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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 ...

The newest advisory blames co-sleeping itself, rather than risk factors such as soft surfaces like couches, and drunken, drugged, obese or smoking adults. "The [American]Academy [of Pediatrics]decided that rather than highlight risk groups, they made a blanket statement: Don't bed-share," says Dr. Judith Owens of the Brown Medical School and director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, R.I.

"About 80 per cent of the rest of the world bed-shares," Dr. Owen adds. "And SIDS rates are lower in Asian countries, where bed-sharing is very common."

Dr. MacFarlane notes that the American advisory ignores poverty, multiculturalism and human history before the advent of the five-bedroom monster home. Early humans didn't "put their child in the adjacent cave," he says.

The new U.S. warning provoked a debate last October at a symposium Dr. MacFarlane organized in Toronto on pediatric sleep-wake disorders. "You can't just make white Anglo-Saxon culture the norm," he says, citing a traditional Korean proverb: "A baby must not sleep in an empty room alone, and an adult must keep watch next to it."

Julie Wu, a Toronto mother who moved here from China nearly three years ago, says Chinese people often bed-share. "It's because we adore our children," says Ms. Wu, who sleeps with her 20-month-old son, Roger, while relegating her husband to the dining room. Back in China, her brother slept with his daughter until she was 9 or 10. And another brother there sleeps alone while his wife and prepubescent daughter share a bed.

Adding to the confusion, Dr. Richard Ferber, a leading pediatric-sleep guru, recently softened his long-time prohibition on bed-sharing.

In his 1985 bestseller Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, he warned: "Even if you and your child seem happy about sharing your bed at night . . . in the long run this habit will probably not be good for either of you." But at the Toronto symposium, he relented on "lifestyle or cultural bed-sharing," Dr. MacFarlane says.

Dr. Ferber, head of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children's Hospital in Boston, declined interview requests pending publication this spring of a new edition of his book.

In Toronto, Marcia Cunningham says her whole family -- two parents and two kids -- sleeps in a king-sized bed. And they do the same at their cottage. Bed-sharing facilitates breast-feeding Elliana, who just turned 1. And this way Isaac, who is turning 4, doesn't feel sibling jealousy.

Isaac already has his own bed, which also happens to be in the master bedroom. But he doesn't actually sleep in it. He just likes to show it off to visitors, like a prized toy. The rare time the single bed gets used is when Isaac's dad, Lance Lehman, a Toronto lawyer, comes home late. "He's not going to climb in bed with us. We're all sprawled out," says Ms. Cunningham, 34, a stay-at-home mom who quit her job in marketing.

The only time she regrets the family bed is when the children throw up. "That's the one downfall. Everybody has to get up to change the sheets. As a result, I think my son's really good at hitting the bucket."

Ms. Cunningham isn't worried about adverse impact on her children's development. Her husband slept with his parents until he was 8, sometimes in their bed, sometimes in a sleeping bag on the floor. "And he's very independent."

A 2002 U.S. study that followed subjects from birth to the age of 18 found that those who slept with their parents -- including some up until 11 -- suffered no long-term impact on their psycho-sexual development.

Another U.S. survey found that adults who slept with their parents when they were children had significantly higher self-esteem, greater intimacy and, for the men, increased frequency of sexual activity.

Conversely, a study of middle-class English children showed that children who never slept in their parents' bed were harder to control, less happy and more fearful and had more tantrums.

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