Baby Sleep and Sick Season

Baby Sleep and Sick Season

baby sleep and sick season

I think we can all agree that we’ve experienced one of the hardest “sick seasons” in a long time. It feels like one sickness after another or one never ending illness. Which might mean sleep is a distant memory for your family!

Here are some questions you may have about baby sleep and sick season:

  • How to approach sleep when baby is sick?

  • Is sleep good for a sick baby?

  • Do babies sleep when they are sick?

  • How long to let a sick baby sleep?

  • What helps a sick baby sleep?

  • How to dress baby when sick?

  • Can baby sleep alone when sick?

  • Sleep training or sleep trained baby is sick, help!

  • How to get back on track with sleep after illness?

how to help baby sleep when sick

How to approach sleep when baby is sick?

My number one tip to approaching sleep when your baby is sick is to match your level of intervention with their level of illness. I like to say that all the rules don’t go out the window with a mild cold but they certainly do for high fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, etc. 

Here’s an acronym that might help: EAR! It stands for evaluate, accommodate, and recover.

Evaluate: Assess the severity of the illness and how much assistance your child needs.

What are we working with? Is it a runny nose? Tummy bug? Slight cough? Flu? High fever? The severity of the illness will determine how much help and intervention you’ll want to offer. If your child has a runny nose, for example, maybe a NoseFrida and some extra cuddles during the bedtime routine are in the cards, but you might face unnecessary setbacks if you start rocking or feeding them to sleep again.

We want to be aware of what they need without totally undoing everything-- give them the support they need while doing what gets everyone the best rest!

Accomodate: Tweak your typical routine to help your child feel better and get sleep. If your child does need extra help with sleep, DO NOT STRESS! Do what you have to do and what you feel is best for you and your child.

It is crucial for them to get enough sleep to heal and feel better, regardless of how that is achieved. If you are dealing with a tummy bug and have to bring back night-feedings for comfort and hydration, they can night-wean again once they are well.

If your baby needs to be rocked to sleep while they fight a high fever, by all means do it! Maybe your child is fussy and needs you to sit in the room with them to fall asleep, and that is fine too. If your child needs continual monitoring, it is preferable that you find a way to sleep in their room for continuity of sleep environment vs. having them in your room, but again, do what you have to do!

Your child might need extra sleep and longer naps for their body to recover, so don’t sweat it if they’re sleeping a little more than normal either.

Recover: Finally, once they have recovered, it is time to recover sleep-wise and get straight back to good habits! If they have reverted back to night-feedings or needing some sort of assistance during wakings, try to get back to your regular sleep schedule and expectations within a few days.

Get back to basics, however you sleep trained originally, and follow this until you are back at your normal sleep habits. The longer you wait to do this, the longer it will take for your child to adjust their expectations and start getting good sleep again, which is hard for everyone! Remember, sleep is important for staying well and getting well, so it is in their best interest to not have continually interrupted sleep!

is sleep good for a sick baby

Is sleep good for a sick baby?

Research shows that when we get adequate sleep, our bodies have a boosted immune system to fight off infections. That means helping your little one sleep is a VITAL part of preventing AND fighting illnesses!

Maintain your normal routines around sleep, even if schedules are adjusted to allow for more sleep when baby is sick. Familiarity can help your little one get the sleep they need!

Naps can be longer if needed. Remember, sleep is healing. However, we want to be mindful of getting adequate nutrition and hydration too so we won’t want to miss out on any feedings for little ones.

Do babies sleep when they are sick?

Babies may sleep *more* when they are sick but in *shorter* stints. They may take more naps during the day, but they may be shorter because they’re uncomfortable. They may sleep longer overnight (like going to bed earlier and waking up later), but sleep in shorter chunks of time/waking up more overnight.

how long to let a sick baby sleep

How long to let a sick baby sleep?

Since sleep is healing, we definitely want them to get enough of it! But be mindful of nutrition and hydration so that they’re not skipping meals or opportunities to get in enough fluids. 

Something else to keep in mind is maximizing overnight sleep. So if you’ve found that going way off schedule during the day really messes up their night time sleep, it’s worth tightening up the day time routine to ensure they get their best rest overnight.

What helps a sick baby sleep?

Keeping them comfortable (ie steam baths, nose spray (saline drops), suction for congestion) is the top priority. Following your doctor’s protocol with managing the illness will be key for helping them get their best rest.

how to dress a sick baby for sleep

How to dress a baby when sick?

If your little one is running a fever, it's recommended to use light layers to keep them comfortable. You could use a cooling Kyte BABY bamboo onesie or romper with a 0.5 TOG sleep bag. The key is breathable fabrics!

Can baby sleep alone when sick?

Many parents feel more comfortable being close to baby to monitor them while they’re sick (depending on the illness). It may make more sense for a parent to camp out in baby’s room if they sleep best in their room/crib. That way you’re allowing them to get their best sleep and you’re still close by (without introducing habits you may not like to keep long term).

(I’ve spent many nights on a Nugget in a little one’s room!)

We also have a special blow up mattress we keep in our bedroom for when a sick child wants to be closer to us. Unfortunately, our little one’s don’t sleep well in our bed (they’re super restless and then no one gets sleep which is the opposite of what we want when they’re sick), so having this special bed for them is the best of both worlds. 

We try to have them start the night in their own bed and then if they’re really struggling, they can come into their special bed whenever they need to.

can baby sleep alone when sick

Sleep training or sleep trained baby is sick, help!

If you’re currently in the process of sleep training your baby, go back to the EAR acronym. Remember to evaluate the kind of illness you’re working with. Since babies will get 6-8 colds a year + teething, it may not be realistic to totally stop sleep training (it may feel like you’re chronically sleep training which is NOT fun). 

It is totally possible to choose a sleep training method that is extra supportive and responsive so that you are still able to respond quickly and heavily to your child without undoing all the work you’ve done with independent sleep. My goal with families is to provide a response they feel comfortable using through a ton of different situations! 

If your baby is already sleep trained and you’ve had to change habits to support your child while they’re sick, don’t beat yourself up! There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that. You can get back on track whenever they’re well.

How to get back on track with sleep after illness?

Once your child is back to their normal self during the day, here are some tips for getting back on track:

  • Consider their schedule or wake times prior to getting sick and work your way back to that
  • Implement their routines before sleep again if they weren’t followed while they were sick
  • Consider a fading method like the chair where you gradually sit further and further away from your child to wean your presence out if you supported them to sleep or slept with them while they were sick (or it’s valid to use your sleep training method if you’ve previously sleep trained/used one before)
  • Reduce feedings overnight by time or ounces starting with the earliest one in the night if they were previously going without feedings (and make sure they’re eating enough during the day before doing this)

Above all else, give yourself and little one a lot of grace both when they’re sick and when you’re getting sleep back on track!

Author Bio: Ashley Olson is a certified pediatric sleep consultant, owner of Heaven Sent Sleep and The Collective for Family Rest and Wellness, and is passionate about helping new parents, experienced parents, desperate and sleep-deprived parents form healthy sleep habits for their children.

She has over 4 years of experience in working with families and has completed over 150 hours of coursework plus continuing education related to infant and toddler sleep. The focus of her work is on fostering a routine that grows your bond with your child while improving their sleep habits. She specializes in custom sleep plans and one on one support in changing sleep practices!

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