Napping during an illness

No one likes being sick, but being sick and being a baby at the same time can be a pretty unique challenge. Baby may never have felt anything like the common cold before, and even relatively minor illnesses can feel like the end of the world when they happen to a child you love. Illnesses can turn Baby‘s world upside down, and his sleep schedule is no exception.

Sleep during an illness

Sleep is one of the best medicines a sick baby can have, no matter what illness has him feeling out of it. It’s common for babies to sleep a lot more than usual during an illness to give their bodies a chance to heal, but it’s also pretty common for symptoms of an illness to get in the way of sleep.

Babies can only breathe through their noses, so having a stuffy nose can be very uncomfortable for them, and can get in the way of necessary activities like eating and sleeping. If your baby is having trouble breathing or drinking because of nasal congestion, you can help him by clearing out his nose. Saline drops or spray in his nostril can help to break up the blockage, and a rubber suction bulb can help suck it away. Clearing out his nose before he sleeps or feeds can give him the best chance of getting the meal and rest he needs. Your little one is a little young for medicated saline drops, so simple salt water is the way to go.

You can also place a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer in your baby’s bedroom at night to help keep his nose from getting too stuffy. Hot water humidifiers can be dangerous and can cause burns.

Helping your child sleep during an illness is one of the best things you can do for his health, and that may take precedence over sleep training or the good sleeping habits you may have been trying to instill. That’s okay – sleep habits generally take a little time to form, so doing something different from what you want to be ‘normal’ for your child won’t necessarily get in the way of his healthy sleep habits in the future.

The basic rule of thumb is that it’s important to help Baby get as much sleep as possible as he heals, but of course, there are a few exceptions. The first and most important is hydration – if Baby is sleeping through his usual mealtimes, he could start to get dehydrated, especially if he has a fever. Until he is around 6 months old, he shouldn’t drink anything but breast milk or formula, and even after that, for the rest of the first year, he should still get most of his hydration from breast milk or formula, though he can start to have a little water. Hydration is crucially important during an illness, though, even if that means occasionally waking him up to offer it.

The other exceptions to the “as much sleep as possible during an illness” rule run along the same lines: if your child’s doctor has prescribed a medication, it’s important to follow the medication schedule, even if that means waking him up.

Most importantly, if your child is ever unresponsive or hard to rouse, it’s important to seek medical attention right away.

Sleep after an illness

Regression to an earlier stage of his sleep behavior after an illness is pretty common, either because he was allowed to bend the rules while he was sick, or just because he is looking for a little extra comfort as he recovers. It’s up to you how long to let that go on, but the longer your child is allowed to, say, sleep next to you, or call out for a bottle in the middle of the night, the more he is going to come to expect and depend on it.

  • “Diseases and conditions: Pediatric Sleep Disorders.” The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, May 30 2013. Web.
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