Updated: Dec 19, 2020
When kids get sick it puts our lives on hold.
And depending on the sickness… even sleep feels held up.
Not only that, if you have a typically great sleeper, a predictable schedule, and consistent routines, you may be worried that:
It’s all a wash and you’re never going to get sleep again because your great sleeper is gone forever and ever.
You’re going to have to sleep train all over again when they’re feeling better.
There’s nothing you can do in the meantime to protect your child’s good sleep habits.
All of the above.
Well, I’m here to tell you that:
The only thing that will be “a wash(ed)” will be the sick sheets and clothes.
You will not have to sleep train all over again when you implement the following tips. (But, that’s not to say there won’t be protest when life gets back to “normal.” It should not be like sleep training all over again, though!)
There are things you can do to protect your child’s good sleep habits when they’re sick.
And for this list - definitely all of the above!
**Before going into the tips, it’s good to know that none of these are rules, just recommendations. When littles are sick, survival mode kicks in and sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do so everyone makes it through! And that’s ok!!
And, as always, this post is not intended to diagnose, prescribe, or prevent any illness and in no way should it replace the guidance and recommendations given by your child’s doctor!
Tip #1: Let them sleep!
Unless you need to wake them for medication, let them sleep longer than their usually scheduled times.
Researchers have found that while sick, the body’s sleep-need increases and have found links between sleep and immune system functioning.
While sleeping, our immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep (sleep begets sleep…). When we have inflammation, an infection, or are under stress, certain cytokines need to increase. Not getting enough sleep may decrease the production of these cytokines along with disease-fighting antibodies and cells.1
It’s interesting to note here, too, that getting enough sleep after a vaccination has shown helpful in enhancing the body’s response to the vaccine.2
Still cap the naps, but cap them at 2.5-3 hours instead of 2. If they’re still exhausted by the end of the day, do an early bedtime.
We’re able to get more restorative sleep at night than in the day, so we want to protect that night sleep as best as possible while still allowing them to get the rest they need during the day.
Tip #2: Relax on the schedule (👆), but keep the routines.
Especially the morning routine (even if it’s later than usual) and the bedtime routine.
Keeping those routines will not only bring some normalcy, but comfort to your little one (children love familiarity and repetition). The only change I recommend is extending the pre-sleep snuggles by a few minutes. This can help them settle to sleep a little easier in their own bed.
Don’t assume that because they’re sick they won’t want to sleep in their own bed.
Offer majority of their sleeps in their bed before opting for another way to sleep. Continue to put them to bed awake, giving them the chance to fall asleep independently. They may take a little longer to find a comfortable position, but if they’re not calling for you, you can give them the space they need to get uninterrupted sleep.
But, if they are calling for you and needing the extra snuggles, that’s ok, too!
It is OK to get them to sleep then lie them down (or hold them during a nap)! (Mommy snuggle naps are always healing!) And if that’s the case, do your best to slow down, snuggle up on the couch, take a nap with them in their room, put the baby in the carrier or sling… whatever you need to do to help them rest and enjoy.
Tip #3: Camp out in their room at night.
Since sleep is so vital to good health and healing, we want to do all we can to ensure they’re not only getting enough sleep, but quality sleep as well - quantity and quality.
Especially with a baby, it can be extremely nerve-wracking to have them in another room during the night when they’re unwell. We want to keep an eye (and ear!) on them and they typically want to be right next to us. So, for the sake of safety and quality sleep, bring an air mattress into your child’s room or make a pallet on their floor. (And schedule a chiropractor appointment in 2 days.)
I know it feels easier to bring them into your bed, but it’s not recommended by the AAP, it’s an extremely hard habit to break (if you’re wanting to break it), and there’s a good chance no one in that bed will be sleeping well.
But why not make a pallet in your room for them to sleep on?
There are two main reasons I recommend you staying in their room versus them staying in yours.
We all sleep best in our own beds, including children. Since their little bodies are fighting to be well, providing them with the best sleep and sleep space possible is preferable.
It’s easier for you to transition out of their room than it is for them to transition out of yours.
A few ways to improve sleep while sick
The tips above all suggest your child is sleeping well.
But what if they’re not…
Here are 5 non-medicine tips to help! (Of course medication can help with sleep, but always check with their doctor before administering.)
#1: Long-lasting, light-free cool mist humidifier
Especially if your child is struggling with congestion, adding moisture to the air will help soothe their cough.
But, running a cool mist humidifier no matter the illness (or even when you’re well) has been found to help reduce the spread of airborne pathogens. The moisture in the air “weighs down” the particles, causing them to fall to the ground instead of traveling to the next ungrateful host.3
I prefer a long-lasting humidifier (one with a large tank) so it can run through the night.
I like a light-free humidifier because we all sleep best when it’s dark, dark, dark. So dark that even a tiny little “ON” light from a humidifier would light up the room. No, thanks! (DIY light-free works, too! Just a little electrical tape over that light will do!)
#2: Saline spray and a nose aspirator
If your baby is struggling to breath out of their nose, saline spray and a nose aspirator (the blue bulb syringe from the hospital or a Nose Frida) works wonders!
I didn’t realize with my first baby that you should use a saline spray before using the bulb syringe and never understood why it didn’t work so well.
With baby #2, I learned and was impressed. He was not, but he could breathe better.
#3: Elevating their head (for ages 2+)
It would be great if this were helpful for babies, too. But it is far more dangerous to put a pillow in the bed than it is to have them sleep with congestion (keep using that saline and nose aspirator!) and I’ve never had success with propping one end of the crib up slightly. (For one, what baby has a “head of the bed” and two, no matter how gradual of an incline, the crib tends to turn into a slide…)
So, for 2-year-olds and older, propping their upper bodies up slightly with a few extra pillows or a wedge can help with congestion drainage.
#4: Baby/child safe chest rub
As a baby shower gift I received an all natural chest rub that’s safe for children aged 3 months+. It smells wonderful and gently soothes congestion without being overwhelming or causing tingling on the skin. (This is the one I have)
I like to apply a little bit to their chest and on the bottoms of their feet.
#5: Edens Garden kid-friendly essential oil blends
I like to use the chest rub OR an oil blend.
The kid-friendly blends from Edens Garden are marked safe for children 2+.
They have blends suitable for a variety of ailments from headaches to stomach aches to congestion and are good for preventative care as well!
I like to apply them as I do the chest rub - to their chest and on the bottoms of their feet.
Now they’re better!! But they still want to…
…nap on Mommy. …have Mommy sleep in their room. …take forever during bedtime routine.
Having the ability to sleep independently is like riding a bike.
If you haven’t ridden in a while, you may struggle a bit to get going, but you catch on soon enough and ride again like you’d never stopped.
And whether that were true or not, it’s more than ok to relax on the expectations during sickness. Their need of extra snuggles, comfort, and affection are legitimate needs that should be met!
But, once they’re feeling better - fever’s gone, congestion has improved, vomiting and diarrhea has ceased - get back to the schedule and routine.
Will they gladly jump right back into it? Maybe not…
Expect some pushback and protesting.
But, if they were a great sleeper prior to getting sick, they’re still a great sleeper! They haven’t forgotten, they just want to keep all those extra snuggles (who wouldn’t?!) and are having to test/reassess where the boundary is now.
Stay empathetic (“I so loved getting all those extra snuggles with you, too!”), direct (“It’s time for you to get some uninterrupted sleep in your bed and I’ll get some in mine.”), and consistent (expect to repeat your words and actions multiple times. Let each response you give be the same as the last.) Use the sleep training method you used before/feel most comfortable with now.
It won’t be like sleep training all over again; it’s just a refresher that you may or may not have to do.
“But I’ve never had a good sleeper and I want one!”
If during this whole post you’re thinking, “Um, what good sleeper?!”, and you want one, I can help!
Sleep is a skill that can be taught and one that every child is capable of!
After a thorough evaluation of your current situation, lifestyle, parenting style, and your child’s health, I’ll create a personalized plan that will improve your family’s sleep within 2-3 weeks. We can find the best package for you with a free 15-minute call!
Tell me! How do you have any secrets on making it through sickness with kids?