After a bedtime routine and soothing, you put your baby down drowsy but awake. Do you then leave the room or stay until your child is in a deep sleep state? A study by Professor Mindell (Blog Post 10) noted that parental presence at sleep onset is much more common in Asian than English-speaking countries. “Parental presence in the room at bedtime was the most potent predictor in explaining the number of night wakings, longest sleep interval, and total sleep time.” When parents remain in the room at bedtime, children tend to have more night wakings, shorter sleep intervals, and shorter total sleep time. Separately, in another study of 3-year-olds, shorter night sleep duration was linked to parental presence when falling asleep and a third study noted that parental presence until sleep onset was the factor most strongly associated with sleep awakening at 17 and 29 months.
Does this mean that you must always leave the room after putting your baby down and never linger to watch your baby fall asleep?
A 2020 paper, by Dr. Jacqueline Henderson, prospectively studied a group of children longitudinally at 1, 3, 6, 9, and 12 months of age, using a 6-day sleep diary. At 6 and 12 months, some infants were classified as “self-sleep regulated (S-R) and some as non-self sleep-regulated (NS-R). The ‘self-sleep regulated (S-R) infants had earlier bedtimes, longer night sleep, fewer night wakings per night, fewer night wakings per week, less time awake per night, and less bed-sharing (co-sleeping).
Parental presence at sleep onset at 1 month predicted S-R and NS-R status at 6 and 12 months. However, “A new finding in this study was the clear dose-response relationship between the frequency of parental settling behaviors at 1-month and later infant sleep regulation status, notably, every infant at 1-month of age did have a parent present when they fell asleep on more than one night of the week, so parental presence per se is not predictive of later outcomes. The critical difference (at 6 and 12 months) was the majority (87%) of parents of NS-R infants were present when their child fell asleep on 5 or 6/6 nights [at 1 month of age].”
In other words, parental presence at sleep onset at 1 month on 2 to 4 out of 6 nights does not interfere with the development of self-soothing but parental presence on 5 or 6 out of 6 nights does!