Here is my blog post for Boston Parent’s Paper on Sickness and Sleep. Click here for original article – “Sniffles, Sneezes, and Sleep”.
You’ve finally gotten your baby or toddler on a solid sleep routine and everyone is getting the sleep they need, then – BAM – sickness strikes.
Having a sick baby or toddler is tough. You want to do everything in your power to make them feel well and help them recoup as quickly as possible, but should that mean sacrificing your child’s great sleep habits? Read on for advice on how to help everyone stay rested and (reasonably) happy through their inevitable childhood viruses.
Sick Children Need Their Sleep!
In fact, more sleep is needed when one is sick because it truly is the best medicine. While you should do whatever you can to make your little one comfortable and ease the pain, you still need to adhere to a nap and bedtime schedule to insure your child is getting the required amount of sleep. A bedtime that is earlier than normal will be helpful if your child is having a hard time taking good naps, or is waking up frequently during the night due to coughing, congestion or fever. The early bedtime will help your child catch up on any missed sleep and ensure that he doesn’t become an overtired mess on top of his illness.
Stick to the Norm
Children thrive on routine and a sick child is no different. Keeping your child’s day on schedule and her environment consistent will actually be more comforting than making changes; children like knowing what to expect. This means keeping your pre-nap and bedtime routines the same and allowing them to stay in the location where they are used to sleeping. When little ones are sick it is easy to understand wanting them close and only a snuggle away, but they will do much better sleeping in their crib or bed because that is where they are used to sleeping (it is also safer: the American Academy of Pediatrics’ safe sleep guidelines advise against bed-sharing). These temporary moves may help parents feel better but are actually confusing to your little one – so keep with what your child knows.
Take Measures to Make Your Child Comfortable Before Sleeping
Pre-nap and at bedtime use saline spray or drops and a nasal cleaning device to gently remove nasal congestion and help your child breathe more easily. Elevating your baby’s head (about 30 degrees) with a pillow under the mattress can also help her breathe easier, but never add anything to your baby’s crib to lift her head. Keeping rooms on the cool side (between 65 and 68° F) and running a cool humidifier will actually help a baby with a cough or stuffy nose. Try to time the taking of any needed meds to occur right before bedtime, so that your child can have the longest stretch of sleep possible before needing another dose.
Bad Habits Happen
When your child is sick, it’s your job to make him or her feel as well as possible. If you do end up introducing some bad habits (like rocking your child all the way to sleep, for example), do not stress about it. The minute your child is well again, get back to business as usual and after a few days you’ll all settle back into the old routine. Remember that with all things sleep, consistency is key; it’s important to stick with it and do not back down. Your child will likely protest, but establishing healthy sleep hygiene will be instrumental in getting her back on track and staying healthy!