Objective: To study age trends, long-term course and secular changes of bed-sharing practices, and sleep problems among Swiss families.
Methods: A total of 493 children were longitudinally followed between 1974 and 2001 by using structured sleep-related interviews at 1, 3, 6, 9, 12, 18, and 24 months after birth and at annual intervals thereafter until 10 years of age. Parents were queried about bed sharing, night wakings, bedtime resistance, and sleep-onset difficulties during the 3 months before each follow-up interview.
Results: Although in the first year of life relatively few children slept with their parents (<10%), bed sharing increased with age and reached a maximum at 4 years (> or =1 times per week: 38%). Bed sharing of at least once per week was noted in 44% of the children between 2 and 7 years old. Nocturnal wakings also increased from 6 months old to a maximum at 4 years, when more than half of all children woke up at least once per week (22% every night at 3 years). Less than 10% of all children demonstrated frequent bedtime resistance and sleep-onset difficulties. Bed sharing and night wakings during early infancy were not predictive for bed sharing or night wakings during childhood, whereas both bed sharing and night wakings during childhood tended to persist over time. In contrast, bedtime resistance and sleep-onset difficulties seemed to be rather transient phenomena across all ages. No consistent cohort trends were found except for bedtime resistance, which decreased significantly between 1974 and 2001.
Conclusions: Bed sharing and nocturnal wakings are common during early childhood. Developmental changes in separation-attachment processes, cognitive capabilities to develop self-recognition and nighttime fears, and motor locomotion may contribute to the particular age trend of night wakings and bed sharing during early childhood.