To Co-Sleep or Not?
According to worldwide statistics, the number of parents who admit to co –sleeping for at least part of the night is rising. That said, I remember my father complaining that he didn’t know why he had a 4 bedroom house as we all woke up most mornings in one bed! Clearly, the phenomenon is not a new one.
In order for co – sleeping to work however, everyone involved has to be able to actually sleep and function as part of the family. If you have a child in your bed most nights which results in you or your partner taking up residence on the couch, or your children all decamp to your bed in the middle of your night leaving no room for you, it may be something that needs rethinking. Many of the parents I know are selfless and so they also may not consider the strain that long term co- sleeping can put on their relationship. If you are co-sleeping, remember the importance of couple time, date nights and getting away from it all even if it is just for a glass of wine in your garden!
If co-sleeping is something that works for your family, the most important thing to ensure is that everyone is safe and actually able to get a good night’s rest. For some co-sleeping parents that happens nightly, some occasionally and some never. Here are some practical things to think about when deciding if co- sleeping is something that is right for your family.
WHY DID IT START IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Some of you may not remember life without a little person in your bed! But if you can, try to recall how co-sleeping started in the first place. It may have been an unsettled baby that was easier to keep close in the exhausting period of having a new born. Perhaps your child has an underlying anxiety and is unable to self settle without you there. It could also be that you are anxious as you know your child is at risk of seizures, sleep walking or sleep apnea and so you would rather have them close. Many children with additional needs are actually unable to sleep through the night due to processing issues, anxiety, bedwetting or hormonal imbalances. Each of these problems (and many others) have possible solutions.
WEANING YOUR CHILD OFF CO-SLEEPING
For children with special needs, a change in sleep set up is something that should be introduced gradually. There are several ways to do this depending on your child’s age and ability. You may consider a social story that explains to your child your expectation that they are going to sleep in their own bed and gives them a guide for what to do if they wake up in the night. Options may include a mattress on your floor that they can come to or settling to sleep in their own bed but allowing them to come to you if they wake later. If their mobility doesn’t allow that, think about how close their room is to you and whether you can rather go to them to resettle them in the middle of the night. The closer they are to your room, the better that will work. That means that whilst your night may be disrupted, they lose their dependence on having you there throughout the night. Make their room a place that they want to sleep – buy new bed sheets that are themed with their favourite characters and allow them to choose the toys they want in their beds. Reward charts are another thing that can work well and can be used for the number of hours in their own bed or going to sleep without you or made specific to the challenge for that child. Start simple and reward easily to begin with!
FEELING COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR DECISION TO CO-SLEEP OR NOT
If you started co – sleeping due to a concern with your child during the night, you may feel there is no alternative. I would recommend looking into seizure alarms/ apnoea monitors/ bedwetting alarms which will wake you if there is a problem. If you are concerned about your child’s anxiety, think about their bedtime routine and the time between school and bed. Do they have the needed time to process? Do they have a worry box that you can use with them before they go to sleep? Are they overstimulated in the last few hours of the day? Are they comforted in knowing they can sleep on your floor in a mattress if they wake or that you will come to them and resettle them?
Ultimately, if your child feels safe, they will likely sleep better. That means working out what they need in the bedroom environment to make that happen. You may be representing the sensory input they need, you may be their security blanket or they may just be responding to habit. Any of these can be replicated without your physical presence being required all night long.
Every family is unique and decisions about whether to co-sleep is yours. Educate yourself by researching the pros and cons and then make the decision that works for your situation.