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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 6

How Co-Sleeping with an Infant Might Make You a Better Dad

Fathers who sleep next to children have lower testosterone levels



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Co-sleeping, the practice of sharing a bed with your baby, has a controversial place in modern society. Proponents argue that it increases the parent-child bond, whereas detractors worry about safety. Now an anthropological study adds a new finding to the debate: fathers who sleep next to their babies tend to have significantly lower levels of testosterone than those who sleep in a different room.

Lee Gettler, an anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame, compared Filipino men's testosterone levels before having a child and again four years later. Men who reported sleeping on the same surface as their child experienced a steep decline in nighttime testosterone levels not seen in men who slept in another room, according to the paper published in September 2012 in PLOS One. Studies on women have shown that mothers who sleep with their children pass in and out of sleep. The same disruptions in men could possibly decrease testosterone production, Gettler and his co-authors write.

Previous work in the same population showed that fathers who fully throw themselves into caring for their children are more likely to have low testosterone, suggesting that hormonal fluctuations may support men in being good fathers. “Lower testosterone might orient men more toward the needs of the partner and children and away from risky behavior and competition with other males—which could conflict with investments in parenting,” Gettler says.

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