A surprising study performed by the Research Unit for Dietary Studies in the Institute of Preventive Medicine at Copenhagen University in Denmark found that children who are allowed to crawl into bed with their parents may be at a lower risk of developing childhood obesity. The surprising part of the study is that, originally, researchers were trying to determine if the opposite was true. They thought that children who got broken sleep because of getting up to get into bed with their parents were at a higher risk, since sleep does play a major role in weight control.
The researchers involved in the project analyzed almost 500 children that were considered to be at a high risk for childhood obesity due to their birth weight, their mother’s weight during pregnancy, or their socioeconomic standing. All of their children had their Body Mass Index (BMI) measured, and the parents answered questions about their children’s nighttime habits.
Those children who came into bed with their parents ended up having a lower BMI than their counterparts. The children who didn’t come to bed with their parents were three times more likely to become overweight.
Researchers are not sure exactly why it works this way. They thought that the broken sleep would actually contribute to childhood obesity. One of the theories is that, even though the sleep is broken, once they are in bed with their parents, the children were getting a higher quality of overall sleep. Other researchers admit that the results are interesting, but the study needs to be performed on a much wider scale and with more data before a conclusion can be drawn.
What to do?
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should immediately move your child into your bed at night in the hopes that it will prevent childhood obesity. The study only looked at a very small and specific population of children. The main factor to consider is whether your child is sleeping well, regardless of where he sleeps. If your child is already sleeping perfectly fine in his own bed, there is no reason to change the routine.
If your child already sleeps in your bed, and you are comfortable with that, then continue to do so. If you’re in the process of trying to transition her to her own bed, though, don’t let one study guilt you into giving that up. Basically, every parent needs to do what is best for their children and their own well-being. Eventually they’re going to have to learn to sleep on their own; co-sleeping can’t last forever.
Also, even though they may be getting a spectacular night of sleep, your own sleep may be suffering as a result. You need a good night’s sleep just as much as they do. Remember, you’re the one driving a car, cooking dinner, and working with other things that require you to be alert. The key is to determine a sleeping arrangement that works best for everyone in the family. There isn’t a magical cure for childhood obesity, so sacrificing quality sleep isn’t the only way to help prevent it.