No one will dispute the value of a good night’s sleep. But when it comes to the effect that our sleep partners have on our nighttime rest, from what I’ve observed in the medical research and from my patients’ experiences, there are a lot of myths. Here’s my take on some common ones…

• Sleeping with a pet. The conventional wisdom is that sleeping with a pet is bad for your health. I can remember my grandmother forbidding our cat from sleeping with us when my sister and I were children. She was convinced that the cat would bite our throats in the night. For years, doctors have said that pets carried disease and warned that sleeping with them increased risk for asthma and allergy.

As recently as 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that sleeping with pets put humans at greater risk for diseases such as parasitic infections and cat scratch fever. But now some experts are disputing that data. While it’s true that sleeping with a pet can increase one’s risk for asthma or an allergy, the practice does not worsen risk for most other conditions beyond what would already be present when living with a pet. That’s good news because more than half of pet owners sleep with their pets some or all of the time. And a recent small study found that it may actually be a good thing. Sleeping with pets can make people feel safe, secure and relaxed—and results in a better night’s sleep, according to research from the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine in Scottsdale, Arizona.

• Sleeping with a partner. You may assume that if you’re in love with someone, you will sleep well with him/her. Not always true! If you are in a marriage or a partnership, negotiate sleep patterns just as you would meal patterns, child care and social planning. Find common ground with one another about sleep.

• Sleeping without a partner. Some people who don’t have a partner or spouse tell themselves that slumber time is destined to be lonely. But there are creative solutions. If you like to snuggle, a small dog may be your best bet. Cats can be great sleep partners, but they tend to be nocturnal and may not last the night with you. If you haven’t got a pet or don’t want to sleep with one, there’s another option to consider—a full-body pillow. These long, narrow pillows are very comforting. Body pillows don’t get warm the way a human sleep partner can…but they also don’t perspire or roll over…or snore into your ear.

To help ensure good sleep habits, I tell my patients to write out a sleep assessment. How much room do you need in your bed to be comfortable? Do you prefer to snuggle up to something or someone? What is your body temperature when you sleep? How many blankets do you need? Use this information to help create your optimal sleep habits.  

Remember: A good night’s sleep is good medicine. Do it in a way that works for you!