What is the ideal room temperature for a sleeping baby?

Posted in: Family, Life on November 30th, 2014
Harlow sound asleep in her Zipadeedoooooo
Harlow sound asleep in her Zipadeedoooooo


Well it turns out the answer isn’t as simple as one might think!

TL;DR: When putting your baby down to sleep, you should take into account the room temperature, the possible fluctuations of room temperature caused by external factors (outside temperature or heating devices), the baby’s attire and coverings and also any illnesses that may affect body temperature.

The backstory

I made an off-the-cuff comment on Reddit a few weeks ago explaining that we heated Harlow’s room and that she would sometimes be a little sweaty. I thought nothing of this until another Reddittor asked a question about heating his baby’s room. Some of the replies insinuated that heating a baby’s room can increase the risk of SIDS.

Naturally, this got me a little worried! Am I putting my child at harm by elevating her room temperature to help her sleep? To clarify this in my mind, and to ease my worries, I did some research… This is what I found…

The ideal “temperature” is a combination of factors

There was not one concrete answer on what the actual room temperature should be, but numerous websites, I reviewed recommended temperatures from about 16C/61F to 22C/72F. That said, I wouldn’t put my baby’s life in the hands of a few baby websites! So I dug into Google Scholar and found some relevant journal articles. Indeed, elevated body temperature and hyperthermia do increase the risk of SIDS, but room temperature is not the only factor in overheating.

Many factors affect the baby’s body temperature and poor management of these factors, in combination, can increase the risk of SIDS. These factors include insulation (covers, bedding, clothing, swaddles, etc); high outside temperatures; illness; artificially elevated room temperatures; and sleeping position.

While it may seem obvious that when it is hot out the baby should be dressed lightly, the studies indicate that many parents overdress or overwrap their children, leading to overheating. I would postulate that parents are so paranoid about the baby being cold that they tend to overdress, rather than underdress their baby. Thus, it is essential that parents take ambient temperature into account when dressing and swaddling their child for bed, and should ensure that all coverings are off the baby’s face.

Moreover, infants sleeping in prone position (face down) have a reduced ability to lose heat. Back sleeping with the face uncovered is recommend for more effective temperature control.

So to summarize, when putting your baby down to sleep, you should take into account the room temperature, room temperature fluctuations caused by external factors (outside temperature or heating devices), the baby’s attire and coverings and any illnesses that may affect body temperature.

How are we handling the baby’s room temperature now?

We use a small fan heater to heat the baby’s room and I have been checking on her more regularly during her naps. Her body temperature seems comfortable – my super scientific temperature measurement method says she is “warm and toasty” – and she doesn’t really sweat when she sleeps any more.

Since starting this research (only 24 hours ago) I have also been monitoring Harlow’s room temperature, which fluctuates from about 21C/70F to 23C/73.4F. This feels uncomfortably hot to me,  but it is pretty close to the temperature range recommend by the mommy blogs, and most importantly, Harlow seems to sleep well at this temperature! I also crack her bedroom door and the adjacent balcony door to help with airflow, which I think helps stop the room from getting too hot.

To balance the warmer air temperature, we only dress her in one layer of clothing (a full body onesie, usually cotton or fleece) and wrap her in one zipadeedoo fleece swaddle.  It should be noted that she is nearly 8 months old, so is towards the low end of the SIDS risk scale. That said, I was surprised to find out that 1/3 of SIDS deaths are in children aged 4-8 months!

Hopefully this is of some help to others who are wondering the same thing I did!

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor so this shouldn’t be misconstrued as medical advice. There are many SIDS risk factors, so do your own research and ask your doctor about what they recommend for your sleeping baby…

Ideal room temperature for babies – research and notes

From: Interaction between bedding and sleeping position in the sudden infant death syndrome: a population based case-control study

“… raising the environmental temperature around healthy infants aged 3 months or less increases respiratory oscillations… Thus infants in this age range, which is the age of peak incidence of the sudden infant death syndrome, would be at increased risk of the consequences of overwrapping.” p.85

“In addition to the excess of clothing and bedding on the infants who had died a higher proportion of them had been in rooms in which the heating was on all night.” p.88

Even though 2/3 of the deaths were in infants 4 months or younger, the fact that 1/3 were 4-8 months old was worrying to me, given Harlow is about 7.5 months. I genuinely thought that SIDS was extremely rare after 4 months!

From: National SIDS Council of Australia Information Statement ROOM TEMPERATURE

“there is no evidence to show that extra thermal insulation increases the risk of SIDS in babies who sleep on the back with the head and face uncovered. There is also no evidence to support maintaining a specific room temperature or any specific bedding configurations (number of blankets required) as this depends on a number of factors such as what the baby is wearing, whether it is summer or winter and whether there is heating or cooling.” p.3

From: Influence of Ambient Temperature on Sleep Characteristics and Autonomic Nervous Control in Healthy Infants

“Infants are vulnerable to heat stress and excess in environmental temperatures was associated with the development of sudden infant deaths (SIDS).” p.1

“exposing healthy sleeping infants to an elevation of ambient temperature led to changes similar to those reported as risk factors for SIDS, such as decrease in respiratory stability,46-48 and changes in HR autonomic controls.49-56 It remains to be evaluated whether these findings contribute to the occurrence of sudden death during sleep in an infant exposed to overheating during sleep.” p.6

From: Thermal environment and sudden infant death syndrome: case-control study

“In our study not only were case infants more likely to be overclothed for room temperature than control infants but they were significantly more likely to be prone and they were also more likely to have a history of recent illness, although this difference was not significant. In addition, more than a third of cases had some evidence of facial obstruction at death and some infants were found completely under bedding” p. 281

“We found infants who had died of the sudden infant death syndrome to be significantly overdressed for a given room temperature compared with control infants. These findings add to the accumulating evidence that hyperthermia is important in sudden unexpected infant death.” p.281

From: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: implications of altered physiological control during sleep.

“Several physiological changes ensue when infants sleep prone, including increased peripheral skin temperature, and increased baseline heart rate, together with decreased heart rate variability ” p.6

“Increased sweating occurs in SIDS victims … these cases were predominantly associated with a covered face …. involvement of thermal stress with SIDS is further supported by the finding of similar odds ratios for both too much and too little bedding and the suggestion that future SIDS victims may have had atypical temperature regulation…” p. 8

From: Sudden infant death syndrome (NIH)

“Make sure the room temperature is not too hot. The room temperature should be comfortable for a lightly clothed adult. A baby should not be hot to the touch.”

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