Co-sleeping and why it works for us
“Sleep” – when parents hear this word, there is a love and hate battle going on. We love it when our little ones drift off to dreamy land, but sometimes the process of getting there and staying there can be a real struggle.
A lot of mummies ask me about my co-sleeping experiences with my baby, #JasperBean… and now that he’s no longer a baby, but a climbing, rolling, flipping and punching sleepy 2 year old toddler, guess what? Yes! He still sleeps with us in our bed and we actually enjoy it.
Did we intend for this to happen from Day 1? No.
Do people judge? Yes, many people have told me that I am putting my babys life at risk by sleeping with him. “What if you roll on top of him?” or “What happens when you’re so tired and deep in sleep that you let go and drop him on the floor?” or “What if he gets caught around the duvet?” etcetc… Admittedly, those thoughts have crossed my mind, but since having #JasperBean, I have been such a light sleeper that it didn’t feel like it was an issue at all. This co-sleeping arrangement has worked for us and will probably work for many other families too.
This post is about why I think co-sleeping is great and why I think it’s worked for us. I am not saying other sleeping arrangements are worse or bad in any shape or form. This is just my opinion formed from experience, reading and past research as a psychologist.
Many little ones including #JasperBean find it hard to fall asleep or may wake up in the middle of the night from night terrors. I remember just a twinkle of light would keep him awake all night. Hence I resorted to covering his eyes with a muslin! I know, you’re now thinking and maybe even saying out loud that I’m a bad mum and putting my baby’s life at even more risk than just co-sleeping! It worked for me and I kept his eyes covered no longer than what was needed. Along with many parents, I found this process frustrating and stressful especially after a long day running after him or at work. After putting myself in his shoes and looking at it from his point of view. I knew he was still learning how to fall asleep (yes, really!) and not trying to be difficult or spiteful. He was suffering as much as I was, if not more. Lack of sleep or bad quality of sleep has detrimental effects that surpasses a feeling of tiredness or lowered concentration rate. In an adult, sleep deprivation can contribute to but is not limited to:
- serious health issues, such as;
- heart diseases
- affecting cognitive processes, such as;
- memory retention
- problem solving
- aging of skin
- weight gain
In children, sleep deprivation doesn’t only result in a tired, fussy and emotional child. As listed above, the effects of lack of sleep in an adult applies to children as well. A study by Rebecca G. Astill of more than 35,000 children between the ages of 5 and 12 revealed that those who had shorter periods of sleep were more prone to behavioural problems and lower academic achievements when compared to those who were better rested.
So sleep is very important regardless of what age you are!
Many parents choose to have “solitary sleepers” where the child sleeps in their own room away from the parents, and at the same time teaching them independence from an early age. This maybe every new parents ideal situation when it comes to sleeping arrangements. I certainly thought I would enforce this, but sometimes there are other factors that don’t allow it, such as house crowding or the convenience of night feedings. Personally, I just had a very clingy baby that would cry all day and night when separated from another human body. In which case, I fell into the “roomshare“/”bedshare” camp.
So what are the arguments behind each arrangement?
There are many research that has claimed that children who sleep individually at a young age will learn to self soothe and fall asleep independently more quickly and potentially night wean and sleep through the night more easily. Kathleen Dyer Ramos, PhD, at the University of California-San Francisco’s Fresno Medical Education Program, has suggested that sleeping arrangement and parents satisfaction level are directly correlated. In her research, she found that mums who let their children sleep individually (solitary sleepers) have a higher level of satisfaction. After reading this, I thought I definitely needed to kick #JasperBean out of my bed, it was easier said than done! So can we conclude that this IS the best arrangement? Well, lets look at the other side of her research.
Other than “solitary sleepers”, there are also 2 other groups housed under co-sleepers: Intentional co-sleepers and Reactive co-sleepers, who either “roomshare” or “bedshare”. The former decides to co-sleep right from the beginning and the latter is a result of circumstances and usually after the child has turned 1 years old. All 3 group had to fill in a survey and report on the child’s sleeping state and pattern. Such as unwillingness to fall asleep and night wakings that were difficult to calm. The survey also included questions directed at the mums point of view, satisfaction level and whether they thought the sleeping arrangement was problematic. It was found that mums in the intentional and reactive co-sleeper group had reported a higher frequency of night wakings. Although, when this was reported against the satisfaction level, reactive co-sleepers perception of problematic sleeping behaviour was much higher. Therefore even though they are in the same situation, why did reactive co-sleepers feel worse? This is apparently due to the parents perception and how their reaction to a sleep problem may be interpreted differently in either group. Most mums in the reactive co-sleeper group expect their little ones to sleep by themselves but don’t. Due to certain circumstances, for example, it might not even be due to house crowding or feeding, it could be when a child can walk and there is literally no way to stop the kid from going into your room/bed or night terrors that keep your little ones up at night. So in your tired state of mind you let them sleep in your bed to appease the situation, but in reality this is not what you or the family initially intended or wanted. In a lot of cases, the parents family view and values may differ resulting in arguments. Moreover when you aren’t able to adapt to the situation quick enough, too much focus may be placed on the child’s sleeping behaviour and could be perceived as problematic.
In reality, a child’s sleeping needs, pattern and stages from birth onwards will continually change. As a child grows, their curiosity and education of their surroundings are all environmental stimulants, throw their imaginations into the mix and the result could be night terrors and nightmares as they are still too young to separate fantasy from reality. Statistics have revealed that amongst 0-4 year olds, a third will have regular night wakings and need their parents to help them to return to sleep.
So although sleep is very important, it may not always be easy to get kids to sleep well. What is important is to understand that this is just a phase and there will be a transition period. Personally, I had resorted to co-sleeping with #JasperBean from an early stage so that we could all get some sleep. I have also learnt that sleeping in the same bed as my little one has provided me, S and #JasperBean with comfort. Therefore the “problems” of night wakings or crying and screaming at night aren’t really perceived as an issue to me. Honestly, waking up to my little ones face is the best thing I can wake up to (no offence to S!). Research has shown that another benefit of co-sleeping is children are more self reliant and have shown to have more social independence. This is because when kids wake up at night, it is much easier for parents to calm and soothe them. Hence they form a stronger sense of secure attachment. Knowing the benefits of sleep and especially co-sleeping has made me realise that I don’t need to reclaim my bed in a hurry. Don’t get me wrong, I am slowly transitioning him into his own bed, but I’m not too worried if this doesn’t happen in the next few weeks/months/(probably not years) because right now, we are getting some quality sleep even though sometimes I’m still finding myself being kicked or punched in the middle of the night.
Sleep is a much debated topic and there is no conclusion on which type of sleep arrangement is best. What has worked for me may not work for others. However, I believe that if you can mentally prepare your partner and yourself to a certain extent, you will be more happy and open to accept the situation you are faced with. Research and experience have shown that prior communication with S (hubby) about our values, expectations and advantages and disadvantages of each sleeping arrangement and making sure that our little one is safe whilst asleep is the best preparation and arrangement out there.
Do you agree or disagree? What are your views on family sleeping arrangements and how have you coped with the changes? I would love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading! Until next time…
Love… MsMamaBean x
Astill, R. G., Van der Heijden, K. B., Van IJzendoorn, M. H., & Van Someren, E. J. W. (2012). Sleep, cognition, and behavioral problems in school-age children: A century of research meta-analyzed. Psychological Bulletin, 138, 1109–1138.
Dyer, K., Youngclarke, D. M., Anderson, J. E. (2007). Parental perceptions of sleep problems among co‐sleeping and solitary sleeping children. Infant and Child Development, 16, 417 – 431.
Ferrie, J. Sleep, December 2007.
Harvard Medical School: “Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety,” “Sleep, Learning, and Memory,” “Sleep and Mood.”
Marije C.M. Vermeulen, Rebecca G. Astill, Jeroen S. Benjamins a , Hanna Swaab, Eus J.W. Van Someren, Kristiaan B. van der Heijden. (2016). Temperament moderates the association between sleep duration and cognitive performance in children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 144, 184–198.