Five Benefits to Cosleeping Past Infancy

Two of the three members of our family bed, sound asleep.

Cosleeping, also known as “sharing sleep” or having a “family bed,” is a parenting practice that still smacks of taboo in our Western culture. But recent scientific studies are building a much stronger argument for the benefits of sharing sleep with our children.1 Yet even with the scientific support and the changing cultural perception of cosleeping, the subject is typically constrained to parents of infants.

It is still socially taboo to admit that you share sleep with toddlers or older children, but research shows that the taboo is unfounded. Children who cosleep are generally more independent and secure, develop close and lasting bonds to their families, and report more happiness and general life satisfaction than children who sleep alone. There are many reasons that sharing sleep with your children is healthy and beneficial even after they’ve started walking, but below are five of the best reasons.

Five Reasons to Continue Cosleeping Past Infancy

  1. Cosleeping Can Further Both Trust and Independence

    One common argument against cosleeping is that it will create children who are more dependent on parents than children who sleep alone, or that cosleeping children will never learn to sleep alone. “But this is like saying that by putting a baby in diapers, she’ll be in diapers throughout her life, or that by using a stroller or carrying her, she’ll never learn to walk.”2

    As a matter of fact, the opposite is actually true: children who shared sleep with their parents are actually more independent than their solo sleeping peers. Recent research has shown:

    *Solitary sleepers have actually been found to be more dependent on their parents than co-sleepers.

    *Co-sleeping boys ages three and older were shown to have no greater difficulty separating from one or both parents than solitary sleeping boys. (In this study, girls were not observed for this trait.)

    *The majority of family bed graduates consider themselves more independent than their peers.3

    And why shouldn’t cosleepers be more independent?! They learned from infancy that they could trust their caregivers to quickly respond to their needs, no matter what time of day or night it was. “You are not encouraging dependency when you sleep with your baby. You are responding to a need and teaching your child about trust.”4 “Children, given time to learn to trust those around them, and thus learn that their own feelings and needs are legitimate, will develop a true, enduring sense of independence.”5

  2. Melissa of Simple Whimsy and her family snoozing peacefully.

  3. Parents Are the Ultimate Security Blankets

    The image of a child sucking his thumb or carrying around a treasured blanket or teddy is a very familiar one in our culture. Search the internet and you’ll find all kinds of advice columns and articles on how to transition children away from these practices. But research has revealed something very interesting: children who cosleep do not need replacement security figures. Children feel more secure as a result of being close to their caregivers.

    “When a child routinely goes to sleep in the presence of an adult, or with an adult holding her, it’s extremely rare to find thumb sucking or attachment to security objects.” In a study of children ages one to seven years old who all sucked their thumbs, 96% of them “had been left alone to fall asleep as infants. In stark contrast, there were no thumb suckers among a large group of children who had physical contact with an adult while falling asleep.” In a different study of children between three and five years old, researchers found “that solitary sleepers were far more likely to use a security object than co-sleepers. The researchers concluded that children use security objects as substitutes for nighttime human touch.”6

    Our culture emphasizes the desirability of teaching children to self-soothe, and parents are encouraged to introduce security objects to help in this process. But in the dark of the night, why not allow a child to experience the love and comfort of a parent? If we teach our children to rely on things for comfort, what effect will this have on them later in life during times of stress? Shouldn’t we be encouraging them to reach out to people?

  4. Cosleeping Can Have Positive Effects on Self-Esteem and Family Closeness

    As Dr. Sears says, welcoming children into the family bed sends incredible “I care” messages. It says “you are special to us, day and night.”7 A little one welcomed into the family bed receives “countless hours more tender snuggles, and more affection than if she were left alone to sleep. If she wakes up at night, all she has to do is see you or reach out and touch you to feel the world is safe and right.”8

    And parents who fall asleep and/or wake up next to their children know how sweet it can be in those sleepy twilight hours. With everyone relaxed and cuddled up, children feel peaceful and ready to share their thoughts and stories, things that you might never hear during the hustle and bustle of daily life. “[Y]ou can get to know a family bed child on a level you might not otherwise. In the words of Thomas Anders, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, and director of the school’s infant and family sleep laboratory: ‘Co-sleeping encourages family closeness.’” These sentiments have been reinforced by research: the “vast majority” of both family bed graduates and their parents report that they are incredibly close to their families.9

  5.  

  6. Children Who Cosleep May Be Easier to Get Along With and Better Adjusted Than Their Solo Sleeping Peers

    Psychologists in years past theorized that children in family beds were maladjusted, insecure, needy, and that their parents were languishing in bad marriages. Recent research blows the old theories out of the water. Here is a sample of what we’ve learned:

    *Children who never slept in their parents’ beds were harder to control, less happy, had more tantrums, handled stress less well, and were more fearful than routinely co-sleeping children.

    *Co-sleepers showed a feeling of general satisfaction with life.

    *Children who didn’t co-sleep end up getting more professional help with emotional and behavioral problems than co-sleepers.

    *Boys who slept in the family bed had increased self-esteem and less guilt and anxiety. Girls had more comfort with physical contact and affection.

    *Children who had co-slept felt they weren’t as prone to peer pressure as others their age.10

    Psychologists have long agreed “that children who have responsive, sensitive, accessible parents are much more likely to be happier later in life. It should come as no surprise, then, that children whose parents are there for them day and night turn out so well.”11

  7. Everyone Sleeps Better

    As long as cosleeping works for you12 and your child, why change it? If you can get past learning to nurse while sleeping and wild toddler sleeping arrangements,13 continuing to share sleep with your little one may help your whole family sleep better into your child’s preschool years and beyond.

    And when I say that everyone sleeps better, I really mean it. Scientific studies have shown that a family who sleeps together actually enters the different stages of sleep together almost simultaneously. Dr. Jay Gordon shared a beautiful illustration about the science behind this concept in his book, Good Nights: The Happy Parent’s Guide to the Family Bed (and a Peaceful Night’s Sleep!)14:

    Science is finally beginning to discover what babies have known all along: Babies are designed to sleep with their parents. And parents are designed to sleep with their babies.
    At the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame, anthropologist James McKenna, Ph.D., watches an intimate dance unfold. It’s a dance in which there’s no leader, no follower, and yet almost seamless choreography.
    A mother and father sleep with their baby between them in a large bed in the laboratory’s comfortable bedroom. It’s similar to the way they sleep at home, only with infrared video cameras monitoring their sleep stages, zooming in on every roll of an eyeball, every twitch of muscle, all night long.
    All is quiet and still, except for the rapidly moving, closed eyes of the baby, mother, and father. They’re all dreaming at the same time. Moments later they enter a stage of light sleep together: The mother stirs, awakens for just a moment, and drifts back to sleep, moving her head a little to the left, her arm to the right. The baby stirs, moves her head to the left, her arm to the right. Then the father follows with the same pattern. McKenna, director of the lab, smiles broadly and nods his head.
    “It’s incredible watching these sequences unfold,” says McKenna, acclaimed as the father of this type of sleep research and the world’s foremost authority on the biological basis of cosleeping. “The synchronization that happens when parents sleep beside their baby is remarkable.”
    Similar experiments in England find the same dance with family bedders. But place the baby in another room, and it’s like putting a wall between a pair of ballroom dancers. Everyone reverts to their own rhythms, their sleep cycles coinciding only by chance.15

Melissa of Simple Whimsy

Need More Reasons to Cosleep?

If you’re on the fence about continuing to share sleep with your little one past infancy, I’d highly suggest reading Dr. Gordon’s Good Nights. It is packed with both research and with testimonials from children who have “graduated” from the family bed. He also offers tips on dealing with criticism from friends and family who do not agree with the practice.

For more resources on cosleeping and nighttime parenting, check out Natural Parents Network’s “Ensure Safe Sleep” resource page. It has links to articles as well as additional book recommendations.

Did you share sleep with your child?

How long did your child stay in the family bed?

  1. For a review of some of these studies, check out Cosleeping at The Natural Child Project, Co-Sleeping Safety at PhD in Parenting (with more links at the end of the article), and Safe Sleeping with Your Baby at Dr. Sears. For more information on the research results discussed in this post, please see the studies cited in the original sources.
  2. Gordon, Good Nights: The Happy Parent’s Guide to the Family Bed (and a Peaceful Night’s Sleep!) at 24
  3. Good Nights at 25-26
  4. Sears, Nighttime Parenting: How to Get Your Baby and Child to Sleep at 35
  5. Good Nights at 24. A note to parents who do not share sleep with their little ones: please do not interpret this post to mean that if you do not cosleep, you are not teaching trust or responding to needs. I recognize the fact that cosleeping simply does not work for many babies.
  6. Good Nights at 19-20 (emphasis added).
  7. Nighttime Parenting at 52
  8. Good Nights at 20-21
  9. Good Nights at 21-22
  10. Good Nights at 23
  11. Good Nights at 23
  12. When I say “you,” I mean you in both the singular and the plural, depending on your parenting situation.
  13. What parent hasn’t woken up to a foot in the back/face/stomach from a sleeping toddler?!
  14. Good Nights at 3-4 (citations omitted, emphasis added).
  15. Good Nights at 3-4

About The Author: Dionna

Code Name: Mama CodeNameMama My NPN Posts

Dionna is co-founder of Natural Parents Network. She blogs about natural parenting and life with a toddler-almost-preschooler at Code Name: Mama. She also co-founded NursingFreedom.org, a site dedicated to normalizing breastfeeding anytime, anywhere.

328 Responses to Five Benefits to Cosleeping Past Infancy

  1. KarenT

    I loved this post thank you… We love bedsharing with our wee girl who is 7 months old. We have done since she was born and weighed a mere 2.5kg (5.66lb). I was never afraid I would roll on her… in my arms felt like the safest place for her to be. Ruby has never been left to cry and is breastfed still up to 5 times throught the night. She does suck her thumb though AND have a little sleepytime toy she loves…!

  2. Lara Crawford

    I loved this article. We have been cosleeping with our almost 3 year old, since the day he was born. We actually did try getting him into his crib because thats what “everyone” does. But it didn’t sit right with us and so we decided to sleep together, because thats the only way we could all get a good nights rest. We feel so good about it and acutally LOVE it! We have kept it our secret, since most people don’t agree. I am proud that we sleep with him. Everything mentioned in this article is true with our toddler. He hasn’t ever had an “attatchment” to anything and he does seem very independant. Thank you for the article.

  3. Martha

    Thanks for this. Our son, who is 4 1/2, still sleeps with us. He took a bit of a break last year for several months when he got his own “big” bed. He was very excited about it and wanted to go to bed in it every night. The only inconvenience was that when he woke up in the night he wanted either me or my husband to come and sleep with him there. This lasted for about 6 months I’d say, and then we just resumed cosleeping in our bed. He’s getting pretty big now and there are times when I’d like him to sleep in his own bed, but for the most part I do sleep well – and so does he. My husband fares a bit worse, as he’s a light sleeper – I should mention here that we have a few cats that like to sleep with us too so it gets a bit crowded! What I really wanted to share is that sometimes my older son, who’s 12, will come and curl up beside his brother for story time and on the weekends he’ll sometimes stay for falling asleep time too (we stay with the little guy until he’s asleep – or almost asleep.) and fall asleep. I love that he likes to be there to have that time with his brother – even at this age. Of course, I have to eventually wake him up and send him to his own bed because there’s no way we’d all fit! I wish I’d been more confident about it with my older kids, who are 15 & 12. We had about a year in there of a true family bed, when my first marriage ended, when they were 6 & 3 – where we all started out in my bed. Before and after this I would start them in their own bed and know that when they woke up they’d crawl in with me – which I really didn’t mind. There just always seemed to be this pressure to “get them in their own bed.” I am so happy to read this article and to share it with others. Thanks.

  4. Megan

    I was uncertain about cosleeping until I read James McKenna’s book. I had the tools, the research, and the information to back up what just felt natural to me, even if considered unusual or unsafe. Even our first night in the hospital, when they wouldn’t let baby sleep in the bed with mom, I felt horrible being away from her – even with her bassinet pushed up against the bed. As soon as we got home we all climbed in bed together and haven’t left. Feeling the way baby and I curl around each other at night reinforces to me that this is how we were meant to sleep, even if considered odd or unsafe in our culture.

    • Dionna  

      It’s so sad that some hospitals still don’t allow newborns to cosleep with their mamas. What better place could there be?! There’s actually research to show that it helps them regulate their own bodily functions!

  5. Jane

    I’m neither a big proponent nor a big opponent of the family bed. If it makes sense and works for your family – then do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t. I will say, though, that I did not sleep with my son who has never sucked his thumb or been attached to a security object. On the other hand, my niece, who at 7 is still sleeping with her parents, has that thumb in her mouth ALL THE TIME making it difficult in some situations to cling to that stuff animal that is ALWAYS WITH HER. So I’m not really buying this argument…..

  6. Jan Roberts  

    Breastfed and slept with my two sons until they were 4.5 and 5.5 years old respectively. Never doubted the benefits, always ignored the nay-sayers! My boys are young men now, I’ve seen the benefits in every aspect of all of our lives and see it now in their own relationships.

  7. Emily

    Loved this article!! We have two girls, the oldest is 3 and the baby is 4 months. The baby sleeps with us some nights and other nights in her cosleeper next to our bed. She is already sleeping through the night with an occasional night where she wakes to nurse. My question is really about my oldest. She is in her own bed and has been since she was a baby. She is so clingy during the day and has hardly any independence. I am wondering if bringing her to bed with us would give her some extra love at night and help her seperate a little more during the day? Is it too late to start co sleeping with her?

  8. Emily @ Crunchyish Mama  

    Love this. We do a kind of modified co-sleeping thing at our house and it’s something I really struggle with a lot of guilt and anxiety about (because I worry about trying to stop later down the road.) But the vast majority of the time I really enjoy sleeping with my baby, so I just need to get over it and embrace the bed sharing!

  9. MajKitab

    Let’s see… this artticle was great! It is kind of one of those that tells you exactly what you want to hear, if you’re the kind of family being written about. LOL! Well we are :)

    DS1 will be 5 this year and DS2 will be 2. We have a King and Queen pushed together and all have plenty of room. At some point we may move the mattressess apart but will continue to room share at least until our oldest decided that is what he wants. There is a room already set up with another bed for wheneevr that may happen. A new baby which will hopefully be soon doesnt change the arrangements at all, for me personally.

  10. MajKitab

    In fact we not only have plenty of room but all sleep well and seem to enjoy the arrangement. Dad and all :)

  11. Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries  

    Thanks Dionna. I had pondered the fact that my child doesn’t have a “lovey” and it is interesting to see it is no mistake. I’m her LOVEY! :)

  12. good2bemt

    Hello there ladies. I have 4 kids. 14,12, 7 and almost 3.
    My two oldest used to crawl into bed with us in the middle of the night when there was a storm or they had a bad dream. Sometimes they still like to sleep in our bedroom on the couch or on the floor by the bed or at the foot of the bed. They like me to read them a story until they fall asleep and sometimes when dad is working all the kids pile on the bed until we all fall out.
    My 8 year old was in the bed with us from birth until just about 4 when we transitioned him to a toddler bed. He had a crib, which we tried – he was just too miserable being alone and would climb out of it. He still likes to snuggle sometimes, especially if a story is involved. Right now he is going through that whole afraid of the dark phase, and will sometimes come in and lay on our couch or at the foot of the bed…or even ask to sleep with us…which was okay until he became too heavy to carry back to his own bed…so that doesn’t happen very often anymore.

    Our 2 and a half year old is still in the bed with us. We have been transitioning him to his toddler bed after he falls asleep. Though usually about 4am he will come and crawl back into bed with us. He also seems to sleep in later in the morning if with us. However, if I am up…he will get up to come find me. If dad is up, he will stay asleep with me….at least for a little while.

    Both boys are incredibly independent and full of vigor. My husband and I joke that the kids are great birth control. We share the desire to have our own space back….but at the same time waking up with the kidlets next to us is also a precious experience as well.

    They will all be grown up much too quickly and not want to have mom and dad around. we are soaking up this special time.

  13. Emily WK

    Cosleeping is like any other parenting decision, I think. If it works for your family, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t. And it’s not personal if someone else makes a different choice – they have a different family!

    I have said that we’ll stop letting my 4mo son sleep in the bed with us when one of us is unhappy – if the baby shows signs he’d prefer to be alone, or if my husband or I realize we’d be more comfortable without him there.

    I guess the part I find hardest about some of these comments is the idea that just because it doesn’t work for your family means it’s a ludicrous idea. My son sleeps so much better when he’s next to me than when he’s in his crib (that is next to the bed) – he wakes up a little and I can soothe him back to sleep before he wakes up fully. And neither my husband nor I is awakened to the sound of him screaming.

    Anyway, I guess my point is – do what works for you. And recognize that every family is doing the same.

  14. K La

    Thanks for the reminder. I love Co-sleeping with my toddler. Thanks for reminding me it’s the best thing for her too!

  15. Heather Paladini

    I enjoyed reading this article as it redefined my intentions and principles for cosleeping with my children when others (non-AP parents) question my parenting techniques and inform me that my son is too old to be sleeping with me or that it will instill bad habits in my 11 month old. However, I do want to point out that while I exclusively BFd my son until 14 months, and coslept almost nightly (he still sleeps with me about 50% of the time at 6 years old), he began thumb sucking at 4 months old and to this day still sucks his thumb, though he refrains from doing so at school. As soon as he gets home however, he grabs his “lovie” and puts that thumb straight in his mouth for a good 15 minutes before resuming his playtime. I have never had a problem with his thumb sucking and feel that he will wean himself from it whenever he is ready. Perhaps he is in the minority, but I have always thought his thumb sucking to be endearing and it has never really interfered with anything else. My daughter, though exclusively BFd, has a pacifier, and I don’t deny her that pleasure either. I suppose some people just have different perspectives on these things. She is not exclusive to any one pacifier in particular, she will grab any one that she comes into contact with, but I have found that she does get satisfaction from using one and so that I don’t deny her. Of course if she is hungry I will BF her first, but often times she will want a pacifier when she has had her fill at the breast. To each her own, I suppose :)

  16. Kathy

    Thanks for this article. I co-sleep with my 21 month old, and my 4 year old sleeps in his own room on the bottom bunk, my husband on the top bunk. This arrangement has not affected our marriage in the least bit. We are creative with intimacy, and we are very intimate and a very happy family. My husband and I have a very deep bond, and this is not hurting our marriage in the least. We also know that they will only be little like this for a short time. My 21 month old loves his big brother and I feel we will have no issue moving him to the bottom bunk once he is a little bigger.
    For those who wonder how it works…I put him to bed at 7pm with a normal bedtime routine (read books, nurse). Then I leave the room and go to bed when I am ready. We have rails on the side of the bed and pillows around him. He sleeps way better than my 4 year old ever did. He would wake constantly and we were so sleep deprived with him. I have NEVER been sleep deprived with my second. Our entire family sleeps great. In my honest opinion there must be other issues going on in a marriage for co-sleeping to have that sort of profound affect on a marriage.

  17. Liz

    Sorry, I just like the alone time too much with my husband, that is OUR private place. The kids dont even come in the room unless they knock first. It is also dangerous for babies and small children.. Why cant the kids learn to respect the marriage? I did when I was little, Had no problems sleeping at all, but the occasional nightmare, and my father was more than happy to sweep sharks out from under my bed at 2am, and my mom was always there when I tried to sleepwalk out of the house. I think privacy too. It is also irresponsible to push this. Do any of you watch the news? I used to work in an ER and occasionally someone would roll and suffocate a baby or small child. There needs to be a disclaimer, there are down sides to things too.

    • Dionna  

      Liz – thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts. Just like cosleeping can be done safely, it can be done unsafely. Annie at PhD in Parenting has a great post on cosleeping safety that I would recommend to anyone who is planning on cosleeping. But saying that cosleeping is *more* dangerous than solo sleeping, or saying that it is irresponsible to advocate for cosleeping, is not taking into account all of the studies that have been done that show how safe cosleeping can actually be healthier for babies. There are other posts on that subject, so I won’t get into them here.
      At any rate, each parent can decide for him/herself whether the bed is a private or familial space. I’m very comfortable with our decision to have a family bed, and I don’t begrudge you your desire to have privacy. To each their own.

  18. Heather

    I have three children. My oldest, now five, co slept with me completely until he was one, then co slept with me often until he was three. He now has his bed in our room, close to ours (this is because he has seizures). He still climbs in bed with us at times, but seems happy and content, and even excited to be in his own bed. My other two, ages two and one, still co sleep and are both very happy, independent children. My children are all very affectionate and love to snuggle at night. It gives them that extra attention they might miss during our always busy days. Everyone doesnt agree with this method, but it works well for my family!

  19. Laura

    Thank you for sharing this article. I love co sleeping, have since my son was one day old. He is almost 4 and I still enjoying it. My son has never had a comforter. Never thought it was the co sleeping that made him happy without one. But so glad it is :)

  20. Michelle

    My husband and I have been co-sleeping with our daughter, now 3, since 17months. We’ve all slept so well since not getting up to put her back down at night, or let her “cry it out”. She wakes up with the sweetest smile on her face and I can’t imagine us missing those moments. I have been feeling the pressure to get her into her own bed, but won’t stress as much thanks to this post. Thanks so much! And you’re right, a little creativity in a marriage isn’t a bad thing at all!

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