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Bundled babies: Do they really nap better in freezing temps?

March 13, 2013 at 9:22 AM ET

Baby, it’s cold outside.

For many Nordic parents, that means it’s perfect napping weather, according to a recent BBC news story on how Scandinavian moms routinely put their babies down for naps outside, even when temperatures are regularly below freezing. The theory? Babies nap from one to one-and-a half hours longer when they sleep in the cold, and the fresh air is good for a baby’s lungs. (Did I mention they nap longer??!!)

Of course, this may seem shocking to some of us who are brainwashed -- by baby books and over-protective grandmas -- into believing our children must be bundled, swaddled, and fully accessorized when exposed to the elements.

Do babies really sleep better in the cold?
Getty Images file
Do babies really sleep better in the cold?

Yet while it seems extreme to put a tiny baby outside in the freezing cold, since when is it news that parents will go to almost any length to get their kids to sleep? One of my kids only slept for two hours at a time in her crib. One night I didn’t have the heart to wake her after a trip out so I let her sleep in her infant car seat in her crib (yes, I put the car seat into the crib). She slept for 8 hours. Needless to say, after that, she slept in that car seat in her crib, every night for three months.

So I wonder, is the frosty Scandinavian quest for serious “Z’s” really so crazy?

My daughter always slept better (and longer) after an afternoon walk in the crisp air in her stroller, where she would fall asleep. Then I would sit outside with her on the front stoop of my house – in a coat - while she napped. Sometimes for two to three hours.

Other moms have also achieved a sort of “sleep nirvana” with the help of a little frigid air.

Deborah Bertolino Waring of Plano, Texas, says her son was born 3 weeks prematurely, and to help him sleep, the doctor told her that a cold room was healthier than a warm one. He’s grown up now, but while he lived at home they never turned the heat above 68 degrees.

Los Angeles mom Mary Kay Holmes said that from age 3 to 7, her child suffered from a lung condition that confounded doctors. “As one of about 500 remedies we tried, I would take her outside in the cold night, wrap her in a blanket, and hold her so she could sleep. It was brutal, but it helped,” Holmes said.

Natasha Wehba, born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia, says in Russia it’s considered “healthy to sleep with cold, fresh air. It strengthens the immune system.” She added: “My parents cracked the windows year round, even in the winter.”

Good enough for me. Who am I to start a new “cold war” with the Russians?

As for my big girl now? She’s 13 and still loves to sleep in the cold. In fact, she insists on sleeping with a fan blowing on high directly pointed at her head. Maybe it’s the white noise. Maybe it’s the ability to snuggle under the heavy weight of warm covers and still being able to maintain a bearable body temperature.

Like everything child-rearing related, whether it’s breast-feeding, binky addiction, or human “tot-sicles,” the debate is sure to get heated. But there is one thing we parents can all agree on -- we want our kids to sleep. Wait…we NEED our kids to sleep.

If that means bundling baby like a tiny Inuit - and perhaps even braving the chilling temperatures myself – well, I’m cool with that.

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