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Sickness and Sleep

Healthy children make life as a parent so much easier. However, fevers, the flu, and colds are bound to hit your household sometime this year. Let’s make an action plan so that when your family gets hit with sickness, you have a plan of action set in place.

First off, remember that these recommendations are not a substitute for the advice of your child’s doctor. Consult their doctor if you feel concerned with your child’s symptoms, if you need recommendations for pain management, or if you want advice specific to your child’s illness.

When it comes to sickness and sleep, I like to break sickness down into two different categories. More severe (fever and the flu) and less severe (sniffles and sneezes). Tackling these two categories will look different when it comes to your child’s sleep.

Fevers and the Flu

A child with a fever or the flu is often lethargic, exhausted and miserable. Staying hydrated and comfortable is important as they move through their illness. If sleeping all day is what they need, let them. If they need help falling asleep, help them. It is completely ok to let go of all schedules during a more severe illness such as a high fever or bout of the flu. Sleep and hydration are going to be key to your child’s recovery.

It’s best to keep your child in their current sleep space and move yourself closer to them at night if needed. A great way to stay close to your child while allowing them to sleep in their own space is by setting up a temporary bed next to them. Grab a pillow, blanket, and some type of mattress (a camping mattress or extra crib mattress works great in a pinch). Continuing to sleep in their known sleep space and following their pre-sleep routine allows them to feel safe and secure as their surroundings are familiar. This will also help reduce unwanted habits from being created throughout the sickness, such as sleeping in your bed.

It can be extremely common for sleep to derail while your child has a fever or the flu. Allow your child to become 100% healthy before re-teaching independent sleep skills. Once they are healthy, you can re-implement the method you initially followed when teaching independent skills. Keep in mind that the method you initially chose may not be appropriate for your child, depending on their age (i.e. a child sleeping in an open bed will need a different method from a child in a crib.

Sniffles and Sneezes

I like to categorize colds as “less severe” when it comes to sickness. Now, please understand that there certainly ARE colds that completely wipe a child out and children who come down with a cold and require medical attention. This is where YOU, as their parent, get to monitor and assess your child’s symptoms. You get to make the best decision for their care. In general, sniffles and sneezes won’t take over your child’s body as a flu or fever will.

The same principles apply for “less severe” sickness, always check in with your pediatrician about the best way to manage pain and symptoms for YOUR child. As you manage their symptoms, do your best to maintain a schedule throughout the day. You may need to shorten awake windows or move naps a bit early, however I recommend sticking close to your child’s normal sleep schedule. Moving bedtime earlier is a great idea to help fill their sleep tank and prevent overtiredness, so feel free to put your little one down 15-30 minutes earlier than normal for bedtime. The sleep found in the first half of the night is actually more restorative than the second half, and this time spent in a deeper sleep will help the body recover and is very helpful to our immune system.

As you follow their normal schedule (the best you can), it’s also important to assess how much assistance they need to sleep. If your child is an independent sleeper, try and stick to this approach. Once their symptoms are managed, give them space to fall asleep the way they know how. They may still wake in the night for Kleenex or water, so of course, help them! However, once they are settled, allow them to drift off to sleep on their own.

Action Plan

1. Decide what type of sickness your child has and adjust your level of support to match the severity of their symptoms.

2. Consult your child’s pediatrician if you have questions about pain management or symptoms.

3. No matter the sickness, always remember that sleep and hydration are vital.

4. Utilize an early bedtime to help your child’s body recover.

5. Don’t stress about creating unwanted habits. You can always get back to your normal routine once your child is healthy.  

If you are struggling to get back on track after illness, let’s chat! 


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