Not everyone can manage to get a good night's sleep, or any sleep for that matter, with a child's knee in their ribs. But for many parents, sharing their bed with their kid for all or part of the night works for the whole family. However, if you have a child who really likes to visit you at 3 a.m. and you've just been kicked in the tush one too many times by your 4-year-old, you're probably wondering what age should you stop letting your kid climb into bed with you?
Bed-sharing, a type of co-sleeping can help keep babies from startling in the night and even plays a role in regulating their temperature, James McKenna, author of Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent's Guide to Cosleeping, wrote in Neuroanthropology.
While sleep experts might not dictate that children should stop climbing into bed with their parents by a specific age, they agree that a better solution needs to be found if the arrangement is nor working for the parents. "If you're not getting enough sleep at night, like a good long stretch at night, then you need to consider making a change," certified infant and child sleep consultant Christine Stevens tells Romper.
Stevens pointed out that bed-sharing or co-sleeping needs to be a decision that the whole family — that means both parents — make together, "because if one parent doesn't like it, then it creates resentment." So if dad is sick of the midnight visitor or mom can't take being sandwiched in between her partner and her 7-year-old, it's time to make some plans to keep your little one in their own bed.
However, licensed clinical psychologist Kate Roberts reported in Psychology Today that a having older children climb into their parents' bed can lead to sleep anxiety and behavioral insomnia, "a medical diagnosis used to describe 20-30 percent of kids who have trouble falling or staying asleep, and who end up in their parents’ bed at one point during the night," according to the Canadian Pediatric Society. They warned that chronic co-sleeping can lead to problems for both kids and adults who share the bed, including memory loss, fatigue, obesity and depression, in large part due to lack of sleep.
Stevens explained that parents can expect some level of protest when they attempt to change the status quo within their household. "Any time you change something, there's going to be some protest," says Stevens, but that shouldn't necessarily deter you from changing your family's sleep arrangements if they aren't working for your family.
But if you have a kindergartener who climbs into your bed when you're fast asleep each night, it can be easier said than done to get her back into her own bed, let alone stay there all night. In an interview with WebMd, sleep expert Dana Obleman of The Sleep Sense Program, cautioned that moving a toddler out of your bed will be much smoother than an older child. If you have a toddler who creeps out of her big girl bed each night, now's the time to start explaining that big kids sleep in their own big kid beds for the whole night. Starting earlier can make a big difference in teaching your child to stay in their bed at night.
Some children have a hard time falling asleep by themselves, which can lead to them seeking out your comfort when they wake in the middle of the night. Obleman suggested not getting too comfortable if you're trying to help your older child fall asleep on their own, "Instead of lying in your bed together, sit on your child's bed until she falls asleep." Removing yourself as a comfort item can help your child learn to soothe themselves at 3 a.m. instead of seeking out their life-size lovey.
No matter what you choose, its all a matter of what works for you and your family.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.