How to Navigate Sleep During Illness

Winter is a tough time when you have a small child: from the sniffles to the flu, it seems like our little ones are constantly sick for the long, cold months.

So it’s no surprise that every January my inbox starts to fill up with e-mails from former clients saying, “My baby is sick and his sleep has massively regressed… Heeeelp!”

With that season upon us, I don’t want you to be caught off-guard if your little one gets sick. Here are my top tips for dealing with sleep while your child is sick.

First rule of thumb: Follow your child’s lead. Some children sleep more and better when they’re not feeling well. If yours is one of them, allow him to sleep as much as he wants and don’t intervene unnecessarily. However, if your child is having trouble sleeping and needs some extra comfort, don’t hesitate to offer it.

Second rule of thumb: All rules are off. If you’re in the middle of sleep training, take a break. If you have strict sleep rules, relax them for a few days. If your child is on a very regimented nap schedule, allow him to sleep longer (or earlier) than usual. All that being said, if you’ve only recently overcome a sleep association like nursing/rocking to sleep, don’t immediately revert to those old habits if it’s unnecessary. Instead, try other means of soothing first. (If that doesn’t work, go for the old sleep associations and see #3!)

Third rule of thumb: Once your child is feeling better, time to go back to basics. It’s super common for kids to experience sleep regressions after an illness, especially if they’ve needed a lot of extra comfort from the parent. For example, if you’ve been bringing yours to bed with you at night or nursing him often overnight, then he’s definitely going to expect that to continue. (Wouldn’t you!?) The best way to nip this expectation in the bud is to announce to him (and to yourself) that since he’s better, it’s time to go back to the old routine.

If you can follow these guidelines–especially the third–then you should be able to make it through the germy season with sleep unscathed.


A version of this article was originally published in the Bonne Nuit Baby newsletter. Want monthly sleep tips? Sign up here.