As we get more into colder weather here in the U.S., that means we are spending a lot of time indoors these days! Between freezing temps and snow, this time of year doesn’t exactly scream, “Let’s get outside!”
But did you know that in some cultures, sub-freezing temps are considered perfect napping temperatures? For BABIES?! It’s true! In Scandinavia and Iceland (just to name two), it is common practice to nap babies outside in all seasons – even when the temperature drops well below freezing. The main reasons Nordic mothers nap their babies outside? Because, according to them, it helps their babies take better, longer naps. In fact, napping baby outside would appear to be so successful that it is common cultural practice that dates back generations in many northern countries!
So what’s the scoop here? Can napping a baby outside really mean longer naps? And is it something you should try?
Napping Baby Outdoors – Does It Actually Work?
It’s hard to say for certain whether napping a baby outside will always result in longer, deeper naps. Remember, some sleep problems (like persistent sleep associations) will often interfere with sleep regardless of how, where, and when you put your baby down for a nap. If your baby is used to nursing to sleep, for instance, your baby will likely wake between sleep cycles needing to nurse, regardless of whether he’s outside or not. So we certainly wouldn’t call this a solution to persistent problems like short and inconsistent naps.
That said, it’s a documented fact that fresh air does tend to help babies and toddler sleep better. One study specifically designed to determine whether or not napping a baby outdoor improves sleep found that children who napped outside did nap for longer periods than those children who napped indoors. Even better, another study found that children who are exposed to a daily dose of fresh air and sunshine actually sleep better and longer at night. So it would seem that fresh air can positively affect more than just nap sleep – it can mean longer nighttime stretches, too!
So why is it that fresh air seems to have a measurable impact on sleep? Probably because fresh air has a measurable positive impact on just about every other area of your child’s health, too! Fresh air has been shown to reduce rates of childhood obesity and ADD/ADHD, to improve mental performance and grades in school, to improve vision, to increase creative thinking and problem solving too (source). It would seem that our bodies are just designed to be outside! But as we spend more and more time indoors (as humans tend to do here in the 21st century), it creates problems like obesity, hyperactivity…and poor sleep.
It’s also true that cooler temps in particular help promote better, longer sleep. Plenty of research supports the idea that people sleep best when the thermostat is set in the low-to-mid 60 degree Fahrenheit range. Why? Because these cooler temps help our core temperatures to drop, a phenomenon which is essential to sleep. It would seem, then, that napping a baby outside, with baby all bundled up against the freezing temps, is a great and expedient way to achieve the cool temps needed for great sleep.
Should You Try It?
So is napping your baby outdoors something that you should try? Well, first off, napping a baby outdoors in high heat and humidity will likely have the opposite of the effect that you want: it’ll probably keep your baby awake and sleeping fitfully! On the other hand, if you live in a colder climate, you may consider trying a nap outdoors. Here are a few things to keep in mind, however:
- Bundle baby up well if it is cold outside.
- Check babies and toddlers often, especially their head, neck and extremities. Ensure that they are not sweating due to overdressing or cold due to being under dressed.
- Shield your baby and their stroller from direct sunlight and wind.
- DO NOT cover your baby’s entire stroller with a thick or tightly woven blanket – this restricts air circulation and is dangerous.
- Do use the baby monitor if you are going to be inside your home and your baby is outside. Most baby monitors measure the temperature, which means you can keep an eye on your baby AND on the temperature. Note that while it is common practice in some countries to keep a baby’s stroller on the curb while mom steps into a cafe or a shop, we do not recommend being too far from your baby’s stroller during outdoor sleep. (source)
- Be advised that neighbors or passers-by may be alarmed at the site of a seemingly-unattended baby, so be close at hand to offer assurances that you are supervising your child.
Fresh Air Means Better Baby Naps and Sleeping Through The Night
Here’s the good news: fresh air helps a baby sleep well at night and nap soundly. And even if you DON’T feel comfortable putting your baby down for naps outdoors, you can certainly carve out some time to take a walk or go to the park with your baby. Make it a point to get your child outdoors (even during the winter) for a little time every day, and you will most likely notice at least slight gains in your child’s sleep. Add that to the long list of other benefits that fresh air provides, and you are well on your way to enjoying a happy, healthy, RESTED child!