With the beautiful fall weather finally rolling in, cold and flu season are quickly approaching (not to mention the Covid season we’ve been in for months now!), and as a parent, there’s not much that makes me more sad than when my babies are sick. No matter what we do or do not do, even the healthiest child is going to get sick here and there, so the question is, how do we approach sleep when sickness comes? Should we alter sleep routines? What should we change and what should we keep the same?
The short answer is, keep things as close to normal as possible. When we are sick, one of the best things for us is SLEEP, so we want to do just about anything we can to help our little one’s sleep. If you currently rock your child to sleep, feed her to sleep, or co-sleep, then continue doing so through sickness, as that’s how she will sleep best. If your child is an independent sleeper, try to continue encouraging those habits, as that’s likely how your child will sleep best!
As parents, our natural instinct is to respond to and comfort our children, and that is a beautiful and good thing. So while we should try to keep sleep as “same” as possible, you will likely have to make some exceptions when your child is sick. Those might include:
- If your little one is sick enough that you don’t want to leave her alone at night (i.e. fever and/or vomiting), move a mattress or sleeping bag to your child’s room and sleep there, as opposed to bringing her into your room. This will both encourage that independent sleep you’ve worked so hard for (not to mention your child will likely sleep best in her own space, anyway), while also allowing you to closely monitor her and ensure her well-being.
- Prepare for some nighttime wake-ups. And depending on the sickness, you may need to give your child some fluids in the night, but try to stick to water, if appropriate. If you have a baby who is breast or bottle fed during the day and start providing night feedings again while she’s sick, try your best to keep your little one awake so she doesn’t get used to feeding to sleep again. (Note: if your doctor recommends that you feed at night while your child is sick, please do so! Just try to limit it to a couple of nights so this does not become a sleep prop you need to transition out of once your child is healthy again.)
- During normal seasons, I suggest parents wait at least 10 minutes before responding to their child’s night wakings, as kids are often able to slip back into sleep without needing any interventions. When they’re sick, however, you can throw that 10 minute wait rule out the window and respond right away – give her medicine, enjoy some extra snuggles, refill the humidifier, etc. I simply ask that when all is said and done, TRY to lay your child back in her own bed, awake, so she has a chance to falling asleep independently.
- Your child may not be able to stay awake for an entire awake window, and that’s okay. Sleep is so important for her to get healthy again, so if your child clearly can’t stay awake any longer, let her nap or go to bed sooner! Similarly, we can also ease up on capping naps, as your child’s body will use that time to fight sickness.
In all of this, trust your instincts and care for your child as you feel is best! And if you do happen to backslide a bit after your child’s been sick for some time, or you throw every sleep rule out the window while she’s sick, don’t worry – you can always get back on track. Your child already knows how to fall asleep independently, she just needs to be reminded.