The secret to sleeping well in winter


The secret to sleeping well in winter

Its winter and its cold out!  So what is the secret to sleeping well in winter. How do you keep your little one warm enough to ensure they sleep well in winter?  It makes sense to stay warm inside, but is warmth the best thing for sleep? How warm is too warm, and how do you know you’ve got it right? When this whole parenting gig is new to you (and even when it’s not), it can all be a bit overwhelming, so here are some things to be aware of in the cooler winter months.

Cool is good for sleep

Yes, it’s true, cool is good for sleep. The first thing is not to panic if you walk into your baby’s room and it feels a little bit cooler than the rest of the house. This is especially true in winter if you are heating the living areas of your house and you’ve just come from a warm room. Cool can actually be helpful for sleep. However, if you can see your breath in front of your face, please do up that temperature! I said cool, not cold.

A cooler core body temperature is associated with falling asleep.  We all dip a little in core body temperature when we first drift off to sleep.  Conversely, a warmer core temperature is thought to be energising. So it stands to reason we don’t want our child’s room too warm if we want them to sleep well.

In looking into the research for this I did get sidetracked a little and discovered that some cultures revel in the cold for sleep. In Scandinavia it’s typical for children to sleep in prams outdoors in cold weather [1]. Indeed, in Sweden, daycare centers actually put babies outside to sleep in cold winter weather once a day, with the belief that it helps them sleep well [2].  In a  Finnish study, parents were questioned about the cultural practice of allowing their children to sleep outdoors in temperatures ranging from between -27 and +5 degrees Celcius (and you thought it was cold here). This common practice of napping outside once a day was taken for granted, and usually began when the child was 2 weeks old. The parents’ experiences were mainly positive and they believed their children took longer winter naps outdoors compared with naps taken indoors [3].

No I am definitely not suggesting you put your child outside to sleep, because sleeping in extreme cold in winter is certainly not the norm here. Please don’t do it. But it is interesting to consider, especially when it is much more common to find parents overcompensating with warmer bedrooms over on this side of the world. It makes sense that keeping your little one comfortable but not overly warm may help them become better sleepers during the colder months… so what temperature are we actually talking about?

The best temperature for sleep

Yes, there is a best temperature for sleep. But before I get into that, I want to let you know that being in a room that is too warm can lead to overheating which is a risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), so it’s important not to overcompensate for the cooler temperatures outside. At the same time you want to ensure your little one is warm enough so they don’t wake cold when the temperature drops in the early hours of the morning.

So what is the best temperature for sleep? The temperature range is typically 16-20 degrees Celcius (so on average 18 degrees Celsius), and yes, that’s likely to feel a little cooler to walk into after being in a warmer lounge area. Young babies aren’t very good at regulating their body temperature, so you want to try and keep the room the right temperature and ensure they’re suitably dressed (newborns in particular can’t adjust their body temperature, so they are the exception and have a slightly warmer room to what I’m talking about here). From 4 months+ ideally your child’s room stays around 18 degrees Celcius consistently throughout the different seasons; however when not every house is insulated effectively this can be a big ask. So what’s the best way to keep baby comfortable and prevent overheating?

How to prevent overheating whilst keeping baby warm and safe

Here are some tips to help your baby stay warm and safe during the cooler nights, and prevent overheating or getting too cold:

  • Use a heater with a thermostat. An electric heater or heat pump with a thermostat is helpfully because it helps regulate the temperature, making it as consistent as possible. But do make sure nothing is blowing directly onto the cot.
  • Keep the heater away from the cot or bassinet and be wary of fan heaters which can easily overheat a room. It’s also best to avoid gas heaters in a bedroom due to the fumes.
  • Keep the bedroom well ventilated – this can mean keeping the door open for sleep as opposed to tightly closed. This helps assist airflow and allows hot air to escape, thus helping to prevent overheating.
  • Keep the cot clear from loose bedding and blankets. These can be an additional hazard that your baby can get twisted and caught up in. An extra blanket may seem like a good idea in winter, but you’re better to move to an appropriate seasonal sleep sack, and appropriate clothing underneath, to keep your little one warm. The sleep store has an article on the appropriate tog rating and suitable clothing recommendations for the different sleep sacks here.
  • Use natural fibres for both bedding and clothing. This also applies to swaddles and sleep sacks or sleeping bags. Think wool/merino in winter along with cotton and bamboo. Natural fibres are breathable and allow your child’s temperature to regulate, to prevent overheating. The opposite of this is also true, so please don’t use polar fleece or other manmade fibres as they don’t breathe. This leads to overheating as your baby won’t be able to regulate their temperature in synthetic fabrics.
  • No hats for sleep. The head is the easiest way for trapped heat to escape, so it’s important it is kept clear from coverings inside during sleep. Make sure the room is a suitable temperature instead.
  • Think of layering for warmth. A few layers of lighter natural fibres are better than one heavy layer, and it is easier to take a layer off or put one on as needed.
  • Keep baby’s cot away from windows to allow for more of a consistent temperature. It can help to have double glazing or black out blinds on windows to stop the chill coming through the glass too.

How do you know if baby is warm enough?

Taking into account the factors above, how do you know if your baby is warm enough?

  • Babies typically need one extra layer than adults to keep warm – remember if you are still swaddling, this swaddle counts as the extra layer (and remember to use a natural fibre).
  • Check on your child’s core temperature by checking down the back of their neck. If they are warm, they should be fine, even if extremities like hands and feet are cool to the touch. If they are too hot or sweaty, take off a layer to reduce their core temperature. If they are too cool, add a layer.
  • If hands or feet are feeling very cold to the touch or are looking a little blue and motley (but core body temperature is good) consider a full sleep suit that covers feet and an arms-in sleep sack. Often this can be a personal choice.
  • Just like adults, babies are also individuals, so some will run warmer than others and are more prone to getting sweaty more easily, while others feel the chill quicker. Take this into consideration for clothing and bedding and if you’re concerned check in on them.

The important thing to remember is not to overcompensate for the cold to the point of overheating, and ensure your little ones sleep space is still safe with no loose items in the cot that can pose an additional risk in winter. Ideally your little one stays warm enough and never overheats – but above all sleeps well! And if you’re after a little one-on-one help with sleep, please book in a free initial call. And follow along on Facebook and Instagram for more sleep tips, fun facts and giveaways.