They may share DNA, but sharing a sleep space is an entirely different challenge. Minimizing distractions and committing to routine are key to success.
Whether your kids are sharing a room out of necessity or because they want to, sleeping in the same space can be tricky and almost always presents a learning curve.
Spending some time setting new habits and attending to the room’s arrangement can pay off big time when it comes to catching more Zzz’s.
Before we talk about room sharing among siblings, here’s what a perfectly sleep-conducive environment looks like, from birth to school age and beyond:
- dark as possible (100 percent pitch black if possible)
- cool enough, which is ideally 65-70°F (18–21°C)
- clear from distracting clutter
- continuous noise running in the background (e.g., white or pink noise)
For families who have the space to do so, it is also ideal to have siblings sleep independently in their own individual rooms. You can generally minimize noise and other disruptions when siblings sleep separately.
Sleep is typically better (and longer!) overall when kids have their own room. So, arrange for individual rooms if you can.
If you don’t have the space or you prefer that your children sleep in the same room together, there are three key strategies to keep in mind to optimize everyone’s sleep:
Siblings can easily fall into the habit of keeping and/or waking each other up while sharing a room together. It can be tough for some kids to settle to sleep while hearing someone else struggle to sleep too.
Some kiddos are so sensitive that simply hearing someone else breathing while sleeping can be disruptive. It can be even tougher if a sibling is having a bad dream. All of this can lead to a bit of a dance: “I wake you up; you wake me up.” This leads to less sleep — and poorer quality sleep, too.
Babies are famously loud and active sleepers, which some older siblings might find disruptive. As young babies become older and reach certain milestones, they might interrupt their older siblings’ sleep by standing or sitting repeatedly in their crib.
One way to minimize these disruptions is to create audible and visual barriers between your children’s beds:
- Place beds as far away from each other as possible.
- Place children with earlier bedtimes the furthest away from the door.
- Put noise machines between beds to create audible barriers.
- Use room dividers or curtains (safely) between beds to create visual barriers.
- Consider adding area rugs to bedroom floors to help absorb additional noise from inside and outside the room.
Although these will not eliminate all noise and other interruptions, they can greatly help to keep disruption to a minimum.
Creating visual barriers between beds also has the added benefit of helping older children to feel as though they have their own personal space inside the room.
While siblings share a room, it’s usually best to stagger bedtimes if possible. Although it can sound appealing to have all kiddos down for the night at the same time, and while this does work for some families, most families find this to be chaotic and counterproductive.
So, unless you have twins who are going to bed at the same time, try to separate bedtimes by at least the amount of time it takes each child to get to sleep.
For example, your younger child takes 20 minutes to fall asleep at a 7 p.m. bedtime, and your older child takes 10 minutes to fall asleep at an 8 p.m. bedtime, which leaves you with some time to spend with your older child during their routine.
If bedtimes are approximately the same, but one child takes less time to fall asleep than the other(s), then put that child down first.
Babies do not necessarily have to go down first, since I recommend that their bedtimes are flexible and always based on age-appropriate wake windows.
Although I usually recommend that bedtime routines are completed inside the bedroom, in the case of siblings sharing a room it is better to complete the routine in another quiet, dimly lit environment instead.
If you have a child (or children) who are still napping, it’s important for older children to be able to access other living spaces during the day for work or play.
Putting a little bit of focus into planning for separate bedtimes can make a big difference in the amount of time it takes to get all your kiddos down for the night.
All of this assumes that your children are generally sleeping well and independently.
If you’re struggling with sleep issues with any of your little ones, I highly recommend focusing on improving their sleep first, before placing them into the same room as their siblings.
It can be difficult to improve sleep while siblings share a room (for all the reasons previously noted!) and putting them into the same room together may result in them sleeping even more poorly. You may also want to wait until your baby is sleeping throughout the night without waking.
So, always work on any outstanding sleep issues while children are sleeping in separate rooms, even if that means someone is sleeping in your room at first. Then, you can work on optimizing an excellent, sleep-conducive environment for siblings to share.
The keys to great sleep for children of all ages include a perfectly sleep-conducive environment, an age-appropriate sleep schedule and bedtime, and a consistent bedtime routine that is predictable and repeated each night before bed.
Encouraging children to fall asleep independently at the beginning of the night (at bedtime) also helps with getting the best sleep possible overnight.
If room sharing is new to your children, their sleep might be a bit rough at first as they transition to sleeping together in the same environment. If you stay consistent, this will definitely improve with time, patience, and lots of practice.
Rosalee Lahaie Hera is a Certified Pediatric & Newborn Sleep Consultant, a Certified Potty Training Consultant, and the founder of Baby Sleep Love. She’s also a mom to two beautiful little humans. Rosalee is a researcher at heart with a background in healthcare management and a passion for sleep science. She takes a highly analytical approach and uses proven, gentle methods to help families (like yours!) get the sleep they need. Rosalee is a big fan of fancy coffee and great food (both cooking it and eating it). You can connect with Rosalee on Facebook or Instagram.