"Babies moved into their own room at six months sleep better and are lower risk of obesity, poor sleep patterns and tantrums," reports The Sun. This is based on a US study looking at room-sharing…
"Babies moved into their own room at six months sleep better and are lower risk of obesity, poor sleep patterns and tantrums," reports The Sun.
This is based on a US study looking at room-sharing of 230 mother-infant pairs and infant sleep patterns.
However, despite the headlines, the study did not look at babies' ongoing sleep patterns or the risk of obesity.
The study found that infants who slept independently (not in the same room as their mother) by 4 months or after 4-9 months did sleep for longer in both the short and longer-term. At 9 months "independent sleepers" slept around 40 minutes per night longer than "room-sharers".
Worryingly, researchers also found an association between room-sharing and unsafe sleep practices that have been linked with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), such as use of blankets and pillows, or parents bringing the baby into bed with them. But no cases of SIDS were reported.
The results would appear to contradict recent US guidelines, which recommend room-sharing for the first year. This differs from NHS guidance, which recommends keeping your baby in a separate cot in your room for just the first six months.
The study was carried out by researchers from Penn State College of Medicine, the University of Connecticut, the University of Buffalo and the University of Georgia, all in the US.
The research was funded by grants from a range of US institutions including Penn State College of Medicine, the Children's Miracle Network at Penn State Children's Hospital, the US Department of Agriculture, the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the National Institutes of Health.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Pediatrics on an open-access basis, meaning it is free to read online.
The quality of the UK media's reporting of the study was patchy in places. As mentioned, The Sun inaccurately implied that the researchers looked at obesity risk. While other research has found an association between poor sleep and obesity in later life, this was not investigated in this study.
Also, the Mail Online's claim that infants put in their parents' room after the age of six months "lose the ability to soothe themselves" is not something the study researched or reported either.
This was a secondary analysis of data collected in a randomised controlled trial comparing a parenting intervention with a control group in mothers and their infants.
The researchers specifically set out to look at the associations between room-sharing (but not bed sharing) and sleep patterns of the infants. They also wanted to look for links between independent sleeping and risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Secondary data analysis is a useful way of carrying out a study using data that already exists. However, because the study has already been carried out, researchers are only able to analyse and draw conclusions from the limited data they have.
Researchers took 230 mother-infant pairs from the US who were participating in the Intervention Nurses Start Infants Growing on Healthy Trajectories (INSIGHT) study and looked at the association between independent sleeping and sleep outcomes.
Infants were first-borns and of a healthy weight. Mothers were English speaking and over 20 years of age. Parents who reported bed-sharing with their infant were excluded.
Research nurses visited homes when infants were 3 to 4 weeks old and then again at 4, 6 and 9 months.
The Brief Infant Sleep Questionnaire was used to assess sleep at 4 and 9 months of age, with a shorter version used at 12 and 30 months.
This survey assesses infant sleep location, activities before bedtime, and sleep patterns. Sleep duration is split into night time (7pm-7am) and daytime (7am-7pm).
At 4 and 9 months, other questions regarding sleep were asked, including night waking, night feedings and duration, infant sleep behaviours and environment and parenting responses to night waking.
Background characteristics included child race/ethnicity, maternal education, annual income and marital status. They also assessed maternal age, pre-pregnancy weight, pregnancy weight gain, whether the infant was born at term, and the infant's body measurements.
The results showed that of the 230 infants:
At 4 months, early independent sleepers had longer periods of uninterrupted sleep, with a longest "sleep stretch" averaging 469 ± 189 minutes compared with 423 ± 158 minutes for room-sharers.
Independent sleepers also had fewer night feedings (1.1 vs 1.4) at 4 months compared with room-sharers.
At 9 months, early independent sleepers slept 627 ± 67 minutes per night compared with 601 ± 73 minutes for later independent sleepers and 587 ± 83 minutes for those still room-sharing at 9 months. Early independent sleepers also slept for longer stretches at a time than late independent sleepers or room sharers.
At 30 months, both early and later independent sleepers slept on average over 45 minutes longer at night than those who were room-sharing at 9 months (614 ± 51 vs 617 ± 70 vs 569 ± 79).
At 4 months, room-sharing infants had higher odds of having unapproved objects on their sleep surface, such as a blanket, pillow, or positioner (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 2.04, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.17 to 3.57).
At both 4 and 9 months, room-sharing parents had 4 times higher odds of bringing their infant into their bed overnight (aOR 4.24, 95% CI 1.64 to 10.95).
Room-sharing was associated with demographic factors such as race/ethnicity, lower income and education, unmarried and/or not cohabiting with a partner, having fewer bedrooms in the home and having extended family or other people living at home.
The researchers concluded that "room-sharing at ages 4 and 9 months is associated with less night-time sleep in both the short and long-term, reduced sleep consolidation, and unsafe sleep practices previously associated with sleep-related death."
The study shows an association between infant and parent room-sharing at 4 and 9 months and infants sleeping for less both in the short and longer term. It also showed a link between room-sharing and unsafe practices such as leaving objects such as blankets in the cot.
However, the results of this study need to be treated cautiously as there are some limitations to the research:
The researchers discuss past studies that have linked infant sleeping practices with risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). However this study reported no cases of SIDS. Even if there had been, the findings would not have shown that room sharing increases risk of SIDS.
Current UK guidance about reducing the risk of SIDS is: