Toddlers should sleep in a cot until age three, study finds

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK 

A cot can be one of the most costly baby purchases parents-to-be make and now there's more reason than ever to get the most value from it. 

A study has found that keeping young children in their cots until three years of age contributes significantly to healthier sleep patterns not only for children, but also for their parents.

The study was published in journal Sleep Medicine with researchers studying the sleeping patterns of caregivers and children in five western countries; the UK, USA, Canada Australia and New Zealand.

The study stated that, "toddler crib-sleeping decreases linearly with age between 18 and 36 months," meaning that toddlers are transitioning out of cots at ages that then affect their sleep patterns.

Among the 1,983 participants, 63 per cent of toddlers aged 18 to 24 months still slept in a crib. By age 24 to 30 months the percentage of toddlers still sleeping in cots fell to 34 per cent, and by 30 to 36 months, just 13 per cent.

The findings were consistent across all of the countries studied.

"Across age groups and countries, crib sleeping was significantly associated with an earlier bedtime, shorter sleep onset latency [the time it takes to get to sleep], fewer night awakenings, longer stretches of time asleep, increased nighttime sleep duration, and decreased bedtime resistance and sleep problems."

The length of awake period was reported as being unaffected by sleep space, however. The information was collected from a smartphone app, to which caregivers submitted data.

Lead author Ariel Williamson and fellow researchers have found in prior studies, that toddlers experiencing sleep deprivation have a tendency to have more difficulty with tasks, suffer more temper tantrums and lack self-regulating behaviours.

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"At this age, parents and caregivers are the ones paying attention to, and being affected by, their toddlers' sleep," Williamson told Reuters. "It's important to record a caregiver's report as much as objective measures of sleep."

As their babies grow into toddlerhood and gain more physical independence, parents tend to see the cot as a cage, which compels them to transition children out of it at an age when kids still actually find the confined space comforting. This results in the interruption of sleep patterns and an increase in sleep deprivation for both caregivers and toddlers.

"Children like small spaces as they feel safe and comfortable with them," Lisa Meltzer, a pediatric psychologist, told Reuters. "If you watch young children play, they like to play under the table or in large boxes."

"Adults tend to see cribs as cages, but that's not how children see them," she added.

Williamson said of the importance of sleep, "Research during the last decade has shown how important healthy sleep is across the lifespan, but especially during childhood."