Mothers have been warned for years that sleeping with their newborn infant is a bad idea because it increases the risk the baby might die unexpectedly during the night. But now Israeli researchers are reporting that even sleeping in the same room can have negative consequences: not for the child, but for the mother.
Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev wanted to see whether sleeping in the same room as their newborn affected mothers' or babies' sleep. The short answer: It did, and the effect wasn't good for moms.
The researchers recruited 153 married couples expecting their first child to participate in the study. The new parents weren't told where or how to sleep. They were simply asked to record whether they slept in the same room as their newborn, the same bed and same room, or if the child slept in another room.
To measure sleep patterns, both mom and baby wore wristbands designed to measure movement during the night, a measurement that gives a pretty accurate indication of sleep patterns for both mother and child. The researchers measured sleep patterns before the babies were born, at 3 months and at 6 months.
Mothers who slept in the same room as their infants, whether in the same bed or just the same room, had poorer sleep than mothers whose babies slept elsewhere in the house: They woke up more frequently (approximately three times per night versus two), were awake approximately 20 minutes longer per night, and had shorter periods of uninterrupted sleep (approximately 136 minutes versus 166 minutes). These results held true even taking into account that many of the women in the study were breast-feeding their babies.
Infants, on the other hand, didn't appear to have worse sleep whether they slept in the same or different room from their mothers.
The researchers acknowledge that since the families they studied were all middle-class Israelis, it's possible the results would be different in different cultures. Lead author Liat Tikotzky told Shots in an email that the research team also didn't measure fathers' sleep, so it's possible that their sleep patterns could also be causing the sleep disruptions for moms.
Right now, to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers not sleep in the same beds as their babies but sleep in the same room. The Israeli study suggests that doing so may be best for baby, but may take a toll on Mom.
The research appears in the journal Sleep Medicine.