All about the mind

I sleep, you sleep…but do we co-sleep?

I heard something new today: co-sleeping.

Apparently, it is part of an “attachment parenting” method that involves the parent and infant sleeping in the same room or same bed. However, there are quite a number of individuals taking it to another level. One where the entire family sleeps in the same room or even the same bed when the child is older. And with no foreseeable end to the practice. This form of co-sleeping is supposed to be an ‘alternative’ parenting practice in the western world (including Australia) given that children tend to have their own rooms and this is encouraged at a young age. However, the argument is that a lot of cultures (Asian, Indian, Middle-Eastern, South American etc) use co-sleeping as a daily routine.

The thing is, most of these countries lack the space in a house for each child to have their own room! And hence ‘co-sleeping’ probably came into effect. I mean, if I think about my grandparents or parents who lived in one bedroom apartments in families of at least 4 members, it’s not surprising co-sleeping was the way to go. Because there was no other option.

On the other hand, when I grew up, we were fortunate to have more than one bedroom. And hence, since my sister was born and I was 5, the two of us shared a room. And yes, we “co-slept” till I left home. Although we both wanted our own room! Anyway, attachment parenting is advocating the parents sleeping with the child(ren). It’s not talking about just siblings sharing a room. And whilst I understand the need for parents and children to share a room in countries where there is not much space or in households that are small, I fail to recognise the usefulness of co-sleeping in other circumstances. For children at least. Especially school-aged children.

Now, I am sure I will get told “You are not a mother….therefore…” but I am going to try and base my arguments on clinical experience and research.

First and foremost, a school-aged child sleeping in his or her own room (or even sharing with a sibling) is more likely to overcome common childhood fears of the dark or being away from parents. However, if the child continues to share a room with their parents, they are not even given the opportunity to face their anxieties, thereby maintaining it. In fact, this website about co-sleeping says something along these lines:

Transitioning to the crib by 6 months is usually easier — for both parents and baby — before the cosleeping habit is ingrained and other developmental issues (such as separation anxiety) come into play

It is quite common for anxious children and adolescents in my clinical experience to want to sleep with their parents. However, one of the first things parents are informed during the case formulation at the start of therapy is that permitting the child to sleep with them only maintains the anxiety. It’s a security blanket. A form of reassurance. The child doesn’t really learn how to manage their anxiety themselves. Any anxiety research will tell you that. 

There is also research that does not find support for co-sleeping. Researchers investigating sleep, behavioural and emotional problems, and parental relationships and psychological distress in school-aged children found that co-sleepers had significantly greater sleep problems (went to bed later, had shorter sleep etc.), emotional and behavioural problems & the parents had higher psychological and couple distress compared to solitary sleepers and healthy peers. However, a review on co-sleeping in China, where this is a very common practice found both advantages and disadvantages for the same. Unfortunately, I could not read the details since only the abstract is available.

Common sense tells me co-sleeping would be very uncomfortable. Imagine 4 to 5 individuals sleeping in the same room. [Yes, my parents and grandparents would tell me that] Imagine someone snoring, another one talking in their sleep, another getting up 3 times to go to the toilet, another tossing and turning…how does one get a proper night’s sleep? I know my sister would complain about me hogging the quilt and I found her sleep-talk annoying.

So I wonder…how is this supposed to build attachment?? How is it supposed to bring parent and child closer? I must say, I have personally never been a fan of attachment theory because it seems to imply that everything about your personality and temperament is dependent on those first five years in life. In short, if you are screwed up, it’s your parents’ fault. They didn’t provide you with a secure attachment base. And then, how easy is it for a person to blame their parents and not take responsibility as an adult to change states such as depression or anxiety? It doesn’t seem to take into account all the other relationships a person has over the years, the other environmental factors or most importantly, biological factors. It says everything is about how the caregiver/parent relates with the child! [How’s that for a guilt-trip, parents???]

I think a lot more research needs to be done on ‘attachment parenting’ to see whether it is effective. Until then, I am going to impart knowledge about evidence-based parenting to my clients and that includes the Triple P which is about rewards and consequences in basic behavioural terms. 

Anyway, what do you know about co-sleeping? If you have enough space in your house, would you still practice it? Do you know anyone who encourages the same?

Do share.

Until next time,


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  • Elegant Chic
    21 July 2010 at 12:08 pm


  • Psych Babbler
    21 July 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Yes =D

  • Elegant Chic
    21 July 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Yaaayyyy!!! 😀
    BTW, nice post! 🙂

    Well, I share the room with my brother though I have wished to have one of my own. But that didn’t affect us in any way. And if there’s space, definitely won’t do it.

  • ItsNu
    21 July 2010 at 1:04 pm

    I know what you’re saying here…

    we were fortunate too to have separate bedrooms…so me and brother didn’t have to share the space…

    Apart from space constraint I think it’s in the culture too to not let children sleep alone..also how parents themselves have been brought up…and moreover sometimes it’s also the matter of insecurity of parents’..specially mothers..

    I’ve a case in my own family..the SIL doesn’t allow her girls to spend the night even at my place or some relative and in their house also all four sleep in one and on one huge bed ! I’ll tell you the age…1 girl is 13 and other is 7 ! Not that they have space constraint…but the my SIL is just not willing to let her daughters away from her…which has actually made the girls dependant on the mother !

  • Celestialrays
    21 July 2010 at 1:23 pm

    What a fresh topic! I am waiting to read the experienced ones’ answers…
    Personally, I am not in favour of co-sleeping… Probably Sunday afternoon naps is OK, but cannot make a habit out of it!

  • Brianne
    21 July 2010 at 2:49 pm

    I’m not a parent, and I don’t know much about co-sleeping, so it may be easy to discount this opinion…
    When I was a child the routine pattern of bedtime was incredibly important. It was a ritual of sorts, involving a story and goodnight kiss on the cheek, being tucked in, and a giggle at the ‘don’t let the bed bugs bite’ line that was frequently said. My brothers and I looked forward to bedtime, each in our own room, each with dad’s full attention for a few moments! It’s hard to imagine it would have had the same effect if we’d had to share a room.

  • Titaxy
    21 July 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Ok, I am no parent; I don’t know any of the research you talk about here except for the big picture, so comment about it…

    We used to co-sleep during my early childhood years because we lived in a small house with grandparents. So we (sisters and I) either slept with parents or grandparents. And then when we moved, I shared a room with sisters for the rest of the childhood.

  • Rajlakshmi
    21 July 2010 at 6:13 pm

    till this day I sleep alone and prefer to sleep alone… and siblings are strictly ordered to stay out of my bed 😛 now thats how I would like it to happen…
    but then never thought abt co sleeping thing… thats so common… i have hardly heard anyone talking abt it … nice article …

  • Madmother
    21 July 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Okay, I see the “clinical” evidence you have posted, but let me tell you when it comes down to sleep deprivation over YEARS, I tend to go with my gut, and the advice of our early childhood nurse umpteen yeas ago: Do what works for you.

    Funnily, when we speak to OUR specialists, it is the ones who are parents who get it, the ones who live the experience and do not rely on cold, unemotional facts and figures. The ones who walk the zombie path of no sleep alongside us.

    In a perfect world it would be lovely if my oldest would happily sleep in his own bed all the time. In a perfect world, he would not suffer the night terrors or anxiety or the stress he does in his pre-adolescent years. In a perfect world life would be easy and uncomplicated. BUT it is not a perfect world, it is far from a perfect world, and MY opinion for other parents is what helped me so many years ago: DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. Bugger the so-called facts and statistics, if you believed in them my son should not be where he is today, if you believed in them he would have been set up to fail, if you believed in them then YOU are one of the types of so-called experts I have fought against for over a decade. And that makes me sad.

  • Comfortablynam
    21 July 2010 at 9:52 pm

    As much as I would like to believe it is only about space..I think it might haves started that way but it has become a very important part of Indian culture now.

    The amount of resistance we faced and the amount of ‘you are a bad parent’ looks we got when first we made sure Buzz slept in her crib and later moved her crib out of our room, had to be seen to believe.

    In have to let your child sleep with you till they turn 3 years old (read the other kid is born) because the kid is too young. And past that age the kid is so use to co-sleeping that s/he will resist no end.

    On a personal level we moved Buzz’s crib to another room because we felt our tossing and turning in bed at night disturbed her sleep and she does seem to sleep better on her own. But then again we are told that this is the age where she is suppose to sleep better now. So don’t know one way or the other.

  • Psych Babbler
    21 July 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Thanks EC. I don’t think there’s been any problems in terms of siblings sharing rooms but it’s more about kids sleeping with the parents that research seems to suggest is a problem. And I tend to agree.

  • Psych Babbler
    21 July 2010 at 11:06 pm

    It is not uncommon in the asian cultures to co-sleep. But the case you describe is EXACTLY my point!! A 13 year old has to start becoming independent and form their own identity and this only encourages dependence. I’m seeing some older children and teens with anxiety and more often than not, it’s because parents have permitted them to sleep in their room every time they have wanted (either due to nightmares or other worries) to the point where they are fearful of everything and constantly need parents’ reassurance and cannot manage on their own.

  • Psych Babbler
    21 July 2010 at 11:14 pm

    Welcome Brianne! I’m not a parent either…and I don’t think one has to be a parent to ‘know’ the answers. You can learn from your own childhood. Your dad provided you and your brothers with a secure base and managed to assist your independence. Generally with younger children, bedtime routines are good to assist with any anxiety but still getting them to sleep in their own room…that’s the only way they overcome the anxiety.

    I slept with my parents for a couple of years being the oldest child. 5 years later, my sister came along and after 6 months, we were both put in a room together. As a child, I was scared of the dark while my sister was fearless and I wonder how much of it had to do with her pretty much having to be ‘independent’ in a way. I did overcome my fear of the dark because my parents didn’t maintain it by doing things for me or letting me sleep with the lights on.

  • Psych Babbler
    21 July 2010 at 11:20 pm

    I agree…and occasional co-sleep…almost like a treat might not be a problem. If you read Nu’s response, it’s pretty much what I was saying.

  • Psych Babbler
    21 July 2010 at 11:28 pm

    Totally understand it in terms of space. And like you, I shared a room with my sister for the rest of my childhood. I haven’t seen any research around siblings sharing a room and I doubt that it has any problems. Were you glad to move out though and have a room to yourself??? I know I was stoked and so was my sister when I came to Aus…we both for the first time ever had our own rooms and it was great! =)

  • Psych Babbler
    21 July 2010 at 11:42 pm

    MM, my concern with something like “do what works for you” is that it’s too broad. There are so many parents who think hitting their kids works for them. And it probably does work because the child will shut up, will behave appropriately because they are scared of the punishment and will listen to the parent out of fear. But it’s not acceptable and does affect a child negatively. So how does one draw a line there?

    And there are interventions for night terrors and anxiety other than getting a child to sleep with the parent which in fact maintains the anxiety. It probably works in the short-term but a child generally does not learn how to deal with their anxiety on their own and the only way they learn is seeking reassurance from the parent. Early intervention is probably the best and yes, it requires effort initially but it does work. I am currently seeing adolescents that are so dependent on a parent and have no clue how to manage the anxiety to the point where the parent has realised that there is a problem now. But this has been going on for years and the child would generally get reassurance from the parent, feel better for the time being and get on with their day. But it does escalate if maintained by reassurance.

    One of the things I tend to ask parents is what they want for their child in the future. And how they see them getting there. 99% of parents want their kids to be happy and independent. And when they say this, they recognise that some of the things they are doing, is not helping their child reach this path. Sure things are working in the short term but when one thinks about long term, getting their kids to sleep in their room, doing things for a child because he or she is afraid to do it, holding their hand in every single step is not the way to get them there.

  • Psych Babbler
    21 July 2010 at 11:43 pm

    It’s more of a western move….it’s common in India to at least share with your siblings but here it’s not the case and sleeping in one’s own room tends to be the norm. But this new “attachment parenting” seems to say that’s the way to go. I disagree =P

  • Psych Babbler
    22 July 2010 at 12:05 am

    Really??? Wow…it’s interesting coz my sis was moved to my room pretty early on. Then again, we were away from extended family at that point in time. I think I did sleep with my parents or grandparents for a while (being the older one) but then, Iwas scared of the dark. My sister, 5 years younger than me, had no such fears as a child. Till date, she is less anxious than I am! I’m not saying that it’s the cause of everything (both my parents are anxious…runs in the family!) but the fear of the dark most likely had to do with that. And as you say about teh tossing and turning…it makes sense…why would you want to disturb someone else with the tossing and turning or the snoring. I remember hating sleeping at my grandparents’ place in their room because I couldn’t sleep due my grandpa’s snoring!!! She’s more likely to become independent this way I gather. You are creating a secure base and not saying she is excluded or anything…just that she has her room and you guys have yours.

  • starry eyed
    22 July 2010 at 3:03 am

    Both my kids slept next to our bed in a crib until they were 3, and were then shifted to the room they share presently. I need my sleep, boss. I give my all to my kids for 16 hours, and all I ask is for 8 hours of rest without a restless kid kicking me, and getting disturbed by me. My tendency to be insomniac also factored into this. Both were dry at night by 3.5, and actually started sleeping deeper and better once in their own room. Both do not suffer any anxiety, nightmares, they’ve never had night terrors, and both bedroom doors are left open so that they can come in if they’re not well, plus I sleep uber-lightly…so I can hear every breath they take, more or less 🙂

    Around me are parents who are still sleeping in the same bed as their 8 year olds and 13 year old daughters…and it makes me feel just a bit creepy. I think, in the Indian context, where we mollycoddle our kids, they should at least be in their own beds if they’re in the same room, and out of their parents’ room by age 5…I find it real disgusting to imagine parents getting intimate with a pre-school or primary school aged kid in the bed. Yeeeesh!

    Next step…move into a 3 bedroom house and have an even peacefuller life with one bedroom for each child 😀

  • LadyNoor
    22 July 2010 at 10:25 am

    I sleep with my babies when they’re not settled, easier for me to settle them in my bed so I can have my sleep too. This can last for a few days to a couple of weeks… However, once they’re back to their good-selves they’re on their own beds/cots.. I want MY OWN sleep undisturbed if possible, thank you!

    Those research are guidelines only. It’s easy to blame the parents for their children failure but that seems childish – don’t you think?

    It’s the same with hundred other guidelines; when to introduce solids, when to wean a baby, dummy or no dummy, etc… I’m a member of an online parenting forum/group and some people are taking it WAY too seriously. Instead of helping each other, these particulars parents would say whatever the other parents are doing; it’s wrong!

    On one occasion I stated the contrary of the common believe and I based my argument on a new-ish research. Because it is so new not many familiar with the idea yet… Well, you should’ve seen how my argument was squashed like a rotten tomatoes until nothing left of it but the oozing juice!! Quite amusing….

    My “guideline” of being a parent is to do whatever works, as long as no harms done.

  • BlueMist
    22 July 2010 at 11:30 am

    Again I am not a parent so I might not understand the topic from parental aspect. Personally I am of opinion to let have children their own space. It is good for them and good for parents as well. They too need to privacy. I know it used to be common trend in may be our parents times because of huge joint families and all. but these days with nuclear families it is easy to have the space I feel.
    and when space is not the issue; the parents should encourage this me thinks.

  • Piyu
    22 July 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Interesting article!

    I co-slept with my parents for a long time mainly due to lack of space.. I so badly wanted my own room.. but spatial constraints dictated otherwise..

    When I have kids I would most definitely want them to have their own space.. Maybe tuck them into bed and be with them for half an hour or so if the kid is young… but a different room surely.

  • Magali
    22 July 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Wow, nice & well researched article. Well in my house at first we only had a one bedroom, though we also wanted to have a two bedroom house the move didn’t happen for various reasons. Then we found our dream place. And I was so psyched about having my own room! haha
    I got a bed & all. But then my dad’s on the ship, so I do end up sleeping near mom. And when he here, I’m too lazy to move to my bed so I never did. The mattress tragically still has the original plastic on (I wonder if I could sell it lol)
    So here you have me weird complicated little story & why I still co sleep. I will probably move to my room when dad retires!

  • Rads
    23 July 2010 at 9:07 am

    The reason “What works for you” is a broad term is because there is no standard thumbrule when it comes to kids/babies. Each one is unique in their own ways and so are their needs. What may work for one may not at all work for another one even if they are siblings or twins even..
    Co-sleeping in the earlier years is probably a matter of convenience because that way the mother is more tuned towards the needs of the baby and the baby does not have to cry out for any small thing to get the attention from a crib or even the next room (despite baby monitors)
    Co-sleeping in toddler years in my opinion is either out of sheer inertia or because the child resists the idea due to prolonged co-sleeping.
    I have a 6 months old and I am a proponent of co-sleeping till the time the child is able to sleep thru the night for most parts. Once your child has achieved that, I think for general sanity and uninterrupted sleep it makes sense to encourage them to sleep in their crib (in your or in their rooms)
    Unfortunately sleeping thru the night again is something thats a “broad term concept” as each baby takes its own sweet time to get there. I know of 6 months old who do and I also know 3 year olds who don’t. So then again parents need to resort to what works for them.
    At the end of the day there is no simple answer, co-sleeping for a longer time can make children more co-dependent perhaps, at the same time, transitioning to a crib or a separate room can also instigate a sense of abandonment and trauma even.. Believe me I have seen both.
    Bottom line I am looking forward to the day by baby will sleep in his own crib and we can transition to crib out to his own room 🙂 But I am also in no hurry to do so, he will get there when he does..

  • kanupriyasindhu
    23 July 2010 at 10:59 am

    Up till certain age its ok to let kids sleep together but once they are grown up school going ones and if there is no space constraint I think they should sleep in separate rooms.

  • Surbhijain018
    23 July 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Hehe.. Even I find it so strange to share room with family for sleeping! I need peaceful atmosphere for sleeping so how can i share it with 5 people!
    I had a friend in school and their family used to sleep together not because of the lack of space but out of love. I always used to laugh at him for this. Its such a weird concept!

  • Indian Homemaker
    24 July 2010 at 4:41 am

    Letting a small kid share the parents’ room when upset is fine I think but not sure how everybody sleeping in the same room gives any privacy to the parents.

    I blogged about my maid’s daughter who had disappeared and then found safe and brought back home. They lived in a one room house – that gave no privacy to anybody, including when relatives visited. This 14 year old had consensual sex (it’s still rape) with a married relative who later persuaded her to come away with him. Now she is back but her life is hell, her parents taunt her and berate her… How did the child never complain? My maid says the kid grew up in a small house where she was exposed to adult activity she shouldn’t have been exposed to…

    So I feel if one has a choice everybody should have their own personal space to sleep in.

  • Indian Homemaker
    24 July 2010 at 4:42 am

    I agree, “being a parent is to do whatever works, as long as no harms done”.

  • BlueMist
    25 July 2010 at 7:58 am

    Where is my comment ? are you still approving ?

  • Psych Babbler
    25 July 2010 at 8:01 am

    I would have thought that it would be difficult to get sleep if you co-sleep…totally understand when you say you would like your 8 hours after giving them 16! Good luck with the 3 bedroom house plan! Hope all works out well =)

  • Psych Babbler
    25 July 2010 at 8:37 am

    I think parents nowadays have a lot of pressure on them! Once upon a time the only concern was probably genetic but now, when a mother is expecting there’s so many other pressures about ‘screwing up your child’. I like the guideline you have…as long as no harm is done….

  • Psych Babbler
    25 July 2010 at 8:38 am

    Agree…I think everyone needs their space….parents to do their own thing, and kids to grow and form their identity.

  • Psych Babbler
    25 July 2010 at 8:40 am

    Welcome Piyu! =) I think that’s a great idea in terms of parents tucking their kids in bed and spending time with them such as reading to them or something like that. Keeps them secure, you do something they like, and yet, they get their independence to sleep in their own room

  • Psych Babbler
    25 July 2010 at 9:01 am

    Thanks Mags. Lol at your situation…my sister and I would have gladly been in your place while we were growing up…we didn’t particularly like sharing a room with each other… 🙂

  • Psych Babbler
    25 July 2010 at 9:04 am

    Welcome Radhika! I do understand co-sleeping with a toddler or as in your case currently, a 6 month old. Just makes sense. Especially if you have to feed the baby in the middle of the night! I guess it’s just that when thye are older, co-sleeping is likely to create dependency. And the longer the child co-sleeps, the more dependent they are likely to become. I guess everyone would like their own sleep though…and that’s just one other reason when the child is older, to have their own room if there are no space constraints =) Keep visiting. And do leave a link to your blog…would like to visit

  • Psych Babbler
    25 July 2010 at 9:05 am

    Totally with you =)

  • Psych Babbler
    25 July 2010 at 9:20 am

    Welcome Surbhi! We all need our space and it helps us become independent I reckon. Something like having your own room doesn’t mean our parents loved us any less or that if someone co-sleeps, their parents love them more. =P In fact, parents being able to ‘let go’ and yet have their kids return to them is probably most healthy…

  • Psych Babbler
    25 July 2010 at 9:33 am

    I don’t remember reading that post of yours IHM but it’s shocking. I can understand a child being upset and occasionally going into their parents’ room. But there is an age limit…you wouldn’t want an 11 year old or 12 year old sharing their parents’ room.

  • Psych Babbler
    25 July 2010 at 9:34 am

    Yep, I agree too…as long as no harm is done! =)

  • Psych Babbler
    25 July 2010 at 9:35 am

    Yes Misty…was in the process of approving =)

  • starry eyed
    26 July 2010 at 4:04 am

    Agree PsychBabbler. There are so many areas in which we need to progressively let go of our kids, eating, dressing, self-care, sleeping, toilet training, learning. I think it’s healthier when you gently guide a kid thru all the apron-string cutting. Sure they will get upset, sure there will be regressions and setbacks thanks to illness and other disturbances. But parents needs to get their kids standing on their own two feet little by little, not as a major “Ok now you’re on your own” kind of shock…that would send any kid into anxiety attacks!

    I mean this even applies to letting your birds fly the nest…at what point do we stop the hand-holding and mollycoddling? And control over their choices and independence?

    and I so agree….’what works for you’ is too broad…most kids will not visibly show the effects of harm done until much later…then undoing the damage we didn’t know we were doing is that much harder. You know…I’ve been there.

  • theketchupgirl
    26 July 2010 at 7:10 am

    We’ve been in this state of worry for a while now. Mishmash won’t sleep on her own. She still sleeps with us. No amount of coaxing / being firm has helped . Its so late in the day that i worry she will develop a whole lot of anxiety related issues when separated.
    I am not a strong advocate of co-sleeping. I completely agree with you that it doesn;t help a child grow out of his fears/ face his fears.

    I also don;t advice co-sleeping with siblings. I have seen a lot of abuse around me from uncles, brothers etc

    I did try putting mishmash in a separate room. But something didn;t succeed. DOn;t even talk of the guilt trips…i’m take those very often.

  • Swaram
    26 July 2010 at 9:19 am

    I don’t think I cn ever do that! Co-sleep I mean. I need my space. I did share my room with my younger sis, but something beyond that is not what I can even imagine about.

  • Swaram
    26 July 2010 at 9:22 am

    Oh! I think its acceptable only when it comes to space constraints. Otherwise, am better off being left by myself.

  • Psych Babbler
    26 July 2010 at 10:46 am

    Exactly! You’ve said everything I could say… 😀

  • Psych Babbler
    26 July 2010 at 10:48 am

    My sibling was female…I reckon it would have been weird co-sleeping with a brother personally. And yes, have heard of abuse from family members *shudder*

    Good luck with mishmash…try a rewards chart for the number of nights she can sleep by herself…gradually…and do tell me to shut up if I’m out of line! 😛

  • Psych Babbler
    26 July 2010 at 11:01 am

    Hehe…ditto Swar. And did you and your sis annoy each other around your teenage years? I know I found it frustrating when I wanted my space….sigh…

  • Psych Babbler
    26 July 2010 at 11:01 am

    Oh yeah,…of course

  • Elegant Chic
    16 September 2010 at 2:01 am

    Yaaayyyy!!! 😀
    BTW, nice post! 🙂

    Well, I share the room with my brother though I have wished to have one of my own. But that didn’t affect us in any way. And if there’s space, definitely won’t do it.

  • Psych Babbler
    16 September 2010 at 2:01 am

    Yes =D

  • Elegant Chic
    13 December 2010 at 8:12 am

    Yaaayyyy!!! 😀
    BTW, nice post! 🙂

    Well, I share the room with my brother though I have wished to have one of my own. But that didn’t affect us in any way. And if there’s space, definitely won’t do it.