Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
168
Bed-Sharing and Evolution #2
January 3, 2024

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Introduction

A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain, A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep

Blog Posts 15, based on the United States of America Department of the Army Field Manual: Holistic Healing and Fitness, describe what really matters for your child’s sleep. If sleep is an important enough topic for national defense than surely sleep should be considered a serious topic for parenting!

Blog 168Bed-Sharing and Evolution #2

Are early bedtimes important for a baby sleep schedule?

Because of evolution, today, human adults do not need to go to sleep at 6pm and awake at 6am. This may be our biologic heritage, but adaptation to living in latitudes far from the equator make this no longer necessary for adults and older children. However, early bedtimes still might be especially important for babies and very young children. This statement that early bedtimes might be especially important for babies and young children might be universally true or perhaps it applies more to the those who adapted to the northerly regions of Western Europe than those who adapted to the northerly regions of Asia.

Separate from the evolutionary heritage of early bedtimes, our primate heritage also favored prolonged and intimate contact between the mother and her baby for breast feeding and protection.

In non-human primates, constant close contact between mothers and their babies over each 24-hour period is common for survival (for breast feeding and protection from predators). So, there is a biological basis for close proximity between the mother and her baby. But the degree of closeness between human mothers and their babies over a 24-hour period became more variable as cultures developed. Humans today vary, by culture, regarding the closeness of contact between mothers and their babies over a 24-hour period. Mothers might sleep in the same bed with their baby at night for a variety of reasons: It is the cultural norm, the belief that it is the ‘natural’ state of mother-baby care, maternal anxiety or depression, no extra space for the baby to sleep, unresolved intimacy issues with the father, and other reasons. Mothers might not sleep in the same bed with their babies at night for a variety of reasons. For example, a mother employed outside the home might be less able to breast feed and more able to hire a night nurse or more able to afford an extra room for the child’s sleep. For Conventional Care, 57% of the mothers were employed full-time before maternity leave and for Proximal Care, 29% of the mothers were employed full-time before maternity leave (Blog Posts 163165).

Therefore, because of cultural changes, today, not all human mothers need to have constant close contact with their baby for survival (for breast feeding and protection from predators) over every 24-hour period. This may be our biologic heritage, but cultural variation allows for adaptive survival (formula feeding and locked homes for physical security) in different living arrangements. However, close contact during the day from a nurturing adult from the mother or other (grandmother, aunt, nanny, older sister, etc.) may still be especially important for babies and very young children for health, safety, and development.

It is not biologically necessary for human adults to have early bedtimes nor is it necessary for the human mother and her baby to have constant contact. In particular, it is not biologically necessary for the human mother to sleep with her baby for the baby’s feeding and protection. Studying how bed-sharing encourages an emotional or psychological bond between a mother and her baby (Blog Post 166), researchers concluded that, “Thus, there is not yet enough evidence to support or refute the primary message of the supporters of bed-sharing, which suggests that bed sharing is an evolutionary meaningful and natural practice with several benefits to the infant and mother.”

(To be continued)

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