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Your baby’s sleep in winter – what are the basics?

Many parents find their baby’s sleep changes depending on the season. During winter, it’s especially nice for adults to snuggle up and stay in bed for as long as possible. It becomes harder to get up to their baby through the night and in the early morning. This is when it can become very tempting to start co-sleeping and start practices which offer the shortest possible solution to getting back to bed quickly.

Extra feeds, co-sleeping and rocking to sleep are common overnight responses from parents, especially in the winter months.

10 Winter sleep facts

  1. Babies will wake if they feel cold. Just like adults, if a baby feels cold, they’re unlikely to go off to sleep easily and will wake more easily.
  2. If you’re struggling to work out how warmly to dress your baby for sleeps, a good guide is to dress your baby as you would yourself, comfortably warm and not too hot or cold.
  3. If your baby is young and you’re still wrapping them, use a wrap which is lightweight and breathable, made from muslin or cotton.
  4. Avoid using lambswool, thick blankets or doonas in your baby’s cot. Their bed linen needs to be lightweight and breathable.
  5. Place your hand on your baby’s skin – it should feel comfortably warm to touch. If your baby feels hot and is sweaty, remove a clothing layer. Don’t worry if their hands and feet feel cool, this is normal.
  6. Dress your baby warmly when you’re getting them ready for sleep. Layers of clothing help to trap air and are better than clothes which are thick and bulky.
  7. Follow the safe sleeping guidelines, no matter what the temperature.
  8. Many parents find they like to use flannelette sheets in their baby’s cot during winter. These do tend to feel warmer and cosier against the baby’s skin.
  9. Use a safe sleeping bag for your baby. make sure it has a fitted neck, fitted armholes and no hood.
  10. Always remove your baby’s hats, beanies and head coverings before they go to sleep. Babies control their body temperature mostly through their head and face.

What about the room temperature?

There is no ‘ideal’ room temperature for a baby to sleep. As long as they are put down to sleep on their back and dressed appropriately for the room temperature – not over or underdressed, they’re unlikely to overheat. You can use a room thermometer if this helps you to feel less anxious. If you’re using air conditioning, aim for a temperature in the low 20 degrees Celsius range.

Are you hungry again?

Babies will still wake when they’re hungry and/or thirsty, no matter what month it is. Their feeding frequency depends on their age and stage of development. Babies only have a small stomach and digest and metabolise their feeds quickly. Even though it’s nice when a baby ‘sleeps through the night’, without needing to be fed, this tends not to happen until babies are at least six months or older. It’s common for breastfed babies especially to continue to wake for at least one (or more) feeds up to seven months and older.

A few more winter sleep tips

  • Avoid the temptation to co-sleep with your baby because it’s cold. Co-sleeping increases the risks of Sudden Unexplained Death in Infancy (SUDI). Check here for more information.
  • You may choose to use a heater or air-conditioner in your baby’s room. Investigate timer options so the temperature can be more easily monitored and to avoid extremes.
  • Make sure you put socks on your baby’s feet or dress them in an all – in – one suit. Singlets are another good layering option.
  • If your baby is wakes because their nappy is leaking and they’re cold, try buying a larger size or choosing a more absorbent brand. If you’re feeding your baby in the night, check to see if their nappy needs changing. Being wet and cold is not conducive to good sleep.

Written for GAIA by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse, July 2022.