Your kids' bad sleep habits are caused by co-sleeping: Study

New research suggests that co-sleeping in infancy may lead to chronic sleep problems later in childhood.

cosleeping with your baby
Photo: iStockphoto

Over the weekend, I was looking through baby photos with my four-year-old daughter, Gillian. One photo was of her brother, Isaac, when he was only a few weeks old, tucked into his crib and sleeping peacefully (a rare occurrence since neither of my babies were good sleepers).

“Where’s my crib?” she asked.

“You never had one,” I told her. “Every time I put you in it, you cried. So instead I put your diapers and laundry in it.”

It’s true. From the day we brought her home from the hospital, my husband and I have been co-sleeping with Gillian. Some nights she starts out in her own bed, but every morning she wakes up in ours. I love co-sleeping with both my kids, shrugging off remarks that they’re too old. Co-sleeping meant that my husband and I were able to get a good night’s sleep and breastfeeding (once I got the hang of laying down and feeding my babies) was a lot easier to do in my bed than stumbling down the hall to my kids’ rooms to sit in a cold and uncomfortable chair to feed them.

Read more: Confessions of an accidental co-sleeper>

However, it’s not all sweet dreams when my kids crash in my bed for the night. For example, Gillian has developed the habit of turning on the light in the middle of the night to read. As one of my friends accurately pointed out, my daughter’s “sleep hygiene” is dreadful.

Could bed-sharing since infancy be to blame? New research from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health certainly suggests so.

Using reports from 55,831 mothers about their children’s sleep habits, researchers from Uni Research Health, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the University of California, Berkeley estimated the stability and predictors of awakenings and short sleep. Study results were published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

“One third of the infants who experienced nocturnal awakenings at six months age, still had awakenings each night at 18 months of age,”  says lead author Mari Hysing of Norway’s Uni Research. “They had shorter total sleep duration during the night, and more frequent awakenings than other children.”

Read more: Breastfeeding tips to get you through the night>

Another surprising discovery: The longer children co-slept, the worse their sleep habits—including shorter sleep duration and frequent awakenings.

Nighttime wakings of babies at six months of age were naturally due to feedings. From six- to 18-months of age, kids in the study had fewer awakenings overall, but for those who co-slept, chronic sleep problems like shorter sleep duration and night awakenings were more common.

My daughter’s middle-of-the-night reading habit is one that I am sure will correct itself. Currently, we let her flip through the pages of her favourite books until she falls asleep—and it’s usually only a few minutes until that happens. So until she’s tired enough to sleep through the night, I’ll enjoy my co-sleeping cuddles.

Read more: The latest on co-sleeping and SIDS>

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

If you are still interested in co-sleeping, check out this video for some safe co-sleeping tips:

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