Part 1: Overheating & SIDS

Blog Post 4.11.15 Overheating and SIDSTo all my readers, I know Saturday is Sproutings Saturday, but I am just exhausted. Usually I have enough energy and time to get these posts out, but this week I’ve been having some inexplicable combination of writer’s block, fatigue, and intimidation with the topic I chose. I felt like a mess this week, I literally couldn’t finish a phone conversation with Jeff because I was feeling so anxious about the pressure to post this week. 

So this will be a two-part installment. 

I started to outline and draft my post, but realize that the topic is so important that rushing to publish the post would not do it justice.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is such a devastating conundrum where the reasons for why it happens cannot be predicted, quantified, or defined. It just happens. There is a lot of research that has been conducted, task forces built, and powerful public health campaigns that have been created that have a continued impact on the incidence of such a heartbreaking condition. But there are still gaps in our knowledge about the topic. 

SIDS is an occurrence in which a baby, under 1 year of age, has died inexplicably. After a formal investigation (autopsy), there is still no definite cause. Retrospective and population studies have found that the peak age for SIDS deaths are between 1 and 4 months of age. Research has done a lot to identify associations between factors that can potentiate a SIDS death, such as: 

  • cosleeping 
  • baby overheating (too many layers, ambient room temperature too high)
  • excessive bedding material (bumpers, blankets, pillows, positioners, stuffed animals)
  • crib mattresses that are not safety-approved
  • cigarette smoking in proximity to baby
  • placing babies to sleep on their stomachs

…but the one factor that always piqued my curiosity and left me questioning, was SIDS’ association with room temperature/overheating.

No matter the season, my mom never fails to express her concern with Jia being too cold at night. She warns us that our house is too cold (we keep it at 68 if the heat is on, 70 if the a/c is on) and that Jia needs more layers for sleep (she wears a diaper, footie one-piece PJ with socks, and a Halo Sleepsack). I wouldn’t say that she’s “old school” about everything, but for sleeping, she is a bit overly concerned that Jia will get a chill at night. She never worries about Jia being overheated.

But I did. I still do.  (Yes, she’s out of the risk window at 14 months old, but when do we really stop worrying?)

I was taught that the room temperature should be “comfortable for an adult,” between 68 and 72 degrees, to help reduce the incidence of SIDS. I was taught that a baby should be dressed in only one layer of clothing for sleep. I’m the one who checked the “feel” of her nursery room every night before I went to bed, just to make sure it didn’t feel too warm to me. I would stand in her room, close my eyes, and imagine “OK if I was wearing socks and pajamas, and wearing a thin fleece blanket, would I be too hot?” before I decide to change the thermostat. Call me crazy, but I am sometimes (usually?) an insufferable blend of paranoid-mom and nurse-mom. 

It’s easy to see why fluffy crib bumpers and extra blankets could be risky to keep in a crib; after all, couldn’t the baby roll over on its side against a crib rail and suffocate on the bumper? Couldn’t they roll into a fluffy mound of baby blanket and suffocate? Smoking impairs your airway and constricts vessels which in turn causes inflammation, so I can see how that is associated with a respiratory risk, especially for young babies. Breastfeeding is protective against SIDS as well – my theory is that it helps train and strengthen the muscles associated with the sucking reflex, since the act of nursing requires more effort than bottle-feeding for a baby, influential in protecting the airway (clearly I haven’t yet researched this to tell you if it’s more than a theory or if that’s really the reason why). Co-sleeping with your baby may put them at great risk with all those fluffy covers and soft adult mattresses, not to mention snoozing parents that may roll up against baby’s airway. Also, placing a baby whose neck and back muscles are not fully developed on their stomach to sleep (supine) may lead to the baby suffocating with its little face smushed into a mattress. This all makes sense to me. 

But what about overheating? What is it about the room temperature that plays a role in the incidence or prevention of a SIDS-related death?  What’s the science behind the recommendation? This is what I don’t know yet. This is what I want to know. 

Yes, there is a lot of research into this topic…So publishing a “complete” post for tomorrow would be premature because it wouldn’t really be complete. While I don’t have permissions to view many of the articles I really wanted to dive into and read, there are still a handful of research articles I can and do want to read further. I want to do a good job in reporting my findings back to you.

So we’ll hit on that next week.  Thanks for hanging in there and reading :) 



  1. I found these recent article super interesting! I’m hopeful it will unlock some of the SIDS mysteries!

    • Jeni

      April 14, 2015 at 12:13 AM

      Thanks for the comment! I did hear about him just recently, an integral person in the whole topic of SIDS deaths, for sure!

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