Growth Curve | Science News

Be a Champion for Science

Get your subscription to

Science News when you join.

Growth Curve

The inexact science of raising kids

Laura Sanders

Growth Curve

Growth Curve

When should babies sleep in their own rooms?

Babies age 6 months and older sleep longer when in their own bedroom, study suggests

baby crying in crib

BAD ROOMMATE  By suggesting that babies age 6 months and older may sleep longer when in their own bedrooms, a new study provides ammunition to parents who want their room back to themselves after the first six months.

Sponsor Message

When we brought our first baby home from the hospital, our pediatrician advised us to have her sleep in our room. We put our tiny new roommate in a crib near our bed (though other containers that were flat, firm and free of blankets, pillows or stuffed animals would have worked, too).

The advice aims to reduce the risk of sleep-related deaths, including sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. Studies suggest that in their first year of life, babies who bunk with their parents (but not in the same bed) are less likely to die from SIDS than babies who sleep in their own room. The reasons aren’t clear, but scientists suspect it has to do with lighter sleep: Babies who sleep near parents might more readily wake themselves up and avoid the deep sleep that’s a risk factor for SIDS.

That’s an important reason to keep babies close. Room sharing also makes sense from a logistical standpoint. Middle of the night feedings and diaper changes are easier when there’s less distance between you and the babe.

But babies get older. They start snoring a little louder and eating less frequently, and it’s quite natural to wonder how long this room sharing should last. That’s a question without a great answer. In November 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics task force on SIDS updated its sleep guidelines. The earlier recommendation was that babies ought to sleep in parents’ bedrooms for an entire year. The new suggestion softens that a bit to say infants should be there for “ideally for the first year of life, but at least for the first 6 months.”

Rachel Moon, a SIDS expert at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville who helped write the revised AAP guidelines, says that the update “gives parents a little more latitude after the first 6 months.” The vast majority of SIDS deaths happen in the first six months of life, but the studies that have found benefits for room sharing lumped together data from the entire first year. That makes it hard to say how protective room sharing is for babies between 6 and 12 months of age.

But a new study raises a reason why babies ought to get evicted before their first birthday: They may get more sleep at night in their own rooms. Babies who were sleeping in their own rooms at ages 4 or 9 months got more nighttime sleep than babies the same ages who roomed with parents, researchers reported online June 5 in Pediatrics.

The team asked hundreds of mothers to take sleep surveys when their children were 4, 9, 12 and 30 months old. Some of the 230 children slept in their own rooms when they were younger than 4 months, others moved to their own rooms between 4 and 9 months, and the rest were still sharing their parents’ rooms at 9 months.

At 9 months, babies who had been sleeping alone since 4 months of age slept an average of 40 minutes more than room sharers. The researchers found no differences in sleep duration between the groups of babies at age 12 months. By 30 months of age, though, children who had been sleeping in their own rooms by either 4 or 9 months of age slept on average 45 minutes longer at night than children who had been sharing their parents’ rooms at 9 months. (Important caveat: At 30 months, total daily sleep time didn’t differ between the groups. The former room sharers were making up for missed nighttime sleep with naps.)

Parents who want their babies age 6 months and older to sleep in their own room ought to be encouraged to make the move, says study coauthor Ian Paul, a pediatrician at Penn State. “The guidelines should reflect data, not opinion,” Paul says.

He suspects that sharing a bedroom with babies interferes with everyone’s sleep because normal nocturnal rustlings turn into full-blown wake-ups. Babies and adults alike experience brief arousals during sleep. But when parents are right next to babies, they’re more likely to respond to their children’s brief arousals, which then wakes the baby up more. “This then sets up the expectation from the baby that these arousals will be met with a parent reaction, causing a bad cycle to develop,” he says.

There was another difference that turned up between the two groups of babies. Babies who roomed with parents were four times more likely to be moved into their parents’ beds at some point during the night than babies who slept in their own rooms. Bed sharing is a big risk factor for sleep-related infant deaths.

But Moon cautions that the Pediatrics study is preliminary, and doesn’t warrant a change in the AAP guidelines. She and coauthors point out in an accompanying commentary that other factors might be behind the difference in sleep between the two groups of babies. For instance, babies who slept in their own room were more likely to have consistent bedtime routines, be put to bed drowsy but awake, and have bedtimes of 8 p.m. or earlier. Those are all signs of good “sleep hygiene” for babies, and might be contributing to the longer sleep times. “We know that consistent bedtime routine and consistent bedtime are very important in terms of sleep quality in children,” Moon says. “They could very well make a difference.”

So that’s where we are. Some things are clear, like putting your baby to sleep on her back on a flat, firm surface clear of objects and having your baby nearby during the first six months. But other decisions come with skimpier science, and whether to evict your 6-month-old is one of them. Because science can take you only so far, it may just come down to the snoring, stirring and sleep deprivation.

Child Development,, Health

Touches early in life may make a big impact on newborn babies’ brains

By Laura Sanders 12:30pm, March 22, 2017
The type and amount of touches a newborn baby gets in the first days of life may shape later responses to touch perception, a study suggests.

See how bacterial blood infections in young kids plummeted after vaccines

By Laura Sanders 3:39pm, March 15, 2017
Rates of pneumococcal bacteremia in children plummeted by 95 percent after the introduction of vaccines against Streptococcus bacteria.
Child Development,, Health

Anesthesia for youngsters is a tricky calculation

By Laura Sanders 9:00am, March 6, 2017
Scientists, doctors and parents face uncertainty when it comes to anesthesia for babies.
Child Development,, Health

A preschooler’s bubbly personality may rub off on friends

By Laura Sanders 8:00am, February 23, 2017
Scientists caught personality shifts in preschoolers over a year by observing play.
Child Development,, Health

Birth may not be a major microbe delivery event for babies

By Laura Sanders 12:13pm, February 15, 2017
A study of mother-baby duos suggests that birth itself may not be the main event for getting microbes in and on babies.
Child Development,, Health

Little jet-setters get jet lag too

By Laura Sanders 1:00pm, February 6, 2017
Help young children fight jet lag with a few simple steps.
Child Development,, Parenting

A ban on screens in bedrooms may save kids’ sleep

By Laura Sanders 4:35pm, January 23, 2017
Screens are associated with worse sleep in kids, and not just because of their lights and noises.

Though complex, new peanut allergy guidelines are based on science

By Meghan Rosen 1:29pm, January 13, 2017
Unlike some past recommendations, new guidelines state that introducing babies to peanut-containing foods early is generally OK, with certain caveats.
Pregnancy,, Parenting,, Neuroscience

Motherhood might actually improve memory

By Laura Sanders 11:21am, December 21, 2016
Having a baby changes all sorts of things, including a mother’s brain.
Child Development,, Pregnancy

Database provides a rare peek at a human embryo’s first weeks

By Meghan Rosen 9:00am, December 6, 2016
A new 3-D atlas charts the growth of each and every organ in the developing human embryo, from the heart to the gut to the brain.
Subscribe to RSS - Growth Curve