Little is known about the co-sleeping behaviors of school-aged children, particularly among anxious youth who commonly present for the treatment of sleep problems. The current study examined the occurrence of co-sleeping in both healthy and clinically anxious children and its associated sleep patterns. A total of 113 children (ages 6-12), 75 with primary generalized anxiety disorder and 38 healthy controls, participated along with their primary caregiver. Families completed structured diagnostic assessments, and parents reported on their child's co-sleeping behaviors and anxiety severity. Children provided reports of anxiety severity and completed one week of wrist-based actigraphy to assess objective sleep patterns. A significantly greater proportion of anxious youth compared to healthy children co-slept, and greater anxiety severity was related to more frequent co-sleeping. Co-sleeping in anxious youth was associated with a delay in sleep timing and with greater sleep variability (i.e., more variable nightly sleep duration). All analyses controlled for child age, race/ethnicity, family income, and parental marital status. Co-sleeping is highly common in anxious school-aged children, with more than 1 in 3 found to co-sleep at least sometimes (2-4 times a week). Co-sleeping was even more common for youth with greater anxiety severity. Increased dependence on others to initiate and maintain sleep may contribute to poorer sleep in this population via shifted schedules and more variable sleep patterns.
Keywords: Anxiety disorders; Co-sleeping; Sleep dependence; Sleep variability.