a dangerous type of sleep disorder. A well-trained service dog can reduce the potential risks of sleepwalking. For example, besides walking with the owner, they can think on his own and deal with the emergency — close the door and the window as well as clear any obstacles on the floor.
What about Animal-Assisted Therapy?
Unlike medications that may need to be taken all the time to prevent incidents, Animal-assisted Therapy is a way to improve mental, emotional and physical conditions through guided animal therapy. For example,
Therapy dogs visit patients regularly and provide them with comfort and affection in hospitals, nursing home and the like. For safety reasons, most of the therapy dogs that work for groups of people are led by the handlers, not by the actual pet owners, as both the handlers and the therapy dogs should undergo special training in the official organization. Another type of therapy dog that works for a family member at home or other places where the owner will go, is allowed to be trained by the owners or coaches as well as live with the families. The parents of an autistic kid are willing to train their household dog to be a therapy dog, who accompanies the child both during the day at school and at night while sleeping.
Emotional support animals (usually cats and dogs) are located between therapy dogs and service dogs, as they are invariably long-term companion animals and do not require special training like service dogs. People with irregular bouts of mental or psychiatric disability require the presence of animals, especially if the symptoms are attacking when no other people are present. What is more, emotional support animals are covered by the Fair Housing Amendment Acts of 1988, which is beneficial for tenants living in housing with a “no pets” policy. Although ESAs are not required to undergo special training such as service dogs, they should learn to comfort the owner and provide emotional support when the owner needs it. ESAs are suitable for patients with severe mental health issues that often affect sleep.
Service dogs are different from both therapy dogs and emotional support animals because they have to undergo tough special training either in an organization or at home. An outstanding service dog is comparatively expensive, which ordinary families can not afford. Fortunately, training service dogs for sleep disorders is easier than training one of the other service dogs. For example, guide dogs replace the eyes of the handlers, so they have to learn to guide the handlers across the street and go up the stairs, as well as to ensure the safety of the handlers in case of danger. Compared to guide dogs, sleep-disorder service dogs have lower risks and easier tasks, which is one of the reasons why people in recent years have tended to train their household dog to be a service dog for sleep disorders. Training a service dog at home by yourself or a trainer is cheaper and more convenient than purchasing a dog in a training organization. After online registration, service dogs are recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and allowed to enter almost all public areas.
If you’re dealing with sleep disorders, struggling to get through quality sleep, a service dog can be a comfort and a valuable treatment option. The value of the service dog for sleep apnea, Narcolepsy, and other sleep problems may be difficult to prove in a controlled experimental study, but patients seem to report long-lasting benefits through many years of their dog therapy.