infant being comforted by mother at sleep time

When Your Baby is Sick: How to Maintain a Sleep Routine

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  And it’s also the germiest.  The cough and fever are bad enough, but the sleep deprivation is what can really do your little one in this cold and flu season.  Here are some tips for keeping your child and their sleep routine healthy this season.

baby sitting in bamboo layette

Preventing Illness

The best way to treat an illness is to not get sick in the first place!  Sounds simple, right?  Well, it might not be.  If you really think about your child’s day, you will realize all of the germy situations that she is in.  Daycare and play dates give her access to other kids, all packing their own unique germs just right for sharing.  Being on or close to the floor sets her up for even more encounters, and using her mouth to explore her surroundings is something that germs dream about.  Couple these with the fact that everyone wants to get a piece of her cuteness and it’s no wonder your poor baby gets a hold of any cold that comes within 10 miles of her.

In order to prevent your little one from getting as many illnesses this year, lay some groundwork.  Help boost his immune system by feeding him a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables (or breastmilk), and make sure that he is getting enough sleep.  Keep his hands clean with frequent washing, especially before eating. Try to keep toys, especially those that go in the mouth, clean as well.  It’s also important to stick to a sick policy.  If possible, don’t send your child to daycare, school, or to mingle with other children if they are sick or have been sick recently.  Hopefully, other parents will do the same.


Sleeping While Sick

Even with your most prudent prevention, your baby may still fall ill this season.  It’s nearly inevitable.  Don’t beat yourself up instead get her feeling better faster.  Sleeping is perhaps the best medicine for your little one.  Their body needs sleep, and lots of it, to heal and fight off infection.  Most of the time they will take care of this themselves by sleeping longer and more frequently.  This may mean they’ll want to go to bed earlier, sleep in later, and take longer or more naps.  You’re best to let them sleep as much as they need to if your schedule allows.

Also while kids are sick, they may wake up more frequently.  This is usually due to discomfort from a congested head, tummy ache, etc.  So just when you thought you had your baby sleeping through the night, a cold might have him waking up every couple of hours just like in the early days.

sleeping baby in bamboo sleep sack

What About a Sleep Schedule

With all the alterations in sleep that illnesses bring, what are you to do about your child’s sleep schedule?  Most sleep experts agree: forget about it, at least for a little while.  Before you think I’m completely crazy, here’s why this is true:  When your child is sick, you’ll want to let them sleep when they can, as much as they can.  You’ll also want to be checking on them frequently and adding extra feedings or liquids if needed.  The reason being is again, sleep is the best medicine for your child’s body to heal and fight infection.  Extra feedings may be necessary to maintain hydration, and frequent checkups are important in cases of high fevers, vomiting, and diarrhea. 

And it’s even okay to rock, sing, or otherwise soothe your sick baby back to sleep even if you’re in the middle or have mastered sleep training.  When children are sick, they really just want comfort from you and it’s important that you stay more in tune to your child’s body.  Some sleep experts will say you can do anything to comfort your child, just don’t do it to the point of getting them to sleep.  Comfort and calm them but still, lie them down awake.  This way you’re not totally undoing your sleep training, yet have still given your baby that little extra care that they deserve when feeling crummy. If you have been using a Sleep Sack already, continue using one during nap and bedtime if your child is comfortable with it. This will help maintain their sleep routine without having to cause them any discomfort.

When your child is feeling better, get right back on the old sleep schedule.  It may take a day or two to get nap times back to normal and to convince your baby that he doesn’t really need that extra nightly feeding, but chances are if things have only been shaken up for a few days, it won’t be a hard transition back to the routine. 

happy baby in a bamboo bodysuit with green garland

How to Help Your Sick Baby Sleep Better

We’ve said before that your baby will want to sleep more when they are sick, but that sleep may come in short spurts that don’t really allow you much rest.  Here are a few tips to try to get the most of your baby’s sick sleeping.

Warm bath:

  • This may likely already be part of your bedtime routine, so keep it up.  Soaking in a warm bath can help relieve congestion and soothe achy muscles.  It also helps to calm your baby and better prepare them for sleep.  Using a lavender baby wash can also help calm and soothe.  If your child is experiencing head or chest congestion you can use a eucalyptus or mint baby bath to help open those airways.

Vaporizer or humidifier:

  • Both of these can help open congested airways and really ease a head or chest cold.  Some also come with very pleasing nightlights that may help your baby drift back to sleep.


  • A gentle full body massage before bed can really get your sick child relaxed and ready to sleep a little more deeply, especially if they’re having body aches from their illness. Massage can also help relieve tummy pain.  It’s also a great middle-of-the-night tactic for getting them back to sleep.


  • Just hold on, I’m not talking about sleep drugs, I’m talking about any medications prescribed by your pediatrician to combat your child’s illness.  Also, in cases of high fevers, you may want to give anti-fever meds right before bedtime and at the doctor recommended schedule in order to keep your baby’s fever down so that he can sleep better.

Most childhood illnesses run their course within 48-72 hours and your child should be on the mend by that third or fourth day.  For illnesses lasting longer than that or for high, persistent fevers, it’s best to visit with your pediatrician.  Children can go from slightly sick to very sick in a short period of time, so anytime you have any concern, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor. 

When it comes to a sick child, sleep is important.  What’s not quite as important is their sleep schedule.  Even though you have worked countless nights to get this schedule in place, easing up on it a little during times of illness won’t totally destroy everything you have worked for.  Allow your sick baby to sleep extra and comfort them as needed until they are feeling better.  Once they are back to normal, you can easily jump back on your tried and true schedule and enjoy sleeping through the night again.

happy baby in an emerald green bamboo sleep sack and macrame bassinet

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