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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Merino

How to Handle Sleep Disruptions with a Sick Child: 4 Tips for Parents

One of the first signs of illness in my children is disrupted sleep. It's a telltale sign that something is not quite right, and as a parent, it can send you into overdrive. I recently experienced this when my then-two-year-old had a night where he reverted back to what felt like the newborn days—he was up almost as soon as I had settled him. I knew something was off.

At first, I thought it might be his two-year-old molars, but it turned out to be something else entirely. After a night of wakefulness, I gave him some Tylenol, which seemed to help. The next day, I noticed little blistering sores forming around his mouth—classic signs of Hand, Foot, & Mouth disease. As a result, I ended up laying in his room next to his crib on a mattress for the next few days, giving him Tylenol and Motrin as needed.

Looking back, I realized I potentially could've caught it earlier if I’d just turned on the light fully to assess him properly. This brings me to my first tip: fully assess your child if something seems off! If they’re usually good sleepers but suddenly have a rough night, it might be more than just an off night. Trust your instincts.

As a nurse, I lean toward "wait and see" before taking action, but trusting your mom-gut is equally important. Let's dive into more tips for managing sleep disruptions when your child is sick.

Tip #1: Try to Avoid Reverting to Previous Sleep Associations

When a child is sick, it's tempting to revert to sleep associations from the past, especially if it’s the only way to calm them down and get them to sleep. This might mean feeding to sleep, rocking them, or even letting them sleep in your bed. While this can be comforting, it can make it harder to get back to a regular sleep routine once your child feels better.

Instead, try to comfort your child in ways that don’t rely on past sleep associations. This might include:

  • Offering more cuddles or holding them a little longer before putting them into their bed.

  • Sitting beside the crib/bed to provide comfort without rocking them to sleep.

  • Patting or gently rubbing their back until they calm down.

If reverting to previous sleep associations is the only way to get your child to sleep while they’re sick, that’s okay. Your priority is to help them feel better. You can refocus on sleep training or getting back to a regular routine when they're healthy again.

Tip #2: Keep Your Baby Comfortable During Illness

When your child is sick, comfort is key to ensuring they get the rest they need to recover. Here are some ways to create a comfortable environment for your sick child:

  • Use a Humidifier: A humidifier in their nursery can help keep the air moist, which is especially helpful if your child has a stuffy nose or congestion. This can improve their breathing and promote better sleep.

  • Steamy Shower Time: If your child is congested, take them into the bathroom while running a steamy shower. The steam can help open up their airways and make it easier for them to breathe.

  • Use Saline Solution and a NoseFrida: Saline solution and a tool like the NoseFrida can help clear out excess mucus, providing relief from congestion.

  • Consider Pacifier Removal: If your child uses a pacifier and it seems to make breathing harder, consider removing it while they sleep.

  • Adjust Clothing for Comfort: If your child is running a fever, removing a layer of clothing can help keep them cool. Conversely, if they seem chilled, add a layer.

  • Provide Medication as Needed: If recommended by a doctor, offer Tylenol or Motrin to manage pain or fever.

If your child is unable to sleep lying down due to congestion or discomfort, consider holding them upright. This can be challenging, so make sure you're alert and, if possible, take shifts with your partner or another caregiver to ensure you get some rest too.

Tip #3: Nourish Their Body Back to Health with Quality Sleep and Nutrition

Sleep is crucial for recovery, so let your child sleep as much as they need. Hydration and nutrition are also key. If your child is breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, ensure they're feeding regularly to maintain hydration and energy levels. If needed, wake your child for feeding sessions.

For older children, encourage fluid intake by offering water, juice, or Pedialyte. Make it fun by letting them drink through straws or use special cups. It's also important to provide nutrient-dense foods while avoiding excessive sugar. Consider smoothies with fruits and vegetables if your child isn't feeling like eating solid foods.

Tip #4: Get Back on Track with Sleep After Your Child Recovers

Once your child is feeling better, it's time to reestablish a regular sleep routine. Illness can disrupt sleep patterns, but with a few days of consistency, you can get back on track. Here are some tips:

  • Reinstate Bedtime Routines: Follow your usual bedtime routine, including bath time, story time, and other calming activities.

  • Maintain Consistent Sleep and Wake Times: Stick to a consistent schedule to help your child readjust to regular sleeping patterns.

  • Gradually Remove Sleep Associations: If you reverted to sleep associations during your child's illness, gradually phase them out. This might mean reducing the amount of time you rock them or transitioning them back to their own bed.

  • Seek Professional Help if Needed: If you struggle to get back to a regular sleep routine, consider reaching out to a sleep consultant for guidance.

Remember, it's okay if it takes some time to get back on track. Focus on your child's health and comfort first, and then work toward reestablishing normal sleep patterns.

Final Thoughts

Navigating sleep disruptions when your child is sick can be challenging, but with these tips, you can help your child feel more comfortable and recover more quickly. Trust your instincts, provide the comfort they need, and focus on reestablishing routines once they're healthy again.

Stay calm, stay patient, and remember that you're not alone—many parents face similar challenges. If you need more guidance or support, consider setting up a call with a sleep consultant who can offer personalized advice and help you find solutions tailored to your family's needs.

Take a deep breath, and know that you're doing the best you can for your child. With time, things will get easier, and soon you'll be back to enjoying restful nights again.

If you're still experiencing sleep issues after your child recovers, we can help. Consider booking a discovery call with one of our sleep consultants, or explore our sleep services to find personalized solutions for your family's needs.

Our team of experts is here to support you in creating healthier sleep routines for your child and your entire family. Don't hesitate to reach out and take that first step toward better sleep.

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