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Sickness & How it Affects My Child’s Sleep

Sickness and Baby Sleep

There’s nothing more heartbreaking than a sick baby, except the sleep deprivation that comes as a result of their illness.

They may not be sleeping well because they’re feverish, congested, or just uncomfortable. Even if you have been blessed with a unicorn baby who sleeps better when they’re sick, you may be up at night, worrying about them or checking their temperature throughout the night.

We’re experiencing a particularly nasty cold and flu season, with an uptick in RSV, Flu, and COVID-19 cases. Add in the the holiday hustle and bustle and many families are experiencing disruptions in sleep.

So, what is your game plan to keep everyone well rested and in good health?

Importance of Sleep for Your Child’s Immune System

Sleep is so important for our overall health, but did you know that sleep deprivation can lower our immune system response?

According to the Sleep Foundation, “sleep and the immune system have a bidirectional response.” This means that illness can affect our little one’s ability to sleep but sleep also strengthens their immune system.

Before your child gets sick, it is crucial to have a solid sleep foundation. A study performed by UC San Francisco has shown that people who do not receive an adequate amount of sleep are 4 times more likely to catch a cold than those who received the recommended sleep amounts.

Our children are already so susceptible to illnesses because of their underdeveloped immune systems and circulating germs at daycares and schools, so those who do not sleep well will likely experience a higher rate of infection than those who are well rested.

But how do you establish sleep habits with your child?

The first place to start is by having a solid, age-appropriate sleep schedule.

Secondly, promote independent sleeping habits, so your child knows how to fall asleep and stay asleep all night long. This does not have to mean “cry it out” either; you can use a gradual approach such as the chair method if a gentler method sounds more aligned with your family’s needs.

Game Plan for Sleep during Illness

Realistically, even the best sleepers will have several rough nights in the thick of their illness.

So what should you do about sleep in the meantime?

Sleep rules go out the window when your little ones are sick. Even if you’re in the middle of sleep training, take a pause, and do whatever it takes to make your child comfortable during this time.

If this means nursing or rocking to sleep, go for it.

Maybe you need to sleep in their room to help soothe them throughout the night. If these were old associations that you used to rely on before sleep training or getting their sleep on track, do not stress.

You will be able to reintroduce your usual sleep routines and sleep rules as soon as they are feeling better. For now, enjoy the cuddles and sleep whenever you can!

Here is a list of products we love in my house that may help ease your child’s discomfort during sleep (links are not affiliates, just great products I know and love):

*Always check with your pediatrician to confirm that they recommend the use of these products.

I typically see that after 2-3 nights of rough sleep, the worst of the illness has passed and your little one will have an easier time going to sleep and staying asleep all night.

Game Plan for Sleep after Illness

Your little one’s fever has finally broken and their congestion is a thing of the past, but now they are having trouble falling to sleep without nursing, rocking, or room sharing. This is totally normal and should be expected.

Your baby or toddler would love nothing more than to be

with you 24/7, but it is okay to start reintroducing your sleep rules and sleep routines.

Remember, healthy sleep is absolutely key to boosting their immune system, so you are doing them a favor by re-establishing sleep rules and encouraging independent sleep.

Furthermore, getting naps and nights back on track will help promote your child’s healing, as sleep is an important part of recovering from an illness.

Here are the steps to get your family the rest you need:

Bring back the nap schedule: Be sure to offer naps at biologically appropriate times and allow your child the opportunity to sleep for at least 1 hour for each nap (if taking 2 or more) or 1.5 hours (if taking 1 nap). For children who are no longer napping, reinstate rest time for at least 1 hour to allow their bodies to rest and restore in the middle of the day.

Offer an early bedtime: Since sleep was off for a few days, they will need to catch up. The best way to do this is by putting them to bed early! I would suggest 30 minutes to 1 hour earlier than your usual bedtime, depending on the length and quality of naps during the day. Continue to offer an early bedtime until their naps have resumed and they are sleeping through the night again (minus any night feedings for younger babies).

Reinstate typical sleep routines: Your child has a great memory, so bringing back sleep routines that you used prior to your illness will cue that it is time to sleep.

Be fair but firm: If you have sleep trained before, go back to the method you used for a few days. If you have not needed to sleep train, be firm with your usual sleep rules and expectations.

Remember that it is their job to push back and your job to set the boundary.

They need sleep, so do not be afraid to establish rules once they are over the thick of their illness.


I know you are exhausted from caring for a sick child in a sleep deprived state, but remember that this too shall pass. Both of your bodies need sleep in order to continue the healing process, so make it a priority!

If you’re still struggling with your baby or toddler’s sleep after illness or want to make sleep a priority this cold and flu season, click the button below to book a quick 15 minute call with me to learn more about how I can help your family sleep through the night in less than 2 weeks!

Sickness and Baby Sleep
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