What are the long term effects on my baby of sharing a bed?
While advocates of solitary infant sleeping arrangements have claimed any number of benefits of infant sleeping alone, the truth o the matter is, none of these supposed benefits have been shown to be true through scientific studies. The great irony is that, not only have benefits of solitary infant sleep NOT be demonstrated - simply assumed to be true, but recent studies are beginning to show the opposite that is, it is not, for example, solitary sleeping arrangements that produce strong independence, social competence, feeling of high self esteem,good comportment by children in school, ability to handle stress, strong gender or sex identities - but it is social or cosleeping patterns that might, indeed, contribute to the emergence of these characteristics. Consider, for example:
* Heron's (1) recent cross-sectional study of middle class English children shows that amongst the children who "never" slept in their parents bed there was a trend to be harder to control, less happy, exhibit a greater number of tantrums. Moreover, he found that those children who never were permitted to bed-share were actually more fearful than children who always slept in their parents bed, for all of the night (1).
* In a survey of adult college age subjects, Lewis and Janda (2) report that males who coslept with their parents between birth and five years of age had significantly higher self-esteem, experienced less guilt and anxiety, and reported greater frequency of sex. Boys who coslept between 6 and 11 years of age also had higher self-esteem. For women, cosleeping during childhood was associated with less discomfort about physical contact and affection as adults. (While these traits may be confounded by parental attitudes, such findings are clearly inconsistent with the folk belief that cosleeping has detrimental long-term effects on psycho-social development.
* Crawford (3) found that women who coslept as children had higher self esteem than those who did not. Indeed, cosleeping appears to promote confidence, self-esteem, and intimacy, possibly by reflecting an attitude of parental acceptance (Lewis and Janda 1988).
* A study of parents of 86 children in clinics of pediatrics and child psychiatry (ages 2-13 years) on military bases (offspring of military personnel) revealed that cosleeping children received higher evaluations of their comportment from their teachers than did solitary sleeping children, and they were underrepresented in psychiatric populations compared with children who did not cosleep. The authors state: "Contrary to expectations, those children who had not had previous professional attention for emotional or behavioral problems coslept more frequently than did children who were known to have had psychiatric intervention, and lower parental ratings of adaptive functioning. The same finding occurred in a sample of boys one might consider "Oedipal victors" (e.g. 3 year old and older boys who sleep with their mothers in the absence of their fathers)--a finding which directly opposes traditional analytic thought" (4).
* Again, in England Heron (1) found that it was the solitary sleeping children who were harder to handle (as reported by their parents) and who dealt less well with stress, and who were rated as being more (not less) dependent on their parents than were the cosleepers!
* And in the largest and possible most systematic study to date, conducted on five different ethnic groups from both Chicago and New York involving over 1,400 subjects Mosenkis (5) found far more positive adult outcomes for individuals who coslept as a child, among almost all ethnic groups (African Americans and Puerto Ricans in New York, Puerto Ricans,, Dominicans, and Mexicans in Chicago ) than there were negative findings. An especially robust finding which cut across all the ethnic groups included in the study was that cosleepers exhibited a feeling of satisfaction with life,.
But Mosenkis's main finding went beyond trying to determine easy causal links between sleeping arrangements and adult characteristics or experiences. Perhaps his most important finding was that the interpretation of "outcome" of cosleeping had to be understood within the context specific to each cultural milieu, and within the context of the nature of social relationships the child has with its family members! For the most part,s, therefore, it is probably true that neither social sleep (cosleeping) or solitary sleep as a child correlates with anything in any simple or direct way. Rather, sleeping arrangements can enhance or exacerbate the kind of relationships that characterize the child's daytime relationships and that, therefore, no one "function' can be associated with sleeping arrangements. Rather than assuming that sleeping arrangement produces a particular "type" person it is probably more accurate to think of sleeping arrangements as part of a larger system of affection and that it is altogether this larger system of attachment relationships, interacting with the child's own special characteristics that produces adult characteristics.
1. Heron P. Nonreactive CO-sleeping and Child Behavior: Getting a Good Night's Sleep All Night Every Night. Masters Thesis, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom , 1994.
2. Crawford, M. Parenting practices in the Basque country: Implications of infant and childhood sleeping location for personality development. Ethos 1994, 22;1:42- 82.
4.. Forbes JF, Weiss DS, Folen RA. The CO-sleeping habits of military children. Military Medicine 1992; 157:196-200.
5. Mosenkis, J The Effects of Childhood Cosleeping On Later Life Development 1998.