Co-Sleeping: Effects on Children’s Mental Health
Becoming a new parent is a challenging experience for anyone. Aside from the obvious responsibility of caring for a newborn, one aspect that is greatly affected is your sleep. Co-sleeping with a child can be a topic that divides opinions among parents. While some parents strongly advocate for it, others firmly oppose the idea.
Co-sleeping is a challenging topic to address, as it has been associated with an increased risk of accidental death in babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its safe sleeping guidelines in June 2022, emphasizing that parents should never allow their baby to sleep in their bed. This recommendation is based on concerns about suffocation, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and other sleep-related deaths.
NPR’s analysis in 2018 revealed that a low-risk baby (without medical conditions or other risk factors like prematurity) has a 1 in 16,400 chance of dying from SIDS when sleeping in a parent’s bed. This risk decreases to 1 in 46,000 when the baby sleeps in a crib in the parent’s room.
Mental Health Benefits of Co-Sleeping
Co-sleeping has been a subject of discussion due to its potential benefits. Supporters of co-sleeping argue that it fosters a sense of security, enhances parent-child bonding, and promotes various aspects of child development.
Emotional Security and Attachment
Co-sleeping can contribute to the development of emotional security and attachment in children. Sharing a sleeping space with parents provides a sense of physical closeness, comfort, and reassurance. This close proximity during sleep fosters emotional bonding and helps children feel safe and protected, promoting a stronger parent-child relationship. The consistent physical presence of caregivers can instill a sense of trust, emotional security, and overall well-being in children.
Enhances Parent-Child Bonding
Co-sleeping often enhances parent-child bonding due to increased opportunities for interaction and physical closeness. Sharing a sleeping space allows parents to respond promptly to their child’s needs, leading to a deeper emotional connection. The close physical contact during sleep promotes the release of bonding hormones, such as oxytocin, which strengthen the emotional bond between parent and child. This enhanced bonding can positively impact a child’s self-esteem, social skills, and overall psychological development.
Promotes Better Sleep Patterns
Co-sleeping has been associated with improved sleep patterns in children. The presence of a caregiver during sleep can help regulate a child’s sleep cycles, leading to more restful and consolidated sleep. Co-sleeping may reduce nighttime awakenings and provide a sense of security that promotes better sleep quality. Improved sleep patterns contribute to better mood regulation, cognitive functioning, and overall psychological well-being in children.
Co-sleeping Nurtures Emotional Regulation
Co-sleeping can support the development of emotional regulation skills in children. Sharing a sleeping space with parents allows for immediate and sensitive responses to a child’s emotional needs, helping them learn to identify and regulate their emotions. The emotional support and soothing provided during co-sleeping can contribute to a child’s ability to manage stress, express emotions appropriately, and develop resilience in the face of challenges.
Mental Health Drawbacks of Co-Sleeping
While co-sleeping has its potential benefits, it is important to consider the drawbacks associated with this sleeping arrangement.
Autonomy and Independence
Extended co-sleeping may potentially interfere with a child’s developing autonomy and independence. Children who consistently co-sleep may become overly reliant on sleeping in close proximity to their parents, finding it challenging to transition to independent sleeping arrangements as they grow older. This dependency can affect their ability to develop self-soothing skills, regulate their sleep patterns, and establish healthy sleep habits. It is important to strike a balance between promoting emotional security and fostering age-appropriate independence.
Boundaries and Privacy
Co-sleeping can impact a child’s understanding of personal boundaries and privacy. Sharing a sleeping space with parents blurs the lines between personal space and individual privacy, as well as between awake and asleep times. This may influence a child’s understanding of personal boundaries and their sense of personal space when interacting with others. It is important to establish clear boundaries and promote age-appropriate concepts of privacy, both within and outside the sleeping environment.
Co-sleeping Disrupts Sleep
Co-sleeping can lead to sleep disruptions for both children and parents. Sharing a bed or sleeping space can result in disturbed sleep patterns due to the movements, snoring, or restless sleep behaviors of the other person. This can lead to fragmented sleep, reduced sleep quality, and daytime fatigue for both children and parents, potentially impacting overall well-being and functioning.
Dependency and Separation Anxiety
Co-sleeping may contribute to dependency and separation anxiety in children. A prolonged reliance on co-sleeping may make it difficult for children to develop the confidence and skills necessary to sleep independently. This can create anxiety when faced with sleeping alone or in unfamiliar environments. Encouraging age-appropriate independence and gradually transitioning to independent sleep arrangements can help children develop a sense of security and confidence in their own sleeping abilities.
The decision of whether to co-sleep with your children or not is a personal one that varies from family to family. There is no definitive answer. The best way to determine whether bed-sharing or room-sharing is suitable for you is to give it a try and see what works best for your situation. It’s important to experiment and explore different approaches until you discover the safest and most comfortable co-sleeping habits that suit both you and your little ones.
As parents, all you want is the best for your child, and this includes their safety. For those who have seen the benefits of co-sleeping as their children grow up, they will highly recommend it. However, for those parents who have experienced dealing with SIDS because of co-sleeping, this may not be the best setup.
If you are dealing with trauma or depression caused by your child’s death, it is best to talk to a therapist. You can visit Mindshift Psychological Services to help you manage your conditions. You can also contact them at (714) 584-9700 to schedule an appointment.