How to Help Your Little One Sleep When They Are Sick

By Brittney Stefanic


When your little one isn’t feeling well, 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 do our best to 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.


Consistency still matters

In general, I recommended 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” as possible while making these small changes:
• 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.


Respond to them

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.


How to stop baby crying at night - baby sleep problems infographic


In this way, our “rules” go out the window in order to promote more sleep.
• If baby 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.


How to Handle Middle of the Night Wake Ups

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 child is upset, 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. 


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.


Things to remember

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! 


Getting back on track once healthy

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 that 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!


If you have regression after illness

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!

Feel better and cheers to the immune-boosting properties of sleep!


Brittney Stefanic is a certified whole-family sleep consultant and founder of Sleeper Teachers Sleep Consulting. As a recovering worry-wart, she understands firsthand that it is easy to let fear and a racing mind worry you when your little ones are sick. But as a sleep educator, Brittney believes in the healing power of sleep, rest and recovery. Brittney and her team love educating and supporting families around the world in finding sleep solutions. You can follow the teachers on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook @sleeperteachers for sleep tips and tricks.