By Brittney Stefanic
When your little one is sick and can’t sleep, it can feel like your world is caving in. As mamas, we want nothing more than to take away their symptoms and pain in order for them to feel better, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that!
However, we can keep them comfortable and get them the sleep they need to allow their immune systems to jump in as quickly as possible to overcome their illness.
When Your Baby Can’t Sleep, Whatever the Reason Is, Consistency Is Key
In general, I recommend that you keep as much consistency in life and schedule for them in order to promote as much sleep as possible.
Try to keep the sleep routines as “normal” even when your baby can’t sleep because they're sick:
- Treat any symptoms before nap and bed routines, when possible.
- Do anything your doctor recommended for treatment.
Consider introducing a cool mist humidifier in their sleep space.
If congested, a hot steamy shower can be helpful before bed to clear the nose and lungs.
If Your Baby Can’t Sleep Because of Illness, Respond Quickly!
In terms of responding to your baby’s protest or crying (after naps or in the middle of the night) during illness, it is important to respond right away, especially if there is a fever involved. This is the case even if your baby typically self-soothes and doesn’t need your intervention. Please be aware of the reason why the baby is crying, because there are various forms of cries.
In the case you already know your baby can’t sleep because of illness this is what you should do:
- If the baby can’t sleep and wakes up from a short nap, respond right away and either try to coax back to sleep by holding or rocking or just get them up and call nap over.
- At night - Go in, pick up your child, treat illness symptoms with whatever necessary.
- Babies- An extra feed might be necessary to prevent dehydration, trust your instincts here.
What to Do When Your Baby Can’t Sleep and Wakes Up in the Middle of the Night
PLAN A – recommended plan for common cold, low-grade fever
Treat any illness symptoms as necessary, offer some support and then lay your child back down and let your little one self-soothe back to sleep.
PLAN B – recommended for vomiting, higher fever, excessive coughing
Treat any illness symptoms as necessary, offer some comfort and then lay your child down. If your baby can’t sleep, offer comfort to them while in the crib or bed and stay with your little one until they go back to sleep.
PLAN C – recommended after trying plans A and B
If plans A and B have not worked, your little one needs to sleep. Go ahead and help your child get back to sleep by whatever means necessary. Try to avoid bringing your little one into your bed as this will send a confusing message and bed-sharing is not a safe sleep environment per American Academy of Pediatrics.
Worst-case scenario, I would recommend sleeping in your little one’s room on the floor or air mattress to offer soothing through the night. It will always be easier to get you out of their room than them out of yours once they are feeling better.
Of course, babywear also plays a central role in a baby's good sleep and health. That's why we put those two factors at the first place for our babywear lineup.
If Your Baby Can’t Sleep Be Flexible About Long Naps and Morning
When little ones are sick, it is important to let them get as much sleep as they can. This can mean longer naps for some or sleeping later than normal in the morning. Both are fine as long as daytime fluid consumption is on track. If your little one is struggling to eat, we don’t want sleep to interfere with caloric intake. As always, contact your pediatrician if you are worried about naps cutting into feed times.
Your little one needs to sleep. Go ahead and help your child get back to sleep by whatever means necessary.
Things to Remember When Your Baby Can’t Sleep
With sinus congestion, it can be helpful to clear out your baby’s nose before feeding them (breast or bottle) to promote full feeds. Also note that it can be common for little ones to have a decreased appetite when they are sick. You will still want to offer feeds as normal, but they may not take a full feed.
For toddlers and older kiddos, pushing fluids is important. Try to avoid added sugar by pushing homemade smoothies packed with fruits and veggies!
If Your Baby Can’t Sleep Because of Illness, Immune System Is Your #1 Priority
When kids are sick, the number one priority is getting them their sleep so their immune system can be functioning at its highest level to assist in recovery. Sometimes there can be a regression in the sleep progress after an illness, but usually, it will easily fall back into place once everyone is healthy again.
It is important to note that even with illness (and teething), your little one has not lost their ability to sleep independently if they had the skill before getting sick! Their sleeping skill is still retained; it just needs to
be recalled. This means that getting back on track with a “reset” after illness is not as big a deal or intense a process as when you first helped your little one learn to sleep without you!
When kids are sick, the number one priority is getting them their sleep so their immune system can be functioning at its highest level to assist in recovery.
What to Do if Your Baby Can’t Sleep After the Recovery
There is nothing wrong with implementing the same sleep teaching method that you originally used to teach your little one how to sleep. And if you have yet to teach the skill, consider this post-illness time a great opportunity to replace current sleep habits with new ones! In fact, when your baby can’t sleep, a new opportunity to teach them new sleeping techniques arises. You can take the recovery time as a great opportunity: your baby starts to feel healthy again and ready to learn and become the new number 1 champion of naps! As we said multiple times, when your baby can’t sleep, the first thing you will need is patience and motivation, but if you need any specific information, we have tons of articles for you to consult!
Feel better and cheers to the immune-boosting properties of sleep! And don’t forget to get your baby a lovely, high quality, babywear to assure them quality sleep!
Brittney Stefanic is a certified whole-family certified sleep consultant and founder of Sleeper Teachers®. She gets that with a new bundle of joy at home, you are likely just starting to gear up on sleep knowledge. As an educator, she believes in the power of teaching and loves to support families in meeting their sleep goals through her customized sleep plans. You can follow the teachers on Pinterest, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook @sleeperteachers for access to free sleep tips and tricks and other opportunities for sleep Q&A sessions.