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Sleep Patterns Among Cross-Cultural Infants: How the Arrangements Influence Independence from Birth Through Childhood

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Sleep Patterns Among Cross-Cultural Infants: How the Arrangements Influence Independence from Birth Through Childhood


This study investigated sleep arrangements and their influence on children's ability to develop independence. It looks at 200 cross-cultural parent-child pairs and the parent's choice to either partake in a co-sleeping or independent sleeping arrangement. Data was collected through parent and teacher questionnaires as well as through observation of preschool aged children in a laboratory setting. The data analyzed early co-sleepers, reactive co-sleepers and independent sleepers. It was expected that independent sleepers would show signs of independence at an earlier age than those who partook in a co-sleeping arrangement, while early co-sleepers would show signs of independence before reactive co-sleepers. The study ultimately provided evidence that early co-sleepers and independent sleepers showed signs of independence around the same age while reactive co-sleepers took longer to adjust and become independent.

Sleep Patterns among Cross-Cultural Infants: How the Arrangements Influence Independence from Birth Through Childhood

This study is intended to investigate the different sleeping patterns among varying cultures and how those sleeping patterns influence a child's ability to achieve independence. Before we can look at independence however, it is important to discuss who opts for co-sleeping over solitary sleeping and their reasoning behind those decisions. Developmental Psychologists Morelli, Oppenheim, Rogoff and Goldsmith conducted a research experiment which juxtaposed two, geographically different communities to learn about the child sleeping patterns associated with each. Not only did they wish to discover the differences in the sleeping patterns of the children, but they also hoped to learn why the parents chose the decisions they did. The study focused primarily on the sleeping habits of newborns to toddlers of about two years of age. After the study terminated, Morelli et al. were able to understand and deduct the main values and goals of child-rearing of both cultures, as a result of their collected data. The researchers chose to observe families from the middle-class of the United States as well as families from a small Mayan village in Guatemala. Before beginning their experiment, they formed a hypothesis of their findings based upon previously gathered statistics from both, studied groups.

They hypothesized that in the United States it is customary, and considered most proper, for the parents and their infant to sleep separately. The reasons most parents in the United States choose an early, night separation are: the notion that separation is pivotal for an infant's development to be psychologically healthy, the possibility of smothering the baby in its sleep, the likelihood of passing an illness onto the baby, the potentiality for developing a difficult-to-break sleeping habit, and even the scare that a child might develop an overly sexually stimulated, oedipal complex, the parents' desire to enforce independence and self-autonomy unto their infant. Many previously researched statistics aided Morelli et al. in their assumptions. Only 35% of urban, white 6-48 month old children sleep in their parents' bed for either part or all of the night. Other statistics include: 18 out of 19 babies of well-educated parents slept alone from their parents from before 3 months old. Over half of the infants studied in Hong and Townes' experiment slept in their own room by 2 months, and by 6 months of age 98% of those children slept in their own rooms. Countless other research clearly finds that by a maximum of 6 months, most all middle-class children from the United States are sleeping independently from their parents and in a separate room entirely.

There were also hypothesis about the sleeping patterns of the children from Mayan families. Previous research has concluded that co-sleeping, a term used to describe a parent (usually mother) and child sleeping together, occurred in most non- U.S. countries regardless of their technological advancement. Many studies, as well as common knowledge on the subject, show that children in non-U.S. or non-Western communities typically sleep in the same bed as their parents for their first, few years of life. The separation normally occurs when the number of children in the family increases, inhibiting the parents from continued, co-sleeping with their older children. Even so, parents have sometimes resorted to separating from each other to provide all children with a sleeping partner. These parents do not consider co-sleeping as slowing their children's ability to achieve independence; they view this sleeping pattern as a necessity.

There have been several other studies conducted on co-sleeping, especially within the United States. Studies prove that mothers with only a high-school education are more likely to practice co-sleeping than mothers with some college experience. Interestingly, studies also indicate that Black infants are more likely than Caucasian infants to fall asleep in the presence of another person, sleep in the same room as their parents, and spend most if not all of the night in the same bed as their parents. Other research included that of Brazelton, who studied other cultures reactions to American sleeping patterns, he commented that, "the Japanese think the U.S. culture rather merciless in pushing small children toward such independence at night." Parents practicing co-sleeping clearly regard the practice as necessary and vital for a healthy infant and the development of a strong, interpersonal and interdependent relationship between parent and child. Even within the United States, Americans argue about the proper method of rearing a child in relation to sleeping patterns. In Appalachia, also referred to as Eastern Kentucky, the residents generally adhere to the pattern of co-sleeping. The families from Eastern Kentucky are not primarily comprised of immigrants or a specific ethnicity, but practice co-sleeping regardless. However, historians have linked this group with the people of colonial times on the eastern seaboard who co-slept to conserve space. Though space is no longer as issue or factor, the residents of Eastern Kentucky generally continue these colonial ideals. Other recent studies show that children



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