Sleep during teething

While babies do spend a lot of time sleeping, a baby’s sleep is surprisingly easy to disrupt – anything from a pothole in the road to their own growth can throw it off. Teething, for example, can have an impact on the length and quality of their sleep all through the teething process.

When and how does teething impact sleep?

Teething usually starts some time between 4 and 12 months old. Teething lasts until toddler molars come in some time around 3 years old, though it slows down a little in later years. There are many symptoms that often go along with teething, but, aside from reddened or swollen gums, none of these symptoms are specific enough to teething that they can really be used to tell when teething is happening, since they can all be caused by other things, and all happen fairly commonly even outside of teething. These symptoms include:

  • Increased drooling
  • Rash or dry skin from the drool around the mouth
  • Crankiness or irritability due to discomfort
  • In some studies, slightly elevated temperature, though not enough to be called a fever
  • Mouthing or chewing on objects for soothing

Common belief says that teething can cause fever and diarrhea, but according to the Mayo Clinic, research doesn’t support this belief. Another common problem surrounding teething is that symptoms that are actually signs of illness are sometimes dismissed as just teething until an illness appears more fully.

The main effect teething has on sleep is just that teething pain can make babies fussier, and give them a harder time falling asleep, especially since soothing techniques like teethers, or cool washcloths, that babies might depend on to soothe teething pain during the day can’t be used during sleep.

What can I do to help them through it?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends soothing babies who are fussy during teething to sleep using their normal bedtime routines. However, babies who are experiencing teething pain sometimes have trouble falling or staying asleep with a normal routine.

The usual ways of soothing sore gums, like cool washcloths or soothers, pressure, and other options to gnaw on, don’t work for sleep. It can be tempting to apply a topical numbing gel to the gums, which can numb them long enough for a baby to fall asleep, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against it, since the gel is then swallowed, which can numb the throat, which can be dangerous. Homeopathic teething gels are also not recommended, and can be dangerous.

If your little one’s healthcare provider approves it, offering an over-the-counter pain reliever can be an option for teething pain that Baby just can’t sleep through. Acetaminophen-based pain relievers like Tylenol are generally agreed to be safe for children 4 months old and older when approved by a doctor. Ibuprofen-based medications like Advil and Motrin are approved for ages 6 months and older, although these should be avoided if Baby is not feeding well or not making wet diapers. For either one, it’s important to follow doctor-approved dosing instructions carefully.

If you’re using over-the-counter medications to treat teething pain, you may need to give your child a second dose part-way through the night, depending on the medication and the severity of the pain. Ibuprofen-based medications have a longer duration of pain relief compared to Acetaminophen-based medications. It is important not to give these medicines more frequently than indicated by your doctor and noted on the medication’s instructions, as it can lead to a medication overdose.

On the other hand, if they take these pain medicines frequently, it can be helpful to give the medicine right before they go to sleep to minimize sleep disruption due to pain.

Teething pain can sound like a never-ending ordeal, if only because it’s so spread out, but studies have found that teething pain really only makes itself known for a few days before and a few days after each tooth, and Baby doesn’t have that many teeth coming in, so there should be plenty of time to brace yourself between teething episodes.

  • Barton D. Schmitt “Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) Dosage Table.” St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Barton D. Schmitt, 1995-2015. Web.
  • J. Jacobs, M.L. Macknin, M. Piedmonte, C. Skibinski. “Symptoms associated with infant teething: a prospective study.” Pediatrics. 105(4 Pt 1):747-52. Web. April 2000
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Teething: Tips for soothing sore gums.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, January 29 2015. Web.
  • Saul M. Paiva, Isabela A. Pordeus, Joana Ramos-Jorge, Maria L. Ramos-Jorge. “Prospective Longitudinal Study of Signs and Symptoms Associated with Primary Tooth Eruption.” Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, August 2011. Web.
  • “Acetaminophen Dosage Table for Fever and Pain.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, May 23 2016. Web.
  • “Teething Pain.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 28 2015. Web.
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