A new study termed INSIGHT, shows infants beyond the age of four months, sleeping in a separate room rather than sleeping in the same room as their parents, may be getting better sleep.
Lead researcher Dr. Ian Paul, Professor of paediatrics and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, suggests that the longer a baby sleeps with his or her parents, worse the sleep outcomes can get. The risk of not getting sleep is one and an all important risk is that the baby might end up in the mother’s bed and this may raise the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) significantly.
It was in 2016 that the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with an update on its recommendations that “room-sharing” of parents and their babies. Their suggestions were that at least at 6 months and ideally up to 12 months of age the baby may spend in the same room as the parents, but not in the same bed. This could lower the risk of SIDS said the AAP. Earlier guidelines suggested independent sleeping of the babies by 6 months. According to Dr. Paul, this recommendation of 6 months was not based on research but was an “expert opinion”. This led the team to explore the scientific basis of this claim and undertake this new study.
For the INSIGHT study, the researchers provided questionnaires (the Brief Infant Sleep Questionnaire) to 256 new first time mothers with babies aged 4, 9, 12 and 30 months. Results were striking. It was seen that if a 9 month old baby slept on his/her own, they were more likely to get at least 40 minutes of sleep more than if they were sleeping in their parents’ bedroom. These babies who slept on their own also got 45 minutes of sleep more at 30 months of age compared to those sharing the bedroom with their mothers. The chances that the babies at 4 and 9 months of age would move into their parental bed through the night, was also four times higher than those sleeping in a separate room. This could significantly raise the risk of SIDS said the lead researchers.
Dr. Fern Hauck, a professor of family medicine and public health sciences at the University of Virginia, who helped draft the latest AAP guidelines suggested that one of the most important points raised by this study is the likelihood of bed sharing that result from room sharing. This, she said, is a direct risk factor for SIDS. She wrote in a commentary with the study that the difference between room sharing babies and solitary babies was say 7 hours and 7 hours 49 minutes at 4 months. This, she said, was adequate as seven hours is more or less the normal sleep time for these babies. She went on to say that room sharing was not completely without benefits, it reduces the stress of the parents, helps to encourage breast feeding and reduces risk of SIDS.
Researchers admitted that this was a small scale study and was not representative of the whole population and also ended up with most participants being white and more than half having a family income of $75,000 or more. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics and appeared on 5th June 2017.