Among parents, a topic of chief concern is the issue of children’s sleep. It’s no surprise given that sleep can have a direct impact not only on a child’s development, but also on the parents themselves. A lack of sleep could affect how well a parent functions in his or her daily life. Everyone has felt the impact of a poor night’s sleep, now imagine that feeling compounded night after night as you struggle to get your newborn child to sleep. It’s obvious that parents need a solution for the problem of children’s sleep, but the issue stems from the debate over which method is best. One popular method, co-sleeping, has become the center of one such debate. Although co-sleeping varies in it’s implementation the most common aspect of the practice involves bed-sharing along. Co-sleeping has become one the most popular methods in getting kids to sleep simply due to it’s effectiveness. And while co-sleeping does have a large number of supporters the method does not go unchallenged. Opponents of co-sleeping argue that there are nearly as many drawbacks to the method as there are benefits.
The debate over co-sleeping is multi-faceted, both opponents and advocates of co-sleeping will point to a number of benefits related to emotional health, child development, and amount of sleep. One of the first arguments many parents will make in favor of co-sleeping is the emotional bond that they say co-sleeping grants them. In Dreamland, David Randall describes a situation in which two new parents slowly take up co-sleeping as they are unable to cope with the stress of having a newborn child. Later Randall notes that the parents “had come to enjoy what they saw as an intense bonding time with their child” (70). Supporters of co-sleeping will also point to a child’s development as a benefit of co-sleeping. Randall cites anthropology professor, James J. McKenna who suggests that co-sleeping infants “may also fall asleep faster when their parents are right next to them” (77). Randall explains that the benefit to this is that “the brain would then have more energy to devote to cognitive or physical development” (77). Considering how sleep affects a child’s development, the most obvious benefit that co-sleepers then point to is sleep. If co-sleeping means that a child spends more time asleep, then one could simply deduce what that means for a parents sleep. The less time a parent spends getting a child back to sleep, the greater the amount of time that is available to them to catch up on sleep.
Conversely, opponents of co-sleeping will use similar reasoning to support their own arguments. For instance, opponents of co-sleeping may argue that without the constant physical contact provided by co-sleeping a child “would begin to develop the ability to calm [him/herself] down” (Randall 74). This emotional independence is simply another aspect of emotional health. Opponents of co-sleeping also point to a child’s development as a benefit, albeit in a different aspect from that of supporters. Sleep researcher Wendy Hall states in “Battle of the Bed” that children who co-sleep may lack a “sense of independence and self control” (gtd in. Gulli). Opponents of co-sleeping could then argue that children who do not co-sleep are free from such concerns. Again on the key topic of sleep, opponents of co-sleeping argue that parents actually get more sleep when not sharing a bed with a child. Cathy Gulli gives a scenario where a mother with older children admits that “as the children have grown bigger… that setup has become less comfortable for (her] husband” (Gulli). When it comes to sleep, comfort usually equates to quality of sleep.
Co-sleepers and non-co-sleepers alike are quick to point out the negatives associated with the competing method, or lack thereof. On the issues of safety, child development, and sleep, each side has drawbacks that serve to pull or push parents towards or away from co-sleeping. On the issue of safety, the argument for co-sleeping takes the biggest blow. The connection between co-sleeping and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is well documented. According to a clinical inquiry “What Are Safe Sleeping Arrangements For Infants?” in the Journal of Family Practice, co-sleeping was shown “to be an independent risk factor for SIDS” (Adler, Hyderi, and Hamilton 1084). Parents who share a bed with an infant are potentially doubling the risk for SIDS. In addition to the risk of death is the effect of co-sleeping on child development. As mentioned previously, children who co-sleep may fail to develop a “sense of independence” (Gulli). This lack of independence, as Wendy Hall states, may “translate into other parts of children’s] lives where they don’t feel particularly confident about dealing with hostilities or other challenges” (qtd. in Gulli). Further compounding the issues with co-sleeping is once again the issue of sleep. While some supporters of co-sleeping may praise it as a way to get more shut-eye, others argue that in fact the opposite is true. As Gulli points out in “Battle Of The Bed”, some parents become unwilling participants to co-sleeping and as a result “they struggle to catch whatever Z’s they can in between wrestling for covers and dodging elbows and knees.”
On the other hand, not co-sleeping has its own drawbacks. For one, the same clinical inquiry that points to co-sleeping as an independent risk factor for SIDS, also points to a “3-fold increased risk of SIDS” (Adler, Hyderi, and Hamilton 1084) for families who had infants sleeping in a separate bedroom. Again on the issue of child development some argue that failing to quickly respond to your child’s cries may result in that child “(failing] to develop a basic sense of trust” (Randall 77). Moreover on the issue of sleep comes the argument that not co-sleeping will result in parent and child getting less sleep. The same argument for co-sleep once again becomes an argument against not co-sleeping.
Strong arguments can be made for either case, in many aspects the issue of co-sleeping or not co-sleeping will vary by family. Some families may find that they are perfectly suited to sharing a bed without losing sleep, others will find that introducing a child to their bed may throw off their sleeping habits completely. In the case of bed-sharing and infants it has been shown to be universally rejected. Those parents that choose to share their bed with an infant should do so at their own peril. Ultimately co-sleeping is a family matter, as such the decision to co-sleep or not rests heavily on the parents of each family. It is best to consider both the benefits and drawbacks of each side of the argument when making a determination for your family.
- Adler, Michelle R., Abbas Hyderi, and Andrew Hamilton. “What Are Safe Sleeping Arrangements For Infants?” Journal Of Family Practice 55.12 (2006): 1083+. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.
- Gulli, Cathy. “Battle of the Bed: It’s Not Just Babies–now Older Children, Even Teens, Are Crowding Their Parents’ Bed. Navigating Nighttime Has Never Been More Contentious.”
- Maclean’s 19 Aug. 2013: 42. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 7 Apr. 2015. Randall, David K. Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.