My baby is sick – how do I navigate sleep?

Sick Baby

Disclaimer: I am not a medical health professional. Please consult your family doctor if your little one is unwell and take this information provided here as purely educational and not in place of advice from your doctor.  

I remember so clearly when both of my boys got sick for the first time. Cue total panic. “Is he going to be grumpy all day? Is he going to resist his naps now? We’ve just established such a nice routine and he has to get sick now?! How long will this last? Will his sleep be impacted? Will he wake constantly overnight?”

My first piece of advice: take a deep breath in, slowly exhale. Your baby is bound to get sick, in fact, they need to get sick to build up their immune systems. We often can’t avoid it. And your little one is so resilient, she’ll get better in no time. The best thing you can do is support them through it with lots of love, hydration and sleep (as much as possible ;).

First let’s look at what the most common signs are that your little one is coming down with something:

Sleeps later in the morning

Your little one might suddenly, out of the blue, do a mammoth sleep in and you’re like “Woah that’s cool!” But this is often a sign that they may be coming down with something . Unless you’ve watched my Early Waking Masterclass and have implemented those suggestions 😉

Takes longer naps

Before it is clear that your little one is sick, much like the previous sign, they may sleep for longer than they do normally as a way to gear up for fighting illness.  

Needs to go down earlier

Your little one might show tired cues a lot earlier than usual as their body starts fighting whatever it is they’re coming down with. 

More wakeful in the first part of the night

This is a tell tale sign your little one is coming down with something, when it disrupts the part of the night where sleep is usually deepest.

Grizzly or not themselves

Babies who are coming down with a bug will often be grizzly during their awake times and just generally not seem themselves.

For all these signs, they can also point to other things you might need to rule out, like increased hunger, growth spurts, developmental leaps, awake times needing to increase/decrease, irregular sleep schedule, sleep environment etc. 

How does illness impact sleep? 

So now you know for sure that your little one is unwell, sorry Mama. Here is typically how sleep might be impacted for the duration of their illness.

Wake earlier in the morning

This is because sleep is lightest in the early morning so if they are uncomfortable they will wake here and tend to not resettle. 

Take short naps

If your baby was previously linking sleep cycles, they may wake between cycles when they’re unwell as sleep pressure has reduced from that one cycle making it harder to go into another sleep cycle when they are uncomfortable. 

Struggle to settle

If your baby was previously self-settling, they may really struggle. Just think about how hard it is to fall asleep when you’re congested and uncomfortable. 

More wakeful during the night

Like the previous point, your baby might start waking more overnight needing you to help them get comfortable, get some hydration or just need some reassurance with a cuddle.

If your baby has a fever

When babies get fevers they will typically fall asleep easily (and often out of nowhere), if so, let your little one sleep!

How to support your little one while they’re recovering

  1. Put them down earlier for naps if they need it but try to stay consistent with their nap times and routine.
  2. Offer more hands on support to get to sleep and stay asleep if they need it – you can even camp out in their room if it makes you feel better but avoid bringing little one into your bed if that’s not something you want to sustain long-term.
  3. Offer pain/fever management if they need it to aid in settling and allow for more comfortable sleep, if congested, use saline spray, a humidifier and slightly elevate their mattress to help with post nasal drip.
  4. Keep your little one hydrated (if they are not drinking enough during the day you may need to offer your breast or a bottle overnight) – for older babies who are night weaned, offer some water overnight. 

When your little one is on a good routine with consolidated naps and overnight sleep, their sleep isn’t usually too badly impacted during illness unless they’re in pain or extreme discomfort. Their bodies need restorative sleep to recover, which is why having good sleep hygiene before becoming unwell is so handy and aids in quicker recovery. 

Don’t worry Mama, if your little one is sick but has been struggling with sleep prior to this and you want her to get on track after being unwell, get in touch! I’d love to support you and your family to achieve better quality sleep. 

Check out my following guides to get you all on track and sleeping well!

Newborn Settling and Sleep Guide

3-12 Month Sleep Guide

1-3 Year Old Guide

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