Co-Sleeping Affects Sleep Quality: May Affect Attachment
Co-sleeping. It’s the domestic detail many parents are less than eager to share: the fact that their school age child continues to sleep in their bed at night, and they continue to allow it.
Or for proud advocates of the family bed, it’s a key part of attachment parenting. And for parents who couldn’t imagine sharing a bed with children, co-sleeping is for various reasons patently not a good idea. But few of us ever really reach a decision about parenting with zero guilt, right?
Enter Penn State developmental psychologist Douglas M. Teti, who has been looking at the sleep patterns of parents and young children as part of a study called Project SIESTA. Based on his research, Teti concludes somewhat regretfully that co-sleeping is often bad for moms.
According to his research:
- Mothers who sleep in the same bed as their kids past the age of six months get a worse night’s sleep than those who don’t; the resulting lack of sleep can lead to depression and anxiety
- Co-sleeping mothers were highly stressed, which negatively impacts attachment
- Families who co-sleep have lower levels of co-parenting (equal division of childcare and child-related tasks)
- The family bed had a minimal impact on dads’ overall health. (Families in the study all appear to be heterosexual couples)
The study also showed that co-sleeping households display higher levels of “household chaos,” which Teti connected to having a less than well-rested mother; these homes had higher levels of clutter, disorganization and challenges keeping appointments. Whether this is causation or merely correlation is unclear. It seems just as possible that families who choose to co-sleep are more relaxed about housework and household organization.
Another fascinating detail: Teti’s research shows that co-sleeping parents have poorer bedtime routines with their children than non co-sleepers. Since bedtime rituals are important to parent-child bonding, it’s not especially good news.
But a key finding of the co-sleeping study is that mothers who co-sleep wake more frequently during the night — not because the child is waking, but because they are more attuned to the child’s fluctuations in sleep. Other related research into sleep quality by Avi Sadeh concurs that frequent night waking – even if only for minutes at a time – can be equivalent to losing 4 hours of sleep. This was as true in countries where co-sleeping was the norm as it was where it was a less common practice.
Of course, if everyone is sleeping just fine in the family bed at your house, none of the research matters much. But if you’re not feeling fully rested, consider Teti’s research the next time you have the “It’s time to sleep in your big boy/big girl bed” talk — and good luck to you.