New Study Says Bed-Sharing Leads to Mental Health Issues in Kids, But I’m Not Buying It

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

A headline popped up on my Facebook feed this morning that seriously gave me pause: Apparently, a new study is claiming that bed-sharing leads to mental health issues in kids. Yikes! As a long-time co-sleeper myself, the article definitely struck a nerve, and honestly made me feel a little uncomfortable.

I have two boys, ages 4 and 9, who spend a fair amount of the night in my room. They sleep in their own rooms and beds too, but we have an open-door policy here, and most nights, we have at least one boy camped out in our room.

Although I certainly don’t apologize for my parenting choices, it’s hard not to feel as though everything you say or do as a parent is under a microscope sometimes and that you are constantly being judged, especially when some of the choices you make stray from the mainstream — and articles like this one certainly don’t help in the matter.

As it happens, my kids are pretty well adjusted, as are many of the co-sleeping kids I know. My husband and I also slept with our parents for a good deal of our childhoods, and we turned out to be pretty well-adjusted adults.

Of course, the people I know who co-sleep are only a small portion of the population, and I am not a mental health researcher myself. But my gut has always told me that co-sleeping was not an issue in terms of mental health, so when I read the headline of this recent study, I was kind of dumbfounded.

But I wanted to give it a chance, so I read the study.

The research was published in The Journal Of Affective Disorders, and looked at a sample of 3,583 children from Brazil to assess how bed-sharing affected them as they got older. Some of the participants had never shared a bed with their parents; some had only done so as infants; and a smaller percentage bedshared into later childhood.

The childrens’ mental health was evaluated by child psychiatrists at variable intervals during their lives, up to age six, using the Developmental and Well-Being Assessment. In the end, researchers found that the children who shared a bed with their parents longest suffered from more mental health issues (like depression, anxiety, and ADHD) than those who didn’t.

The grand conclusion of the researchers was: “Early and persistent bed-sharing is associated with an increased occurrence of internalizing problems at the age of 6 years.”

Did you jaw just drop to the floor? Well, mine did.

Here’s the thing: As a long-term co-sleeper, and “crunchy mom,” I have never thought that everyone should do exactly as I do. I think the way we parent is a very personal choice, and that no one should get to decide how we parent but ourselves. And as much as I have respect for science and like to read the latest studies that come out, I also know that we all need to take what we read with a grain of salt, and that there’s almost always more than one side to an issue.

As I predicted, a quick Internet search led me to a ton of articles and research studies that state the exact opposite findings of this Brazil study. In 2011 for example, the medical journal Pediatrics released a study on the long-terms effects of bed-sharing in children up to the age of 5. And guess what? Researchers in that study found there was no negative association between co-sleeping and behavior or cognitive abilities of the children whatsoever.

Dr. James McKeena, one of the world’s top co-sleeping researchers (he’s written over 139 scientific articles on the subject!), cites five different research studies in the FAQ section of his website concerning the long-term effects of bed-sharing. He concludes that co-sleeping has many positive long-term benefits, including, “strong independence, social competence, feelings of high self-esteem, strong sexual identities, good comportment by children in school, [and] ability to handle stress.”

And as McKeena noted in an interview with Huffington Post last year, 90% of the world co-sleeps with their kids at one point or another. Yeah, they may not all be as gung-ho about it as I am, but I don’t think I know one parent who hasn’t told me that they co-sleep at least once in a while. In fact, I venture to guess that a lot of parents end up doing it a whole lot more than they’ll admit, since it’s still considered somewhat taboo in our culture to be “out” about it.

So yep — I’m taking this latest research with a grain of salt. Because I just don’t think so many of us can be screwing up our kids that much when we let them snuggle up in bed with us — and it seems that there’s a ton of research to back me up on that belief, too.

Bed-sharing definitely isn’t for everyone, and I’m certainly not saying you should change your sleeping arrangements if they work for you. But as far as I’m concerned, sharing a bed with my kids is one of the most natural, comforting, and peaceful things on earth, and I’m not going to let one study ruin that for me.

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