Will You Please Get a Room? Please?

Dear Mr. Dad: We have two boys, ages four and nine. The nine-year-old has no problem sleeping in his own bed, but the four-year-old constantly wants to sleep with my husband and me. I don’t mind an occasional “sleep over”–especially when my husband is away on business and the bed seems so empty. But lately, my son wants to be in our bed every night. That seems a little old to me. Is co-sleeping with a four-year-old okay?

A: I wish I could give you a definitive Yes or No, but the real answer is the completely unsatisfying “It depends.” There’s a lot of controversy out there about co-sleepng (or “the family bed” or “bed sharing” or whatever else you want to call it). Some authorities, such as the Children’s Health Network and the American Academy of Pediatrics say the practice is dangerous and they point to studies that show that the incidence of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) is higher when babies share a bed with parents. Others say that sharing a bed is fine, and they point to the fact that something like 80 percent of the world’s families practice co-sleeping. Unfortunatley, neither of those answers applies to your situation: At four, your son is far too old for you to worry about SIDS. And, like it or not, about 80 percen of the world’s families live in much, much smaller spaces than we do in the U.S., and the option for famiy members to sleep in separate rooms isn’t even on their radar.
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Bed-Sharing Remains Greatest Risk Factor For Sleep-Related Infant Deaths

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related causes of infant mortality have several known risk factors, but little is known if these factors change for different age groups. In a new study in the August 2014 Pediatrics, “Sleep Environment Risks for Younger and Older Infants,” published online July 14, researchers studied sleep-related infant deaths from 24 states from 2004-2012 in the case reporting system of the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths. Cases were divided by younger (0-3 months) and older (4 months to one year) infants. In a total of 8,207 deaths analyzed, majority of the infants (69 percent) were bed-sharing at the time of death. Fifty-eight percent were male, and most deaths occurred in non-Hispanic whites. Younger infants were more likely bed-sharing (73.8 percent vs. 58.9 percent), sleeping on an adult bed or on/near a person, while older infants were more likely found prone with objects, such as blankets or stuffed animals in the sleep area. Researchers conclude that sleep-related infant deaths risk factors are different for younger and older infants. Parents should follow the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations for a safe sleep environment and understand that different factors reflect risk at different developmental stages.