Hot weather can unsettle even the best little sleep stars. Whilst many of us enjoy the warmer weather, it can also be a worrying time for parents of younger babies who are usually very aware that the sleep environment being too hot is a known risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
The good news is that there are several easy steps parents can take to help their little ones sleep safely and soundly as the mercury soars.
The first step is to be sure how hot your child’s room is. The safest overnight room temperature for a little one is 16-20°C - yet I remember being shocked at how cold 18°C actually feels! A room thermometer is essential.
You are likely to need to take steps during the daytime to make the room appropriate for night-time sleep. Opening doors and windows, not just in the child’s room but throughout the house, will help air to circulate. If you can safely open a cellar door or loft hatch you may find this also helps the warm air dissipate.
You can help this process along by using a fan in the child’s room. Keep an eye on the temperature to see whether this helping as it may be that it is simply recirculating the warm air. In that case, try re-positioning the fan or hanging some cold wet towels over door frames or chair-backs which may cool the air that is circulating. Similarly, you can place a bowl of ice a safe distance in front of the fan so that the air passes over it before making its way through the room.
Always be very careful regarding the safety of electrical devices, ice and open doors/windows with a small human around!
Babies often love to sleep on-the-move. Be aware that in warm weather a baby is likely to be become very hot in a car seat so this may not be a great place for them to nap. Similarly, never cover a pram containing a sleeping child as this will prevent the air from circulating, increasing the temperature inside. It is important however to shield baby from the sun whilst in their pram or pushchair – this is best done by way of a parasol or sunshade which still allows you full sight of your little one.
If, despite your best efforts, as bedtime approaches your little one’s room is still well above 20°C, consider whether there is a cooler room they can sleep in. Whilst the change may unsettle a baby, they are unlikely to sleep well in a room that is too warm.
Avoid synthetic bedding and waterproof sheets as they will make a little one considerably hotter than a cotton bottom sheet.
Falling asleep is typically more difficult if our body feels too warm. It is therefore sensible to wind children down from energetic activities or anything that is making them particularly hot and sweaty. To help your child be a suitable temperature you could make the bath or shower just a degree or two cooler than usual.
It can be very tricky to know how to dress your little one in times of extreme temperatures – not least because there is a good deal of fluctuation across children as to what they do and don’t like to wear to sleep! If it is really hot (27°C+) then a little one is most likely to be comfortable in just a nappy or at most a nappy with a thin short-sleeved or sleeveless vest and no additional covers or sleeping bag.
For temperatures of 24-26°C, some babies will prefer a vest plus very light 0.5 tog sleeping bag whereas others may sleep better wearing pyjamas or a footless sleepsuit and no sleeping bag. This will largely depend on what your baby is used and simply which they prefer – in my experience some little ones aren’t particularly keen on having bare legs in a sleeping-bag whereas others are happiest foregoing any under layers but retaining their sleeping-bag.
Similarly, for temperatures between 21 and 23°C you may find that either just a vest (long or short-sleeved) plus a 1 tog sleeping-bag works well but a little one may prefer a footless sleepsuit and a lighter 0.5 tog sleeping-bag.
It is worth making the decision how to dress your baby after considering the guidelines that accompany your chosen sleeping bag.
Whichever option you choose, it is best to ensure that a child’s feet are not covered by either a sleepsuit or socks as this will deny body-heat one of its usual escape routes.
Above all, ensure your baby is safe which means no loose covers and that baby is placed down in accordance with safe-sleeping advice.
Room temperature is likely to vary overnight. So too will your little one’s temperature as a function of their circadian rhythm. It is a good idea to check on your baby periodically and check whether they feel too warm. Avoid relying on touching extremities such as a little one’s hand or feet as these do not accurately reflect how warm a baby is. Instead gently touch the skin on the chest or at the top of the back.
Remember that once into the middle and later parts of the night the room temperature is likely to drop. This can mean that despite being comfortable earlier in the night that a little one becomes cold as the night goes on. You may find that popping on a light additional layer just before you go to bed avoids your child getting cold.
For the same reason, if there has been a fan on in your little one’s room it may be wise to turn it off or down once the real heat of the day has passed. In any event, always ensure that a fan is not blowing cool air directly onto a little one or within grabbing distance at any time.
Babies are at an increased risk of SIDS during their first year and an overly warm room is a known risk factor. As a parent it is very natural to be concerned about your baby’s safety during warmer temperatures. The best advice is for a baby to room-share with his parents for at least the first 6 months which makes it easy to check on your little one frequently. If you notice that your baby appears unusually red, has any form of rash or is breathing in a way that is different to normal then seek medical advice – trust your instincts if something does not feel right.
It is important to keep your little one’s fluids up in periods of hot weather. Exclusively breastfed babies who have not started solids get everything they need from breastmilk. You may find they want to feed more than usual, including in the night. If you ordinarily do not feed your little one back to sleep then try to ensure you put baby back down awake after these extra feeds so as not to introduce a feed-to-sleep association.
Bottle-fed babies may require water in addition to formula during hot weather. In accordance with NHS guidelines, for babies under 6 months this should be cooled, boiled tap-water. For babies over 6 months (including breastfed babies who have commenced weaning) tap water no longer needs to be boiled.
A sunken fontanelle indicates dehydration so if you see this at any time, seek emergency medical attention for your baby.
Warm weather can make little ones grouchy and irritable. Night-wakings will be more quickly resettled if a little one remains calm. A quick drink and possibly a cold flannel to the wrists and forehead if your little one is really struggling, plus some reassurance from a parent is likely to the quickest route to your child returning to sleep. Whilst the hot weather may make your little one wake more in the night, which can be tiring for parents, this is the UK the balmy nights are unlikely to last! Until they pass the calmer and cooler you can keep your child the less disrupted their sleep will be.