A new study found that babies sleep more when they sleep in their own rooms. The study was published June 5 in the journal Pediatrics and included recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The researchers surveyed 230 first-time mothers and found that babies slept for longer stretches if they didn’t sleep in the same bedroom as their parents. The study was led by Dr. Ian Paul, a pediatrician at Penn State, who said that at four months, babies who slept in their own room had the longest stretches of uninterrupted sleep, by about 45 minutes on average.
Babies who slept alone had more uninterrupted sleep time than babies who slept with their parents
According to the researchers, at nine moths, babies in their own rooms slept about 40 minutes longer at night and over 20 minutes overall, compared with babies sharing a room with their parents. The study claims those differences disappeared at 12 months but reappeared later. The researchers followed up at 2 ½ years toddlers who slept alone by nine months and found that they slept 45 minutes longer per night, although total sleep time was roughly the same.
The study counters the latest guidance from the pediatrics group, which suggested that parents should share a room with their babies for at least six months and preferably until they reach their first birthday. The guidelines were issued as an attempt to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which can occur while an infant is sleeping.
Dr. Paul said that while there’s evidence recommending parents to share their rooms with their newborns for 3 to 6 months, their study simply does not support continuing the practice beyond that age.
Other studies have said that babies who sleep poorly can have an impact on parents’ stress and mental health. Poor infant sleep has also been linked to behavioral issues or childhood obesity. Dr. Paul said that moving infants out of their parents’ bedrooms sooner could help babies sleep better before they develop separation anxiety.
Dr. Paul noted that room-sharing also seems excessive for many parents –including him- who may be unsure of when to move their babies into their own rooms. In fact, he said he was “baffled” when the Academy issued its recommendation last year.
“Most parents don’t want their baby sleeping in their own room until 1 year,” said Paul, who is also chief of academic general pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine, according to CNN. “I’ve got three of them myself.”
Over 3,700 babies die from unexpected and sudden causes each year in the U.S.
The study also found that infants who slept in their own rooms were also more likely to have a consistent bedtime routine, and they were also likely to go to bed by 8 p.m. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies 4 to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours every day, including naps, while newborns may sleep longer.
Babies who shared a room were more likely to be brought into the parents’ bed during the night. The researchers found that they were also more likely to sleep with objects like pillows, blankets or stuffed animals. Both customs have been linked to sudden infant death, including by suffocation.
“This is important information,” said Dr. Rachel Moon, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia who co-authored the latest recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics, according to CNN. “We don’t have enough info about downstream effects about what we’ve recommended.”
Over 3,700 babies died from unexpected, sudden causes in 2015, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accounting for around 92 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Dr. Moon warned in response to Paul’s study that just because sleep is uninterrupted it does not mean it’s better. She said that they believe a lot of the problems with SIDS is that babies don’t arouse and that experts have suggested that if babies sleep for too long or too deeply, this may put them at risk.
An American Academy of Pediatrics doctor said new study only surveyed white and wealthy women
On a report co-authored by Moon, researchers stated that room-sharing lowered the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent. Breastfeeding has also been linked to a lowering of SIDS risks. Moon noted that the Penn State study was also not terribly diverse regarding socioeconomic or racial diversity, which raised questions for her regarding the findings speaking for the general population. She said the mothers in the study were overwhelmingly white and wealthier than the average woman in the United States.
The recommendations previously released by the American Academy of Pediatrics –which Dr. Paul believes runs counter to the advice of many pediatricians and sleep specialists- may leave some parents unsure of when to find another room for their babies to sleep in.
Moon believes that instead of changing the new guidelines, doctors can use the new study to give better guidance to room-sharing parents who might be more likely to bring their infant into bed overnight, putting them at risk of SIDS.