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Bunk beds- should you or shouldn’t you?

August 11, 2010

As my daughter approached 3 (still in a crib!) and my tall son seemed to be growing in the shape of a C in his toddler bed, I had to come up with a new sleeping solution.We don’t have a bedroom big enough for them to have two twin beds. We needed a compact solution. After lots of research I decided on bunk beds.  I would bet that every doctor, furniture manufacturer and grandmother will tell you that kids younger than 6 or 7 years should not be in bunk beds. I won’t disagree with them. An American Academy of Pediatrics study found that annually, an average of almost 36,000 children are treated in emergency rooms for bunk bed-related injuries.  And the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission requires that all bunk beds sold display a warning label advising against putting children younger than 6 on the top bunk. Yet in another stunning example of do as I say, not as I do, my kids Jake and Jenn, ages 4.5 and 3, are the new proud owners of bunk beds.

Actually, I bought a bunk bed with a trundle, initially thinking that Jake would sleep in the bottom bunk and Jenn would call the trundle her home. When it was delivered and put together, we ended up using the top bunk for him and the bottom for her. The prospect of using the trundle daily (pulling it out and making it for night; unmaking it and putting it away in the morning; losing all floor space while trundle is out) seemed overwhelming. I’m sure you are thinking, “Okay, so that’s more work, but the trundle is way safer.” True.  I  didn’t make this decision lightly, but I’m hopeful that we will be lucky and make it through the bunk bed-danger years unscathed.

Lots of people actually have bunk beds for their under-6 year olds and they have given me lots of advice on this.  Very first, my fingers are crossed. Beyond that, here are some other ways to make it safer:

  • Before even buying the beds, start with very firm rules of what is and isn’t allowed on the beds and ladder. At our house: bed is for reading or sleeping.  The ladder is a means to get to the top, not a place to lounge or chat.  It also might not hurt that my kids fully believe that the toddler bed and crib, still in the apartment, could possibly be re-introduced to their room. The know-your-child advice works here the best– I could never have trusted my son at 3 in a room with a bunk bed but I do with my 3-year old daughter. Every kid listens and obeys rules (or disobeys!) differently.
  • Remove the ladder during the day, pulling it out only for bedtime. We store our ladder on the bed all the time although your children will realize how to climb the bed without a ladder at some point.
  • Make sure there are sturdy railings on both sides of the top bunk. We have a railing on the bottom bunk, as well.
  • Have a nightlight in the room for late-night bathroom trips down the ladder.
  • Be sure there are no toys on the floor near the bed.
  • Pay particular attention when the kids’ friends are over – non-bunk sleepers LOVE bunk beds. Nothing good will result!
  • Pay extra attention while the beds are new (and fun and exciting!!).  My kids have (almost) lost interest in the bunk beds, after two months.

Ohdeedoh has done a couple of posts about bunk beds, and readers’ comments from them are informative. Here are some below:

  • My brother and I shared bedbunks till I was about 6-8 and I have fond memories of chatting after nights out… BUT – if your older child stays awake late bear in mind it will affect your younger child’s sleep patterns.
  • With the bunk beds you gain a ton of room, but its difficult to snuggle and its been a bit of a fight to keep my youngest off the top bunk (she’s four).
  • We put my daughter in the top at age 4, mainly out of necessity. I was nervous about it at first, but she was super careful and has never had a fall. I wouldn’t even dream of putting my son in the top bunk at that age. He’s too wiggly, and far too fearless. But my daughter has always been a still sleeper, and very cautious. She’s diligent about making sure her younger brother never climbs up. She’s nearly 6 now, and we’ve never had a bunk-bed related accident. I think they’re great. A fantastic space-saver when you need to multi-purpose a bedroom.

Once employed in tv production, Jill Austin now uses those management skills to boss around her husband, son, daughter and dog, with minimal success. When she’s not turning daily life into a production, Jill is a free-lance writer, a middle-of-the-pack triathlete and an optimist.