Should you sleep in the same room as your young child?

Parents often ask, “Where should my child sleep?” Room sharing at night has been shown to have a positive impact on breast feeding in young children. However, until now the impact on the child and mother of the child sleeping in their own room has been unknown.

In a recent study involving 188 first-time parents the sleep of both the mother and child was studied using special watch-like devices. The sleep of both was studied while the child was aged between 3 and 18 months.

The researchers found that babies slept equally well when they shared a room with their mother or slept in their own room. On the other hand mothers who shared a room with their child had more disrupted sleep and less sleep than mothers who slept in a different room. Mothers who slept in their same room rated their baby as waking more often than mother who slept in different rooms. This is despite both groups of babies waking the same number of times per night.

Maternal depression / anxiety scores were higher for mothers who shared a room with their child when the infant was 3 months of age. Separation anxiety scores were higher for mothers who slept in the same room as their child at most time points during the study. 

This study simply observed what happened when a mother and child shared a room. It did not try to explore why they slept in the same room and cannot prove that room sharing caused the mother’s sleep disruption. However, it is plausible that normal arousals or vocalisations by the child caused more sleep disturbance for their mother when in the same room. The study did not look at the impact of baby monitors which could have the same effect.

Another interesting findings was that when fathers were involved in the night-time care of their child, the child was much more likely to sleep in a separate room and the mother was more likely to sleep better. Previous studies have also suggested that co-sleeping is more common in families in which there is a poorer marital relationship or reduced parenting support by the father. 

The decision about where a child should sleep is complex and needs to take into account many factors. Having your child close to you is likely to promote feeding, which is clearly important. Most infants in this study who slept in the same room slept in their own cot. Sleeping in the same bed is a more complex topic and is summarised well on the SIDS website (rednose.com.au). This study suggests that as children get older they may sleep equally well in your room or their own room. If you feel confident about your child’s well-being and would like them to sleep in another room, this study may provide you with some reassurance.

Study details: https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsx207

Dr Scott Burgess FRACP PhD
Paediatric Sleep Specialist
www.qclass.com.au

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