Co-sleeping can refer to sharing a bed with your infant or toddler, or merely having a crib or bassinet nearby in your bedroom. In either scenario, co-sleeping should end by about the age of 1 or 2, advises psychotherapist Patrick Wanis. The longer you continue co-sleeping, the more likely you and your child are to experience long-term effects.
Your Child Lacks Self-Soothing Skills
One of the primary long-term effects of co-sleeping -- and one you're most likely to experience once you decide to transition into independent sleeping -- is your child's inability to fall asleep on her own. "Most babies that co-sleep don't have many self-soothing skills and rely on their parents to help them fall back to sleep," explains Kerrin Edmonds, a certified pediatric sleep consultant and owner of Meet You in Dreamland. "Most babies or children I work with who have been co-sleeping lack the necessary skills to put themselves to sleep, and sleep for long periods of time." This is true for both bed sharing and room sharing forms of co-sleeping.
It's also possible for a co-sleeping child to form an extreme emotional attachment to the parent with whom he sleeps. This is particularly true if co-sleeping goes on well beyond the age of 2, explains Wanis. He says that the child may begin to feel like the adult's protector. "I'm talking about emotional, psychological responsibility, and I've experienced this with many clients -- as young as 17 and all the way up to 47 -- where the adult is having a problem forming relationships with other people because they still have this extraordinary emotional attachment and desire to take care of the parent." This isn't true in every case, of course, but it's a possibility.
Your Child May Lack Coping Skills
A co-sleeping child may also find herself consistently anxious, as well as unable to deal with that anxiety. "All of us experience anxiety at one point or another in our lives, but if we don't have the tools and the capacity to deal with that anxiety, then it creates even more problems," Wanis says. He explains that the child has to say to herself, and recognize, that she is alone in the bed and that all will be OK. "They have to go through that process, otherwise the child -- even as an adult -- may always be looking for someone else to take care of them and protect them."
Sleep Deprivation May Lead to Disorders
Co-sleeping children are usually very sleep-deprived, as are their parents, says Edmonds. "Sleep deprivation can lead to a whole host of long-term effects, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, lowered immune system, increase in inflammation, being unable to concentrate in school, ADD, ADHD, and a whole host of behavioral issues," she adds. Sleep deprivation can also affect your mood, can lead to depression, and also slows down your reaction time, which puts you in danger when driving or working. "Most toddlers move and thrash when they sleep and this is normal, but it also makes them very hard to sleep with."
Finally, extended co-sleeping with your child, particularly beyond infancy and toddler years, can make it difficult for your child to form his own identity, Wanis notes. "Remember, the development of a child is not the same as an adult. When two adults get together, they already have their own established identity, and then they might form a third identity, which is the partnership. However, a child is gradually developing his or her own identity, and that cannot happen when a parent shares the bed with the child." Wanis explains that sharing a bed isn't just sharing a bed and sleeping next to each other, it involves an emotional, psychological and energetic connection.
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