Bed-sharing, does it result in more sleep, or long term sleep problems?
A new study published in the Journal of developmental and behavioural paediatrics has looked at data collected from 55,000 families between 1999 and 2008 with babies aged 6 months – 18 months.
The aim was to find out if bed sharing could be contributing to nocturnal awakenings and lack of night sleep. (Trajectories and Predictors of Nocturnal Awakenings and Sleep Duration in Infants)
Bed-sharing was defined as half or more of the night spent in the same bed as mum or dad.
The study found those who were bed sharing at 6 months (and experiencing night wake ups) were more than twice as likely to experience a short sleep duration over night (less than 10 hours) and to still be experiencing nightly wake ups at 18 months.
One of the big observations was that if a baby was experiencing 3 or more wake ups at 6 months, they were 6 times more likely to be still waking at 18 months.
They pointed out breastfeeding was not negatively associated with later nocturnal awakenings.
What does this mean for you?
When considering your current bed sharing situation, work out if you are reactively bed sharing, or was this a planned decision? Chances are if you planned to bed share from the beginning, then any night wake ups between now and 18 months won’t be considered a problem by you, and therefore don’t require any change.
This study also makes a valid point for those of us with 6 month olds who are not bed-sharing but possibly still waking more than 3 times a night, if don’t help our baby’s change this pattern now, they are very likely to still be waking at 18 months. Whether this is considered a problem comes down to you and your family.
If you are reactively bed sharing due to trying and failing to solve your baby’s sleep or settling problem, then this study provides valuable information around whether on not to act now or act later.
If your current situation is not ideal for you and your family and you would prefer your baby sleeping in their own bed, then getting on top of this issue sooner rather than later will reduce the risk of you still experiencing nocturnal wake ups at 18 months.
Moving from bed sharing to cot sleeping can seem a scary task, and many parents who are reactive bed sharers are not fans of the traditional sleep training methods (cry it out), and wouldn’t actually advise this be your first choice when moving from bed sharing to cot sleeping.
We prefer gentler methods for this situation, as we feel the child needs time and emotional support as they go through this change and learn to sleep in their own cot once more.
We do help many families in this situation, and most are pleasantly surprised by how quickly their baby learns to sleep independently.
Please note safe sleep guidelines as recommended by the AAP stipulate all infants should have their own space to sleep such as a cot or bassinet.