Co-sleeping might not be particularly widespread in the West, but many families do co-sleep and the practice is gaining enough traction in some circles that some American mattress makers are now creating mattresses which can sleep up to twelve adults. While cuddling up on one bed during a cold winter’s night sounds like a great idea, co-sleeping isn’t without its down sides. Aside from the increased chance of sleep disruptions, new data collected by the UK’s Department for Education show that hundreds of infants die each year due to co-sleeping. Naturally, the data have been used to argue against the practice, but some say the data don’t show the whole picture.
According to the data, 665 deaths over the last five years including 141 in 2017 have been linked to co-sleeping. The figures were revealed through a freedom of information request. While the sheer numbers sound like terrifying news for co-sleeping families, a spokesperson for British non-profit group Lullaby Trust says they only show one side of a complicated issue:
It is important to note that the cause of Sids remains unknown and therefore it cannot be said that in the case of those babies who sadly died that co-sleeping was the cause. All that is known is that co-sleeping was identified as a risk factor that was present. What this does demonstrate is the importance of reaching all parents with safer sleep advice, which includes guidance on when it is not safe to share a bed with a baby.
Like all of our daily activities, culture and background have a profound impact on how we sleep. In the West where independence and autonomy is often prized more than familial or societal obligations, we tend to sleep in our own individual beds and bedrooms from a young age. In other, more communally-minded societies, families often share a single bed with family members of all ages. All manners of cross-cultural and socioeconomic concerns must be reconciled before the issue of co-sleeping deaths can likely be addressed.