Babies who sleep in parents’ bedroom could benefit from improved sleep

Allowing babies to sleep in the parental bedroom for the first six months of life could have a positive effect on their sleep and behaviour later in childhood. (AFP Relaxnews pic)

New European research has found that babies who sleep in their parents’ bedroom for the first six months of life have no increased risk of sleeping problems or behavioural problems later in childhood, and in fact, sleeping in the parental room may actually have a positive effect.

Led by developmental psychologist Roseriet Beijers of Radboud University, the Netherlands, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Maryland, USA, the longitudinal study, published in the journal Child Development, is the first to investigate the long‐term association between babies sleeping in the parental bedroom and three areas of child behaviour: sleep, behaviour problems, and prosocial behaviour.

Current recommendations in the Netherlands and many other Western countries encourage parents to let their baby sleep in the parental bedroom for the first six months of life, as this sleeping arrangement reduces the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) by almost 50%.

However, many parents choose to let their baby sleep alone in his or her own bedroom, with some believing that room-sharing encourages a baby’s dependency on their parents, which is thought to lead to developmental problems later in life, such as sleep and behavioural problems.

To investigate further, the team looked at 193 babies and their parents, who were asked to keep a daily sleeping diary for the first six months of their baby’s life.

The children were then followed until they were age six to eight years of age, with mothers and teachers asked to report on the behaviour of the children.

The researchers also observed the children taking part in behavioural tasks in order to assess sleep problems, for example bedtime struggles, increased night wakings, behavioural problems, such as anxiety or aggression, and prosocial behaviour, for example helping others.

The findings, showed that room-sharing with parents early in life was not related to sleep problems or behaviour problems at age six to eight.

In fact, the results suggested that more weeks of room sharing were actually related to positive outcomes in children, including improved sleep quality and more prosocial behaviour.

“Although there are speculations that room-sharing early in life leads to sleep and behavioural problems, our study does not reveal any negative effects of room-sharing in the first six months of life on child development,” said Beijers, “However, before we can draw more definitive conclusions about positive and negative effects of room-sharing on child development, this important issue must be investigated in greater depth.”