Should my kids sleep in the same room? I learned the downsides the hard way | Sophie Brickman

ONEThe other day at 2am, I slowly rocked from side to side, rocking my preschooler and whispering Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompa song ‘like a lullaby’, following her barking instructions. Like most parents, I’m particularly fixated on sleep and how to optimize it. As I stretched out the jig-like tune to make it as sleepy as possible, while the preschooler whimpered from the top bunk and the preschooler threw me an occasional sadistic grin, I was pretty sure I wasn’t tweaking anything, except for the likelihood that when we finally nodded off, we all daydreamed about tiny orange men.

The preschooler slept happily in a pack ‘n play in our closet for the first two years of her life due to a combination of Covid and minimal square footage. But once the girls started sleeping in bunk beds together, I had visions of bedtime whispers that would challenge adult involvement and strengthen their sisterly bonds while leading to deeper sleep. Also, I assumed that sleeping in bunches was hardwired into us, since the days of sheltering from roaming mastodons. So I put the bumper on the bottom bunk and thought, what’s the worst that can happen?

“I’m crouching on the floor of her room,” my husband Dave texted the first night, a full hour past “bedtime.” “My arm fell asleep so I had to put her down. Now she won’t let me go.” Pulsing ellipse, then: “I’m so hungry.”

I tiptoed in to relieve him as he rushed out to wash down dinner. Two full minutes of silence. A cackle from the top bunk.

“I have the funniest dream always, Mom!” my preschooler shrieked. I lay down on the floor. The preschooler emerged like a prairie dog.

“DON’T LIE DOWN, MAMA,” she roared, a pint-sized Sigourney Weaver-as-Zuul in Ghostbusters.

We tried everything over the next few weeks. shout it out Do not Cry. Play the silent game. A sticker chart. The promise of any breakfast they could think of, including a bowl of sprinkles. Nothing worked. They chatted and played well past bedtime, waking themselves up several times each night. At the end of a particularly grueling period, the preschooler declared that she no longer bothered with stickers or sprinkles, a scorched-earth negotiation tactic straight out of Genghis Khan’s playbook. I almost fell on the floor and cried.

Put aside any parental judgment you may have about the right and wrong of negotiating chips, breaking the line, and making fruitless and idiotic demands related to Oompa or anything else. The bigger question, in my opinion, was whether my ultimate goal — two happy kids soothing each other and sleeping soundly because of it — was worthy, considering we weren’t anymore Sharing the tundra with predators, and we had the option to opt out if we wanted to.

The bed-sharing research and advice was everywhere, and the room-sharing data was almost non-existent. Some studies I read concluded that sharing a room or bed might maximize REM sleep. Others concluded that doing so would do the opposite. I’ve learned crazy facts like that birds can turn off half their brains to sleep and keep the other half awake, and if they all hang in a row those on the edges have half their brains awake while those on the edges have half their brains awake in the middle will be completely asleep. Oh, being a middle-of-the-pack pigeon on a telephone pole, I thought as I curled up in the fetal position on the floor by the bunk bed, obeying all the commands that came from above.

“If you were to ask me what is the best way to sleep at night, it would be everyone separately in their preferred environment,” Dr. Haviva Veler, director of the Weill Cornell Pediatric Sleep and Breathing Disorders Center, when I arrived her by phone. So much for my mastodon theory. Various anthropologists theorize that our circadian rhythms evolved differently — you could be a night owl, your spouse a lark — because having more people waking up at different intervals minimizes the likelihood that each individual person will doze off at the moment one does predator walks by.

Of course, as anyone who enjoys snuggling or chatting before bed can tell you, that’s not the whole story.

“We don’t live in a vacuum, and there’s the emotional part, the psychological impact of sharing a room at night,” Veler continued. Numerous sleep researchers have told me that calming anxiety is the main reason for bringing siblings together, and others have suggested that it may have less to do with sleep quality and more to do with values. I expect you to share a room, I expect you to be a flexible person, you say, indeed.

And the psychological effects are often passed down from generation to generation. My friend, who shared a room with her two younger sisters for years, is now forcing her two young children to sleep together, actual sleep to hell. And that’s despite having a third bedroom and a very handy husband who calmly points out if one or the other child starts screeching in the middle of the night that they could bypass the whole house wake-up call if they wanted to.

“I don’t really know if it makes them better at sharing or more tolerant of noise/disruptions while sleeping,” she emailed me, “but I almost don’t care right now because it makes me so happy to wake up and.” find them both in their cribs smiling at me (or crying and screaming at the same time, as is sometimes the case).”

Dr. Veler has had parents come to her trying to figure out why their children fall asleep well together but wake up in the middle of the night. It has to do with the concept of the “sleep association” or what it takes you to fall asleep or get back to sleep quickly when you wake up. To me it’s a pitch dark room, a freezing cold climate and Dave isn’t moving or breathing audibly, which has led to him dutifully putting breath control strips on his nose to relieve his late night snoring. (“It’s like an oxygen wind tunnel in there,” he’ll morosely say as he rolls into the fetal position and settles in for a long night trying to remain immobile lest he provoke my nightly rages .)

“We found that part of their sleep community was chatting with their siblings,” Veler said, “but if they didn’t have them in the middle of the night, they couldn’t get back to sleep.”

Which is adorable. But not at two in the morning. Veler’s recommendation? Separate the children so they can start a new sleeping community. Then reunite them if you wish.

Although the girls asked to stay in their bunk beds, I laid down the law: Our household sleep strategy going forward would be to maximize REM sleep at the expense of any emotional closeness.

It worked well until Daylight Saving Time, that most feared celestial corrective that was probably the cause of the preschooler’s waking at random hours of the night. And so I found myself rocking her and whispering the Oompa Loompa song until her breathing evened. Then I tiptoed back to my room, where the steady sound of Dave’s clear nasal passages would lull me to bed. I knew we would be waking up shortly, but it was very likely that I would reconsider my nighttime environment in favor of something as clinical as optimizing sleep.

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