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 her 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 her 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 her by clearing out her nose. Saline drops or spray in her nostril can help to break up the blockage, and a rubber suction bulb can help suck it away. Clearing out her nose before she sleeps or feeds can give her the best chance of getting the meal and rest she 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 her 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 her 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 her 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 she heals, but of course, there are a few exceptions. The first and most important is hydration – if Baby is sleeping through her usual mealtimes, she could start to get dehydrated, especially if she has a fever. Until she is around 6 months old, she shouldn’t drink anything but breast milk or formula, and even after that, for the rest of the first year, she should still get most of her hydration from breast milk or formula, though she can start to have a little water. Hydration is crucially important during an illness, though, even if that means occasionally waking her 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 her 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 her sleep behavior after an illness is pretty common, either because she was allowed to bend the rules while she was sick, or just because she is looking for a little extra comfort as she 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 she 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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