How co-sleeping benefits our rare disease family

Bed-sharing helps us sleep well and provide better care for our daughter

Richard E. Poulin III avatar

by Richard E. Poulin III |

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The occasional foot or backhand to the face has been worth the benefits of co-sleeping as a family. My wife, Judy, and I were forced to sleep with our daughter, Rylae-Ann, because of the debilitating symptoms of aromatic l-amino acid decarboxylase (AADC) deficiency.

Co-sleeping is when parents share a bed or sleeping space with their children. It’s common practice in Asia, where Judy and I both grew up. However, in the West, co-sleeping is a hot topic in parenting forums. Parents discuss concerns about safety or whether it’s taboo.

Evolution of our co-sleeping routine

When Rylae-Ann was born and came home for the first time, I agreed with Judy that she could sleep in our bed if we had a cocoon-style baby bed that went between us. I was afraid that we’d accidentally smother her or that blankets would cover her face. In addition to the cries and needs of a newborn, I didn’t sleep well because of these fears.

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An infant girl in a pink onesie reclines on a C-shaped pillow in bed. There's a small blanket under her, and the bed appears to be covered with various other sheets and blankets. She's holding a small baby doll in her arms and smiling at the camera above her.

The Poulin family became accustomed to sleeping together as it improved Rylae-Ann’s sleep and care. (Photo by Richard E. Poulin III)

However, as her symptoms began manifesting at 3 months old, having her close was essential. Our goal was to transition to a side crib, but it never happened.

Over time, we became excellent co-sleepers, and the arrangement significantly helped Judy and me to work as a team. I thought I was going crazy from lack of sleep trying to care for Rylae-Ann, so having her next to us allowed us to access a few extra minutes of precious sleep.

Even after our daughter’s symptoms began to disappear following gene therapy, we continued to sleep together. Today, at 5 years old, Rylae-Ann often makes her way to our room, and with little fussing, we allow it.

We used to hide this from others, but it turns out that co-sleeping has several benefits. Thanks in part to a 2011 article by the “Today” show, I’ve started to see others openly supporting the movement.

Co-sleeping creates strong bonds and attachments between parents and their children. Being in close physical proximity throughout the night can help children feel more secure, leading to a stronger emotional connection between parents and their little ones. Even when Judy and I have the option of separate beds, we would rather sleep next to each other because sleeping next to people you feel safe with is reassuring. It’s no different for children.

The sounds and vibrations of sleeping beside others can provide helpful sensory stimulation. Rylae-Ann heard our breathing, felt our heartbeats, and warmed from the heat of our bodies. It was a soothing experience that helped her to sleep better.

Co-sleeping can also make nighttime routines easier. Rather than having to get up and walk to a separate room, Judy and I could easily respond to Rylae-Ann’s needs. We could share duties or take turns feeding, comforting, or simply providing a reassuring presence.

Over several years, Rylae-Ann’s intermittent sleep pattern became more typical because co-sleeping made her less anxious. She woke up less and fell asleep faster. Sleep is essential to the brain, so co-sleeping most likely aided in Rylae-Ann’s cognitive and emotional development.

A 5-year-old girl curls up in her bed atop pink striped Hello Kitty sheets. She's lying on her side, with her hands folded under her head. A comforter partially covers her legs, and there's a large stuffed Hello Kitty toy sitting up in the bed beside her. It appears to be midday, as sunlight is streaming in under the curtains.

At 5 years old, Rylae-Ann spends most nights in her own bed but still frequently prefers to co-sleep with her parents. (Photo by Richard E. Poulin III)

Developing a safe sleep routine

Judy and I understand that co-sleeping has dangers and is not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, as it’s been linked to accidental suffocation. We try to minimize the risks, such as by not consuming any alcohol or medication that could cause difficulty in waking.

Co-sleeping offered our family several benefits, including enhanced bonding, improved sleep, and support for our daughter’s health challenges. Co-sleeping is a decision that should be made based on individual circumstances and your family’s preferences. Regardless of what you decide, your choice should be respected. For my family, it creates a sense of safety and helps us to sleep better, so that when we wake up, we can start our journey together.

Note: AADC News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of AADC News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to aromatic l-amino acid decarboxylase deficiency.