Cosleeping, Featured, Parenting

The Family Bed gets you more sleep (and other benefits)

27 April, 2016

Our family bed has grown alongside our children and our views on sleep. We began tentatively with just a king sized mattress, unsure of cosleeping but feeling in our gut we wanted to do it.

By the time our second child came along we had read Three in a Bed and quelled the myths of bed sharing danger and moved onto two doubles – we were in a campervan and me and the newborn took the upstairs and husband and Ramona took the bottom.

These days, with a three year old and a five year old and knowing we are partaking in a healthy, ancient sleep tradition, we all bunk together in a loft, with a super king and a single pushed together to make one enormous sleeping platform.

I’ve written much on our family bed – from the benefits of cosleeping to the practicalities of cosleeping but am only just now really coming round to the idea that cosleeping began as a Thing We Did, a thing I thought would last for a period, whereas the Family Bed is more of a concept that cosleeping has lead to. Are you with me?

Here are a few benefits of embracing the Family Bed as part of your parenting philosophy…The Family bed! Cosleeping and its many benefits

The Family Bed promotes sleep

Juno was poorly last night and woke a lot. At one point I came to and she was walking two fingers across the bridge of my nose and I heard her murmuring “Mummy wolf walks over the mountain… Baby wolf walks over the mountain…” Cuteness. But my point is that I was actually sleeping while she got comfort from my presence! Since sleep sharing I have had this idea that I’m getting more sleep than others,  that if I were to be getting up and down all night going to a cot, I would be far more exhausted than I currently am. And turns out, it’s not just a feeling. When cosleeping, although mother and baby wake more, they wake together, in rhythm, so that it ends up that the pair of them get more sleep. (Read more on this at Dr Momma.)

The Family Bed is a continuation of connection-focused daytime parenting

My primary aim as a mother is connection. I feel that if my children can trust me, communicate with me, feel secure in our relationship, then I know they can get through anything. They will have a resilience for life. This parenting philosophy carries on after sundown. They will feel my breathing as they stir from a bad dream, they will hear my validation as they murmur their upsets, all until they are ready not to. When I went back to work cosleeping was a way I could reconnect with toddler Ramona, even when I was away for long hours during the day. At that time I wrote:

“Ramona sleeps in the middle of the two of us, so if she wakes one of us can cuddle her back into dreamland. This time she woke up instantly, and gleefully, and she shouted “LEEEG! Where ARE YOUUUU? There you are! Other leg?! Where aaare youuuu?? FOUND you!”

Yes, YES, my friends. She was playing hide and seek with her limbs.

After stifling my giggles I stroked her head and she snuggled back down into a deep sleep.”

Such a minor thing, a 30 second interaction, but it was part of a bigger feeling. Despite being away all day I was still getting to know my toddler and all her beautiful. hilarious parts of her personality.

The Family Bed fosters a more trusting, less controlling attitude towards sleep

Until Ramona was a few months old, despite cosleeping, I still had a lot of anxiety about sleep. I had seen charts that said she ought to sleep from 7pm to 7am and had been told she shouldn’t nurse to sleep or stir in the night. Then I spent some time reading and reflecting and came to feel that I am not the boss of her sleep! I can create the conditions for sleep, but it is up to her if she wants to and for how long. In short, I came to trust her and it was the key to feeling about a billion time happier with bedtime and nighttime. (Read more on these approaches that led to happier sleep here.)

We get so hung up on “independent sleeping” that we coerce and manipulate and bribe and even threaten. We forget to say “We trust you to know when you are ready.”

For me the Family Bed seems to stand for that trust. It says “When you are ready for independence you’ll get your own bed- until then there is a space on this mattress with your name on it!”

The Family Bed is intentional, safe cosleeping

The Family Bed is a solid, practical thing. You have deliberately organised enough room for all of you to sleep safely together. There is no slumping on the sofa with your newborn because there isn’t enough room for you in her crib. There is no danger of suffocation or squashing, SIDS and the Family Bed are completely unrelated. (Please read my research packed post here about the safety of cosleeping and SIDS.)

If we can normalise the image of all the family hunkering down together it is far less likely that people will cobble together something unsafe, or collapse in exhaustion.

Read more from an “accidental attachment parenting” family – including a Dr daddy who came to believe in cosleeping as best. *not just for hippies*The benefits of the Family bed - cosleeping for five years!

Sometimes the girls find each other’s warmth in the middle of the night…

The Family Bed reasserts sleep as a collective activity

Our kids shouldn’t have to face their nightmares alone. In most of history they haven’t had to do that, yet modernity seems to think it is a good idea! It has been normal for the longest time to sleep together in one room, not just families, but sometimes whole communities (don’t worry husband, I’m not suggesting that…)

Historically, nighttime has been a vulnerable situation for humans, so doing it together meant more protection. This emotional/ DNA memory is still within us on some level, making us feel stressed or fearful in the dark or scared of shadows. It’s totally natural. It’s understandable that kids feel terror at night, and entirely sensible that being together makes for a far less stressful night. (And, y’know, science etc – Babies that cosleep produce less cortisol – the stress hormone- than their isolated buddies.)

Last week I heard about the term the Japanese use for cosleeping, where the Family Bed is the norm until kids are quite old; it is “Kawa”. Kawa is the same character used for a river cascading between between two banks; they see parents as the strong, supportive edges, the life-giving river child flowing through them.

So, the truth it, hand on heart, I didn’t think that half a decade into parenting I’d be crashed out in bed with my husband, two tiny bodies between us. But here we are, and I’d have it no other way.

PS Little video on cosleeping – including EXCLUSIVE footage of our own massive, messy Family Bed… (Yeah, I am TOTALLY wishing I had made it properly right now. But. Y’know. Just keeping it real.)

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  • Mary 27 April, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    SO TRUE!! The bit about keeping a connection being your primary aim really resounded with me. We home educate too, and I have started to realise everyone who home eds has some sort of big world view they are teaching their children. They hang out with people who have the same outlook, they take them to festivals which teach them more, they do daily activities with them which build this picture. And after a while of panicking at the thought that I’m really not doing great, whatever world view I’m teaching I realised everything I do with them is about family and love. We have great connections in our family because it’s our primary aim in parenting. I love that you’ve just validated it as legitimate!

    • Lucy 27 April, 2016 at 7:51 pm

      Ah so lovely to hear from you! I reckon a day spent connecting is the most important thing for a kid- more learning, more joy, more play, more communication!

  • Mevsim 27 April, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    I love this idea of co-sleeping. We kind of did an informal (and very uncomfortable!) version of this in our small double bed when our daughter was small – and it’s been since frowned upon by experts. But we always stayed with her til she fell asleep anyway in her bed – she wanted to hold our hand til she was asleep – and then would wake up and we’d bring her into bed in the middle of the night. It was a way of us all getting a good night’s sleep, but I’m sure that it has made her more a secure and independent young woman – she’s nearly 16 now. She stopped of her own accord when she was about 5 or 6 and was happy to be in her own space – although our house was sooo tiny that she was only a spit from us anyway. I think allowing children space to create their own patterns allows them to grow up with better decision making skills about their wellbeing as they grow.

    • Lucy 27 April, 2016 at 7:52 pm

      Great to hear from you! I totally do think that would have been a part of her development of a secure independence 🙂

  • Lllyflowerda1 27 April, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    Do you think its ever too late to co sleep? My sons are 7,5 and 3 and im a single mum
    They are mostly taking turns at who sleeps with me and sometimes ill wake up with 2 who i started with only one etc….
    Xxx love ur shiz xx

    • Lucy 28 April, 2016 at 8:42 am

      No 🙂 if you are up for it and they are up for it it could be a winner!!! In some countries families sleep this way for all of childhood!! Would love to hear how it goes if you decide to do it 🙂 🙂

  • Bee 27 April, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    Hi I have enjoyed reading your article and on board with what you say. I could write a really long post but I won’t! Keeping it brief, and apologies if this is too personal, but how do you erm… Find time and space for intimacy with your husband?

    • Lucy 28 April, 2016 at 8:42 am

      We tend to think that bed sex is pretty overrated 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Kellie 27 April, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    My parents co-slept with me and my siblings when we were young and now I co-sleep with my kids. So much nicer and also when people used that stupid argument of they will NEVER sleep without you and always want to be in your bed, I could call rubbish. Because, you know, I don’t still sleep with my parents and have no memories of doing so, so must have stopped fairly young. I do have lovely memories of sharing a sleeping room with my 3 siblings and having lots of bedtime stories.
    My son co -slept from birth and then around 1.5 years got a bed for him (my parents were having a clean out and had a bed they wanted to get rid of) which he slept some of the night in, often with one of us, and the rest of the night in our bed. By the time he was 3 he was sleeping through the night in his bed every night. Our daughter has just started sleeping in her own bed, bottom bunk under her brother, because she kept trying to steal his bed. Buuuuuut she is usually back in our bed by midnight, I don’t mind because I know when she is ready she will slept in her bed all night long. Plus this way I get the best of both worlds, Happy children going to bed together, some adult time when going to bed and toddler snuggles later on.

    • Lucy 28 April, 2016 at 8:39 am

      Lovely to hear from you! I remember wishing I could sleep in my mum and dads bed 🙁 🙁

  • Jenny 27 April, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    Lovely post we love our family bed and agree that it helps builds trust. Our 27 month old definitely also finds comfort from having us sleeping beside her. Baby number two will be joining us soon and we plan to have me sleep in another room with the newborn for the first few weeks at least as we feel all the wakings at night will disturb our toddler.. Then when things settle we will all rejoin in the big family bed.. I hope this is the right decision! I don’t know many families that have a family bed so reading about families like yours Lucy always makes me feel less alone!

    • Lucy 28 April, 2016 at 8:43 am

      Yes we did the same thing for first few weeks of Juno’s life 🙂 although we discovered ramona can sleep through anything at all!

  • Jenna 28 April, 2016 at 12:23 am

    This is lovely. I’m ashamed to say I never co-slept with my daughter. I read all the cio bumf, listened to the wrong doctors and felt very pressured to do everything the ‘right’ way. (So naive of me). When my son came along I had educated myself better about breastfeeding, met a great network of instinctive parenting mummas and just figured “whatever works best for our family is how we’ll do it”. At the time that meant co-sleeping, breastfeeding on demand and anything else that allowed us to function best.

    My son is now 4 and we are expecting our 3rd child in a couple of months. I already plan on co-sleeping when the new baby arrives. At present our son snuggles to sleep with us in his own bed and then visits us a couple of times a night and one of us takes him back to bed and snuggles with him until he’s asleep again. I wish we had room in our bed for all of us but it’s just not happening (or sleep definitely doesn’t happen for me when I’m being booted by a womb baby, suffocated by a 4 yr old and deafened by my hubby).

    I console myself that my son never gets upset, he knows where we are and just comes in to get us.

    I also agree 100% that there is no hard and fast rule to how much sleep a child needs. My 8yr old knows when she’s tired and often asks to go to bed before we make her. Our 4 yr old likes to stay up a bit later which seems to work better for him.

    • Lucy 28 April, 2016 at 8:40 am

      Wow, I’m always amazed and in admiration of parents who do a big about turn between children! Thank you for sharing your story x x x x

  • ThaliaKR 28 April, 2016 at 2:58 am

    What a lovely overview of fabulous parenting 🙂 And so great to hear a perspective of someone with children older than babies.

    We’re in the Super King bed club too, inspired by you!

    Agreed that it is so important to be available to kids at night until they want more independence. It’s a weird modern phenomenon that we ‘train’ them into being away from us.

    Thanks for championing the cause!

    • Lucy 28 April, 2016 at 8:40 am

      And you, champion mama! X x

  • Clare Elise 28 April, 2016 at 10:43 am

    I had a cosleeper cot when Lewis was born a Next2Me one it was brilliant as it kept us close and made breastfeeding alot easier when I was very sleepy in the middle of the night.

  • Jeanette 28 April, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this post Lucy. I was told in the hospital with my first child that is was frowned upon to co-sleep – but there was no way I was leaving her in a cold plastic cot when I could share body warmth with her. We first had a queen bed with our daughter and a cot next to us, then as we worked out she spent more time in the bed with us than in the cot, we eventually took the cot away. Bub number 2 came along and we upgraded to a king bed. Our daughter is almost 5, and son 18 months, and we happily share a king and a single all pushed together. We love sharing this closeness with our children, and of course, none of them will still be sleeping with us as adults! They will move into their own space when ready.

    It is so refreshing to put all of this in a positive light, as usually I am the odd one out trying to justify my decisions. We are too quick to push our children away, and many other cultures would be horrified to put their children into another room and plan not to even lay eyes on them until the next day. Thank you.

  • Madeleine 28 April, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    Woohoo! Love co sleeping here too. I am going on almost 4 years now sleeping next to my child (my son turns 4 for this june, where did time go?) It is so handy although we do not have a big bed, just a small one but big enough for us both (120 cm wide, dunno about all this king size and so, we don’t do that here in Sweden). He loves to lay his little arm around my neck and fall asleep like that and yesterday night he was so cute and rolled himself up in a blanket and layed on my stomach instead of using a pillow. I would have missed all that if he slept in his own bed!

  • Alicia 29 April, 2016 at 3:16 am

    Hi Lucy, I love reading about your different ways of parenting, makes me think outside the box and hopefully will make me be more open when I have my own children.
    I was wondering if your girls ever stay at anyone else’s house/yurt? I know my parents will want to have my kids come and stay and wondered if that isn’t really possible without us if they have been cosleeping? What are your thoughts? Would my parents just have to deal with feet in their back? 🙂
    Would love to know your thoughts x

    • Erica 2 May, 2016 at 7:25 pm

      Our 2 and a half year old daughter has coslept with us from birth, and has spent the night at my mother-in-law’s on several occasions. She always sleeps in the bed with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law and I have not heard complaints of feet. If they are getting kicked, they apparently think the pleasure of having her spend the night is worth it – and it sounds like your parents may too, if they are the ones asking. I think grandparents wanting to have little cosleepers overnight need to accept that the child(ren) are used to sleeping this way. My mom did express concern during a recent visit to her home that my daughter cannot fall asleep without someone there (after she laid down with her to get her to nap) – but mostly because she worries it wears on me and takes up my time. Now, thanks to Lucy, I know I am actually getting more sleep! We love it and I really can’t imagine doing it any other way. Our daughter has a toddler bed that was given to us – it makes a lovely place for her many stuffed animals to gather.
      P.S. I am lucky because my husband seems to be the only one who gets kicked in the back at night 😉

  • Erica 2 May, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    I would love to hear more from you–or anyone–on rough guidelines for bringing a newborn into a family bed that already contains a toddler. Our daughter will be almost 3 when the baby arrives. I have considered bringing a crib in with one side off for the baby to sleep in right up against our bed, or moving our mattress back down to the floor, with the three-year-old on the outside. She is very good about staying in bed while she sleeps (has never fallen out of ours), but she does tend to clamber over us at times when she wants to change position and sometimes pinballs between our two bodies at night. It seems safer to have the baby in a slightly separate space if we are all still together, but I also don’t want the newcomer to feel like the outsider! It’s not my preference to move to separate beds (dad with toddler, mom with baby), but if we do, how long do you think that needs to go on? I didn’t see where you talked about adding Juno to the mix in your family, so forgive me if you have already covered this. Thanks!

  • Danielle 10 November, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    Absolutely LOVE your post, all true and beautiful! ❤️ xx Danielle ~ *Very happily co-sleeping with lovely toddler and husband for 14 months now* ❤️

  • Anna-Louise 25 April, 2017 at 12:19 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post:) It’s so nice to ‘find’ someone who has the same view on this topic! Thanks for sharing 🙂 X. Anna-Louise from the Netherlands

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