When you've got a baby, sleep is elusive — and every minute counts. Although it's no surprise that sleeping in the same room as a baby isn't the best way to get a good night's rest for parents, a new study finds that it hinders the amount a baby sleeps as well. What's more, the research recommends that babies sleep in a separate room — a recommendation that completely breaks with those recently set by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Dr. Ian Paul, a Penn State pediatrician who conducted the study with 230 first-time mothers, found that at 4 months old, babies who slept alone had the longest stretches of uninterrupted sleep — by roughly 45 minutes — but slept the same amount of total time as babies who slept in their parents' rooms. But 9-month-olds sleeping in their own rooms racked up an additional 40 minutes of nighttime zzz's.
With that knowledge, Paul advised that parents should stop sleeping in the same room as their baby by the six-month mark.
But what about the latest guidelines from the AAP? Those advise parents to share a room with their infants for at least six months and ideally until their first birthday in an effort to lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which most often occurs during sleep.
Paul simply doesn't think the data supports room sharing for more than three to six months. He pointed to research that shows nine out of 10 SIDS deaths happen before the age of six months and that there are several more likely consequences:
"Inadequate infant sleep can lead to obesity, poor sleep later in life, and can negatively affect parents," he said. "Many pediatricians and sleep experts question the room-sharing recommendation until one year because infants begin to experience separation anxiety in the second half of the first year. This makes it problematic to change sleep locations at that stage. Waiting too long can have negative effects on sleep quality for both parents and infants in both the short and long term."
"Many pediatricians and sleep experts question the room-sharing recommendation until one year."
Paul's study didn't just look at duration — those infants who slept in a room alone were more likely to have a consistent bedtime and were less likely to be brought into a parent's bed overnight.
"Our most troubling finding was that room sharing was associated with overnight transitions to bed sharing," he said.
Although Paul hopes his findings will help reverse the AAP's stance, it's worth noting that Paul only solicited a small amount of surveys, which gathered mothers' assumptions about their babies' sleep as opposed to actually analyzing the infants.
If all of this contradictory information makes it hard to know when to move your baby out of your bedroom, you're not alone. Talk to your pediatrician about how to proceed, and if you decide to sleep in separate rooms, remember all the other ways you can help prevent SIDS, including breastfeeding and putting babies to sleep on their backs on a firm, clear surface.
And try not to lose too much sleep over it.