The son this website was inspired by is a MUCH better sleeper than when he was a baby, but he will probably never be a perfect sleeper and I have grown to just accept that (maybe I will have to drag him out of bed as a teenager — we’ll see). My son is sensitive to schedule and routine changes and is, in general, a light sleeper. When he was 3 years old he started to have a few night-wakings every night for 3 nights, which was unusual at the time. When he was 4 months old it was common, expected, and highly frustrating. And at 3, it was no less frustrating and probably more tiring since I was no longer used to it.
It was my own article last week that helped me figure out what had changed. I wrote an article about baby temperament and sensitivity, and it reminded me just how sensitive he is/was to temperature. And, it was 2-3 nights prior that we thought it was very cold at night and we put thermals on underneath his fleece footed PJ’s. He was getting too hot those few nights! Boy was I happy to figure it out! You’d think he would say “Mommy I’m too hot”, but I don’t think he realized why he was waking up. Unfortunately, he still had a bad night here and there (nightmares, insomnia, etc.), but at least he didn’t get up on most nights and not numerous times EACH night!
So, I did some homework so I could pass on the ideal temperature your baby or toddler’s room should be when he sleeps. Hopefully, my experience again will help others.
Temperature and SIDS
Our internal body clock controls our body temperature and when our temperature is high, like during the day, our bodies are more awake. We all have a dip in body temperature in the afternoon and we feel sleepy (Ferber calls this the “afternoon dip”). At night, when the sun goes down, our body temperature starts to drop and Melatonin (a hormone) is released in our bodies inducing sleep. Our temperature is lowest at night until around 4 a.m. our bodies start to prepare to wake up. Many parents complain about their baby’s sleep in the early morning hours. It’s the lightest sleep of the night.
At what temperature to set your thermostat
The ideal room temperature is between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (or 18.3 to 21.1 Celsius), but I recommend you use these numbers as a starting point. In my experience of over 10 years, the ideal temperature for your family will vary a little, depending on you (and your baby) and how many blankets you use. Keep in mind that your child won’t learn to keep a cover on all night until past 18-24 months.
With the air conditioning on, 72 degrees can feel cold whereas if you put your thermostat to 72 with the heater, it will probably be too hot. In the summer, at night, we keep our thermostat at 72 degrees Fahrenheit and during the winter we set it to 63 degrees Fahrenheit. Your baby or toddler’s skin should feel cool to the touch, but not frigid like their fingers are ice cubes. And, generally, your child should never be sweating.
My youngest, we put on a onesie t-shirt, thermal pajamas and then fleece pajamas over those this winter. For my eldest, we put just Fleece footed pajamas and he has a sheet and comforter on. In the summer, generally, pajamas and a sleep sack (or sheet and comforter) are sufficient.
I didn’t find any scientific research about this (though I’m sure it’s out there), but if our body temperature being higher in the day keeps us awake, I would venture to guess that my son was waking up partially because his body temperature was too high as much as it was because he may or may not have been uncomfortable. The moral of the story is to keep the kids warm, but not too warm, and not too cold, either, yet another parenting magic trick.