Sleep and arousal, synchrony and independence, among mothers and infants sleeping apart and together (same bed): an experiment in evolutionary medicine

Acta Paediatr Suppl. 1994 Jun;397:94-102. doi: 10.1111/j.1651-2227.1994.tb13271.x.


Although solitary sleeping in infancy is a very recent custom, limited to Western industrialized societies, and most contemporary people practice parent-infant co-sleeping, virtually all laboratory research on sleep in human infants assumes that solitary infant sleep is the normal and desirable environment. We have used evolutionary and developmental data to challenge this view. We suggest that co-sleeping provides a sensory-rich environment which is the more appropriate environment in which to study infant sleep. In addition, two preliminary, in-laboratory, polygraphic investigations of mother-infant co-sleeping are reported in normal infants, within the peak age range for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Five mother-infant pairs co-slept one night in the first study; in the second, three additional pairs slept separately for two nights and co-slept the third consecutive night. The results suggest that co-sleeping is associated with enhanced infant arousals and striking temporal overlap (synchronicity) in infant and maternal arousals, and that, possibly as a result, co-sleeping mothers and infants spend more time in the same sleep stage or awake condition. The implications of the hypothesis and preliminary results for research on the normal development of infant sleep and on SIDS are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Stages
  • Sudden Infant Death / prevention & control