Sleep for anyone with small children is basically a distant memory, however winter seems to add an extra factor into the mix. Getting out of bed to re-settle or feed little ones in the cold feels like an endurance event and there is a much higher possibility of little ones waking more too. As far as wellbeing is concerned sleep is very much a key cornerstone (I have an entire chapter on this in The Nourished Baby for this reason!). In this blog I shed light on some the science behind sleep in winter time for your bubs, along with some tips which just may help you to stretch out those sleep times during these months.
Did you know that when you are pregnant your baby’s temperature is very nicely regulated inside your womb?
However, the ability to regulate body temperature is a physiological adaption developed once outside that snug oven. When first born, a newborn baby is unable to shiver, which mean they will struggle to regulate their temperature all on their own. Something else you may not know is that babies have two types of fatty tissue (adipose tissue) – both white and brown. Babies primarily use their brown adipose tissue (known as BAT) to help keep themselves warm… yes those delicious cubby parts have a very important role! The only downside is that using this tissue requires your baby to expend a significant amount of energy – this means that they can become more stressed when cold (hence the increased waking) and they do rely on you to help keep warm.
Appropriate clothing is key to helping a baby (and young children) keep themselves warm. As a general rule of thumb they need one more layer than you. If in doubt check their forehead and pop your fingers down the back of their top too.
For sleep I cannot recommend a sleeping bag (or swaddle for newborns) enough – loose blankets drastically increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) so a sleeping bag greatly reduces this risk and ensures your baby and little one stays warm as they cannot kick these off!
The Magic of Merino
Merino wool comes from the toughest merino sheep – who live in the cold southern Alps (here in little old New Zealand). This means their wool is literally designed for extreme weather. Completely natural, this wool has the unique ability to breath and keep what is called the ‘micro-climate between your baby’s skin and clothing regulated – just the same as it does for the sheep! This means that it the very best clothing to help your baby regulate their own temperature especially when cold or sick during winter. As a child who spent considerable time outdoors I discovered merino a long time ago for this very reason!
I know that merino can be more on the expensive side, however what I have personally found is that as the quality is so high you get a lot of use out of it and it dries very quickly (mums with mountains of washing will appreciate how important this is!). Investing in a couple of pieces like onesies and pajamas that will be close to your baby’s skin during winter time is so worth it. This is why I am an ambassador for Merino Kids NZ – their products have literally saved our sleep!
The optimum temperature for baby’s bedroom is between 16 and 20 degrees. This may feel a bit cool to you, but there is a lot of research behind this. While you may be tempted to layer your baby with lots of clothing and have the heater cranked right up this will make their job harder to regulate their temperature – a slightly cooler room with breathable clothing and sleeping bags are more effective for helping your baby keep warm (and will also keep your power bill down!).
Sleeping bags, sleepwear and cuddly’s can all help in the process of learning to self-settle. There is a whole continuum of opinions about if, when and how to teach your baby to self settle. I probably need a whole book to dedicate to this, however, I do believe that babies and children need to be taught how to sleep and how to get themselves back to self (how you choose to do this is the real debate). Using clothing that not only helps your baby to regulate their temperature but also cues them that it is still sleep time will significantly help to reduce their waking.
Toddlers and Beyond.
When it comes to regulating temperature, newborns under 3 months need the most assistance. For infants up to 12 months of age this remains a time when they are still learning the regulate their own temperature. While children beyond this age have more of the physiological adaption to do this, keep in mind that they still cannot communicate easily to us if they are hot or cold (i.e. before going to bed). In addition, they will also have less ability to self-manage this if they do wake up cold. I still use merino sleep wear on both my boys – especially our youngest as he is only two. Our big boy (aged four and a half) has only just reached the stage where he can pretty much change himself fully independently.
I hope that helps just a bit to understand what is going on for your little one during the cooler months. Night waking is often due to a combination of factors so I do find it is good if you can rule out some of the more manageable ones like the cold! As food and sleep are very much inextricably linked I work with a lot of mums one-on-one to help tackle this side of it so if you are struggling check out my skype consultations which you can book online and keep posted for The Nourished Baby (due August 14th).
P.S If you are reading this and are in the trenches of sleep deprivation and feeling like you are own your own – this blog here is for you (you are very much not on your own).
xxx Dr Julie Bhosale