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Sleep and your sick child

Just when you thought sleep was on track in your home BANG! A temperature rears its ugly head or you are changing bed sheets for the 5th time after they have been thrown up all over…and sleep has gone all out the window! Now what..?

How do we deal with sleep when our babies and children are ill? Here in this blog post I hope to answer that question and help you keep on the right track of great sleep...

You may have noticed your child is a little clingier, a little more whingy, a little off their food and a little less interested in playing and of course their sleep is disrupted.

What I can tell you is if you had a great independent sleeper before your child got sick, then that same great sleeper will return once they are fighting fit and healthy once more as long as you do not introduce any unwanted sleeping habits.

So how do we navigate our way through this illness with disrupted sleep…?

Research tell us and we know all too well from our mums drumming it into us that sleep helps us heal, helps us recover, sleep helps the body to recuperate and builds the immune system back up again and helps fight those bugs and infections coursing around the body. Sleep is a vital part of preventing illness and the healing process. Keep life simple for a few days, don’t overstimulate your child, give them time and space to recuperate. We would do the same right..?! We need to be there to offer more cuddles and kisses, to snuggle up on the sofa together and have a little extra snoozle or two! Keep their special teddy close to them for comfort and just slow down for a few days.

Stick to routine

If you had a great routine before your child fell ill try to stick to that routine as much as you can. Your child will most likely be sleepier and more lethargic and need more sleep during this period so pop them down a little earlier for their nap but try to wake them at their usual wake up time. It’s okay to let them sleep a little extra, after all the body is asking for it and needs it.

Make sure you keep their fluids and calories up

You don’t want them becoming dehydrated especially more so if they are ill with vomiting and diarrhoea. Offer more feeds and water in the day. They may also need it at night as well. If your child is old enough to understand they have a water beaker next to them at night leave it there for them so if they wake thirsty they can reach for a drink. Of course please be sensible about this and follow safe sleep guidelines, you do not want them to choke on water in the night.

Keep their sleep environment consistent

Of course when our child is sick we want to be close to them and especially at night, how those cheeky bugs know to disturb night sleep more is one of their talents…You may be tempted to bring your child to sleep in your bed for the night. Your great independent sleeper will now potentially start to get used to sleeping with you, old sleep habits may return and you will find yourself back in that sleep deprived state again… Equally they actually may not sleep any better in the bed with you. Certainly if they are used to sleeping in their own bed. All that hard work you put into achieving a great little sleeper has come undone.

It would be a better idea for you to move into their room for the short time they are ill. Set up a mattress on the floor or get that blow up bed from under the stairs and spend a few nights in your child’s room. Why? Well simple really, it will be easier for you to leave their room than it will be for you to get your child back into their own room and bed. You want to keep their sleep environment consistent, the same, so don’t disrupt it.

By keeping their sleep environment the same you will be keeping the consistency and familiarity of their bed and room. If you are in their room it may also be easier for you to help them settle back to sleep rather than fighting for a little bit of space in your bed, especially if your child has a high temperature, they don’t need to have extra body heat coming at them from both sides from your partner and yourself. Their bed has the space they need to sleep well.

Pain relief

Give pain relief. Seek professional medical advice and get the anti-biotics that may be needed. Most sniffles and temperatures are sorted with a few days on Calpol. Childhood medication is there to help fight those bugs. Always read the label and follow advice from your GP.

Get back on track

When all is well again and you are confident you have your healthy child back fighting fit, now is the time to return to usual sleep habits. That routine you had before should come back easily and you can slot back into it. Those sleep habits and practices you had before should and will just fall back into place. If you had a great independent sleeper before, they will return and I expect pretty quickly without too much sleep shaping help from you.

If perhaps it was more recently you did some sleep shaping and you are struggling to get back on track again, return using the same method you did previously. You know it won’t take long because they know this game and they know how to play it!

Hang in there. Rainbows will shine bright again soon…


Your Paediatric Sleep Consultant



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