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A study’s findings revolve around the brain’s consolidation of emotional memories into long-term memory, which happens during sleep. (Thinkstock)
A study’s findings revolve around the brain’s consolidation of emotional memories into long-term memory, which happens during sleep. (Thinkstock)

When bedtime turns into musical beds Add to ...

When Toronto chef Susur Lee arrived home late one night last month, he watched television with his middle son, Kai, and ended up falling asleep in the same bed with him. Kai is 14.

At other times, Mr. Lee might sleep in the bed of his eldest son, Levi, who is 16.

"We have four beds to choose from and Susur will pick which will afford him more quiet in the morning," says Brenda Bent, Mr. Lee's wife and restaurant partner.

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Ms. Bent spent that same night sleeping in the bed of their youngest son, Jet, 7. Earlier that week, she also watched television with Kai, who was just back from a tennis tournament in Florida, and fell asleep in his bed.

"Everyone has their own room. Do we sleep together? Sure, why not?" she says.

Two-thirds of parents in Canada said in a survey that they sleep with their offspring "sometimes," "often" or "always," according to a recent report in Today's Parent magazine.

In the United States, surveys by the research arm of the National Institutes of Health show that bed-sharing in families more than doubled to 12.8 per cent in 2000 from 5.5 per cent in 1993.

It's the ultimate boon for today's overworked, guilt-ridden, multitasking parent: quality time with the kids while you're sleeping.

It's also the last taboo.

Even people from cultures where bed-sharing is, well, embedded often prefer not talk about it in Canada.

Some discomfort stems from the suggestion that your sex life is a desert. Then there is the implication that your kids are weirdly, excessively needy. Worst, there are the overtones of incest, Oedipus-complex theories and Woody Allen's scandalous 1997 marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, adopted daughter of his former lover, Mia Farrow.

"It can be totally innocent, affectionate and warm, but the opportunity for any one with those instincts to cross the line is so great," says Sylvia Fraser, a Toronto journalist whose 1987 memoir, My Father's House, chronicled her sexual abuse by her father.

Co-sleeping cuts across race, culture and class. It endures, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.

For worse, it means your bedtime is theirs, thus obliterating that one speck of sanity in parenthood -- those blissful hours of "grownup time" after the kids are finally asleep.

For better, it means an unparalleled intimacy with your child. Some parents occasionally experience that moment in the car when, providing the iPod is stowed, their offspring are trapped into a prolonged conversation. Those who co-sleep find that the relaxed moments before drifting off create an atmosphere when you can ask your kid, "How was your day?" and you won't necessarily receive the monosyllabic mutter: "Fine."

Of course, the burning question is: What happens to, um, sex? "During the week, we're not having sex anyway," says Cara Loncar, a manager in the food industry who lives in Etobicoke, Ont. Her daughter, Allegra, 10, usually sleeps with her twice a week. When that happens, Mrs. Loncar's husband, John, an immigration lawyer, climbs into Allegra's empty bed. Their son, Jack, 7, usually stays put -- unless he has a nightmare.

But is co-sleeping good for kids? Families that bed-share almost always start early. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't address the question of older children, but this fall it flatly advised against babies sleeping in parents' beds, citing an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome. This followed similar advisories by Britain's Department of Health and the Canadian Pediatric Society. "The safest place for babies to sleep is in their own cribs," the Canadian group said.

Some experts say these warnings needlessly guilt-trip parents. By definition, SIDS is an unexplained death that rules out inadvertent smothering by a parent rolling over. "To make the connection [with SIDS]is outrageous. Sooner or later, they're going to have to retract it," says Dr. James MacFarlane of the University of Toronto and the Hospital for Sick Children.

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