It’s been a little over a year since Sofie moved out of our bedroom. She was five and a half. Many parents might raise their eyebrows over that, but I know there are even more who are nodding in recognition.
We didn’t start out intending to be a co-sleeping family, but fell into it naturally and, for the most part, it worked for us. For three and a half years, our family bed consisted of a queen bed and a twin pushed together. Then we moved Sofie’s twin into her own bedroom (to entice her there), although she slept on a mat in our room for quite a bit longer. It provided some distance and worked well as a transitional stage.
Now that she’s gone, I sometimes long for those co-sleeping days and rejoice when she crawls into bed with us on weekend mornings.
Everyone sleeps better
Which is definitely what you want with a newborn. Instead of getting out of bed and walking to another room to respond to baby’s cries, you simply roll over to comfort her. And you fall back to sleep faster. Sleep behavioral studies show that a co-sleeping family shares a rhythm, their bodies entering the various stages of sleep at the same time. Other studies have determined that babies in their own room startle and cry more during the night, a pattern that can lead to long-term sleep anxiety.
Most of the time, there wasn’t much crying with Sofie because when she woke up, she just latched on to my breast and nursed back to sleep. Oxytocin, the bonding hormone prevalent in breast milk, helped lull us both into dreamland.
Encourages family bonding
Children in a family bed spend more time with their parents, especially during those scary nighttime hours that can elicit lots of fears. There is extended cuddling, shared secrets and increased peacefulness. For working parents, it provides more time to connect with their child. Nighttime became especially nice for my husband who leaves for work at 5:00 a.m. and wouldn’t even see our daughter until dinnertime. His work schedule allowed him to go to bed early with her and cuddle and chat about their days while I got some much-needed alone time.
Yes, that’s right. While it may seem like the toddler who sleeps in his own room is more independent, recent research shows that the opposite is true. Children who co-sleep from the start do not experience separation anxiety. They tend not to engage in habits of thumb sucking or security blankets because they already feel secure. More importantly, they develop a deeper sense of trust knowing their parents will meet their needs both day and night.
And nighttime is a scary time for babies and small children. It’s when they want to be with us, not alone in a room down the hall. Sofie has childhood fears of the dark and nighttime, but we avoided bedtime struggles because we allowed her to sleep in our room until she was ready to move out.
Uses less household energy
I didn’t really notice this until Sofie moved into her own room. But with three in a bed, winter nights were warmer. We only had to run one humidifier and one fan in summer. Now each room has its own set of electrical appliances, which has increased our energy bill and our carbon footprint.
Helps prevent SIDS
SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome didn’t used to be called “crib death” for nothing. Of course this is a controversial issue with many making claims that co-sleeping is dangerous. (It can be if parents are drunk, smokers or not sleeping in a safely prepared bed.) However, worldwide research shows SIDS rates are lowest or nonexistent in countries where co-sleeping is the norm. And in the majority of cultures around the world, co-sleeping is the norm. American is one of very few countries that separate babies into their own rooms at night.
Other studies show that co-sleeping provides physiological regulation—that is, an infant’s heart rate, breathing pattern and body temperature fall into harmony with his parent’s and may prevent him from entering too deep states of sleep.
Want to know more? Check out this mamma’s extensive research on the safety and benefits of co-sleeping. And also read this blog with good reference links.