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Co-Sleep vs. Cot Sleep- which is better?

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By age 5, studies show that that there is no significant impact on attachment or emotional or social development based on how the child slept. There are many factors baby sleep helpbeyond sleep that determine a child’s attachment, development and adjustment. However, if your child continues to wake at night after 9 months of age, regardless of where they sleep, this is a problem for the child and probably the family. Poor quality sleep has been linked to postnatal depression in women and disruptive behavior in children resulting in reduced academic performance.

Therefore, short-term and long-term considerations should be taken when deciding where to have your child sleep to ensure optimal sleep for the family.  In the short-term, co-sleeping with a newborn baby or young child may be easier because they wake frequently and it makes night feedings easier. Co-sleeping also means you don’t have to give up a room for the child to sleep in.

Longer-term considerations are that transitioning the child out of your bed or to their own room before age 5 won’t be an easy transition. Even after age 5 the transition can be very difficult and many parents get “stuck” with their child in their bed. Parent’s own privacy and intimacy and possible sleep will be compromised with a child in the bed. Co-sleeping doesn’t guarantee a good sleeper and research shows co-sleeper wake more often than cot sleepers.

Having a child sleep in their own bed will make night feedings more disruptive for the parents in the short-term. But a child should stop night feeding between 6 months and definitely by 9 months of age, so the disruption is minimal.  However cot-sleeping doesn’t guarantee a good sleeper, the parent needs to teach the child how to fall asleep independently.

Waking up to feed after 9 months is a sleep problem regardless of where your child sleeps. This problem affects both cot and co-sleepers. Again poor quality sleep impacts your child’s mood, immune system and ability to learn.

Purely from an attachment and child development standpoint both are good so long it is what BOTH parents WANT. Co-sleep as a last resort to get sleep indicates a sleep problem that won’t be solved by co-sleeping.

Whatever parents decide, they need to be making an informed decision based on solid information rather than misinformation based on cultural beliefs and pop-psychology. It’s important to separate emotional myth from reality when deciding on where and how your child will sleep.


Making sense of “research”

When parents are reading information about sleep or attachment or other information you need to check the source and understand how clinical research data may be translated by the writer, who is often not clinically trained. Research recommendations must be disseminated to the public at large in which there are huge ranges of education, socioeconomic status and child developmental understanding. In other words, public health advisements are written to the least educated and poorest people in society. Research looks at global data not individual one off cases and that is how these recommendations are written, based on global data.

Therefore recommendations against co-sleeping came out because certain populations experience extremely high child-death rates among co-sleeper. For example in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA the death rate among newborn babies co-sleeping was so high that hospitals in the area started giving away cots to low-income parents for free. Co-sleeping wasn’t dangerous in and of itself, but ignorance and other factors related to poverty can make co-sleeping dangerous.


Historical and Cultural Roots of Co-Sleeping vs. Crib Sleeping

There are historical, socioeconomic and cultural ties to how and where children sleep. It is only now in modern industrialized society that parents are able to choose how and where to have their children sleep. Still in many parts of the world, parents don’t’ have choice because poverty and lack of resources.

Historically, co-sleeping resulted from the lack of room and resources to provide separate accommodation for the child within the family home. Even today poverty or high costs of living force parents to keep the child in their room or their bed due to space constraints. Even when parents have choices, sometimes parenting practices get passed along not because they are better but because it is familiar i.e. my mother did this and so I will now too. So co-sleeping evolved as a practical solution to a space problem.


Facts about Sleeping

Regardless of where you decide to have your child sleep there are some important facts about sleep you should take into account before making your decision.


  • The ability to learn how to fall asleep independently is a learned behavior regardless of where your child sleeps. Children are not born knowing how to fall asleep, it is something that we all must learn how to do. And because we learn it, we can unlearn it any time the parent changes his/her behavior in how they put the child to sleep.
  • Co-sleep can be a safe choice, but parents must take safety steps:
    • Never sleep with you child if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol
    • You must make sure the child cannot become pinned between the wall and mattress or have their face blocked as the child can suffocate to death
    • Take extra precautions if your child is premature and you are smoker, these 2 factors increase the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
  • Co-sleeping, parent and child sharing a bed, is a 5 year commitment. If you decide before year 5 to transition the child out of your bed it will not be an easy process and often difficult if you don’t know how to do it correctly.
  • Children who co-sleep have been shown to have more frequent wakings because they need parental assistance to fall back to sleep in-between sleep cycles. For children under 9 months of age this isn’t problematic but for older children this disrupted sleep can produce behavior problems resulting from fatigue due to poor quality sleep.
  • Sleeping in a cot or with parents doesn’t guarantee a good sleeper. It’s how the parents puts the child to bed and interacts with the child at night.
  • Regardless of where a child sleeps, a child should only be sleep trained to sleep independently at 16 weeks of age. Before that the brain is not mature enough to sleep. Even then night waking is common for crib sleepers. From birth to 16 weeks the child will wake frequently for feeding. From 4 to 6 months up to 2 wakings is common. From 6 months to 9 months 0 to 1 wakings and after 9 months no more wakings for feeds. If a child is waking to feed after 9 months this is a sleep problem. The same waking pattern holds true for co-sleepers.
  • Night waking isn’t something you can “love away” or child will out grow. The night waking only goes away when parents properly change their behavior to teach the child how to fall asleep when the child FIRST goes to bed at night.


Contact All in the Family Counselling at 9030 7239 or www.allinthefamilycounselling.comto get help on your child’s sleep needs.

Check out BabysleepFairy section on sleep training help



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