The following was produced in partnership with our friends at Fisher-Price, who enrich the lives of young families with gear like the On-the-Go Baby Dome, the dual-function play area and nap space where babies feel right at home away from home.
Parents play a huge role in the quality, quantity, and consistency of their babies’ sleep, but nature can help. Outdoor snoozes can be deeper and longer than they might be in a nursery and offer benefits that continue even after an infant wakes up.
To learn exactly why babies sleep better outside, University of Oulu researcher Marjo Tourula studied hundreds of Finnish parents and their babies’ sleep schedules while indoors and outdoors. Letting kids sleep outside is so common in Finland that napping tots in parked prams are as common on sidewalks and in parks as pigeons. And while stroller naps are common practice for American babies, the idea of a deliberate nap time outside is not. Yet Tourula’s findings suggest that setting babies down for a few open-air Zzzs in an On-the-Go Baby Dome might be the start of a potentially effective sleep strategy for all parents.
Babies Sleep Longer Outside
Tourula has concluded that outdoor naps are often successful precisely because they aren’t deliberately parent-directed; kids lay in their strollers or playpens and naturally doze off. “Parenting practices that encouraged infants towards independence and self-soothing were associated with extended and more consolidated sleep,” she wrote in her study. In fact, her questionnaire found outdoor naps lasted 34 minutes longer, on average, than indoor naps, while her observational study showed an average difference of more than 90 minutes.
One reason why snoozing outside may be so successful: Parents are less involved. Finnish mothers put their kids down in a stroller or playpen and then left them to doze off on their own as the moms went about their business. As Tourula noted in the study, “Parenting practices that encouraged infants towards independence and self-soothing were associated with extended and more consolidated sleep.”
To be clear: Tourula’s study was focused on outdoor naps in the winter, and it should go without saying that babies shouldn’t be outdoors for extended periods when it’s dangerously cold. But they can still benefit from outdoor naps nearly year-round as long as their parents as long as their parents are properly prepared, dress them in seasonally-appropriate layers, and provide safe, comfortable napping spaces.
Benefits With Limits
Besides giving parents extended breaks, longer naps are developmentally beneficial. When kids napped outdoors, they ate better, were in better moods, and learned things more quickly, the moms in the study reported. And, while not specifically tied to sleeping, children who spend more time outdoors overall sleep better, are better able to concentrate and focus, and, naturally, get more exercise.
Here in America, researchers seem to be warming to the idea that a fresh-air snooze is good for the body and soul. One study out of the University of Colorado, Boulder found that even a weekend camping trip could help reset and improve sleep patterns, at least for adults.
Consider the potential positive effects for the entire family’s well-being. An outdoor nap, Tourula notes, gives parents time for themselves. Such well-earned breaks help adults clear their heads and, in turn, become stronger, more competent parents. And more naps generally equal more parental attention, which is key to the whole enterprise. “The outdoor sleeping childcare practice is a desirable custom when it promotes family well-being,” Tourula writes, “but the child’s needs and safety come first.”
With that in mind, it seems perfectly reasonable to spread out a blanket and an On-the-Go Baby Dome, close your eyes, and let the cool breeze waft everyone into sleepy bliss. Leave it to the Finns to find a way to make everyone happy.