Scientific Benefits of Co-sleeping
Popular media has tried to discourage parents from sharing sleep with their babies, calling this worldwide practice unsafe. Medical science, however, doesn’t back this conclusion. In fact, research shows that co-sleeping is actually safer than sleeping alone. Here is what science says about sleeping with your baby:
Sleep more peacefully
Research shows that co-sleeping infants virtually never startle during sleep and rarely cry during the night, compared to solo sleepers who startle repeatedly throughout the night and spend 4 times the number of minutes crying (1). Startling and crying releases adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure, interferes with restful sleep and leads to long term sleep anxiety.
Studies show that infants who sleep near to parents have more stable temperatures (2), regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing compared to babies who sleep alone (3). This means baby sleeps physiologically safer.
Decreases risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Worldwide research shows that the SIDS rate is lowest (and even unheard of) in countries where co-sleeping is the norm, rather than the exception (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). Babies who sleep either in or next to their parents’ bed have a fourfold decrease in the chance of SIDS (10). Co-sleeping babies actually spend more time sleeping on their back or side which decreases the risk of SIDS. Further research shows that the carbon dioxide exhaled by a parent actually works to stimulate baby’s breathing (11).
Long term emotional health
Co-sleeping babies grow up with a higher self-esteem, less anxiety, become independent sooner, are better behaved in school (12), and are more comfortable with affection (13). They also have less psychiatric problems (14).
1. McKenna, J., et al, "Experimental studies of infant-parent co-sleeping: Mutual physiological and behavioral influences and their relevance to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)." Early Human Development 38 (1994)187-201.
2. C. Richard et al., “Sleeping Position, Orientation, and Proximity in Bedsharing Infants and Mothers,” Sleep 19 (1996): 667-684.
3. Touch in Early Development, T. Field, ed. (Mahway, New Jersey: Lawrence Earlbaum and Assoc., 1995).
4. “SIDS Global Task Force Child Care Study” E.A.S. Nelson et al., Early Human Development 62 (2001): 43-55
5 A. H. Sankaran et al., “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Infant Care Practices in Saskatchewan, Canada,” Program and Abstracts, Sixth SIDS International Conference, Auckland, New Zealand, February 8-11, 2000.
6. D. P. Davies, “Cot Death In Hong Kong: A Rare Problem?” The Lancet 2 (1985): 1346-1348.
7. N. P. Lee et al., “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in Hong Kong: Confirmation of Low Incidence,” British Medical Journal 298 (1999): 72.
8. S. Fukai and F. Hiroshi, “1999 Annual Report, Japan SIDS Family Association,” Sixth SIDS International Conference, Auckland, New Zealand, 2000.
9. E. A. S. Nelson et al., “International Child Care Practice Study: Infant Sleeping Environment,” Early Human Development 62 (2001): 43-55.
10. P. S. Blair, P. J. Fleming, D. Bensley, et al., “Where Should Babies Sleep – Along or With Parents? Factors Influencing the Risk Of SIDS in the CESDI Study,” British Medical Journal 319 (1999): 1457-1462.
11. SIDS book, page 227, #162
12. P. Heron, “Non-Reactive Cosleeping and Child Behavior: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep All Night, Every Night,” Master’s thesis, Department of Psychology, University of Bristol, 1994.
13. M. Crawford, “Parenting Practices in the Basque Country: Implications of Infant and Childhood Sleeping Location for Personality Development” Ethos 22, no 1 (1994): 42-82.
14. J. F. Forbes et al., “The Cosleeping Habits of Military Children,” Military Medicine 157 (1992): 196-200.