Illness and Sleep - Some Do's and Dont's for Cold and Flu Season

It's always hard when your child is sick, and I get lots of questions from concerned parents in the middle of a brutal cold and flu season like this one. Many parents are struggling with the fact that symptoms of illness mean their tired kids get even LESS sleep, and others are wondering just how to help their independent sleepers maintain their healthy sleep habits in the midst of stuffy noses, ear infections, fevers or disruptive coughing.

Keep in mind the following Do's and Don'ts the next time your kiddo comes down with the yuck. Do-

  • Keep your sleep expectations the same. Even sick babies can go to sleep independently in their cribs. So stick to your routine, the consistency will be reassuring for them.

  • Treat any illness symptoms before sleep. Clear out the nose well, rub a safe baby chest-rub on chest or feet. Give any necessary medications, and make sure they are as comfortable as possible.

  • If they wake up at night, respond quickly. Offer comfort, pick your baby up, treat any symptoms with whatever they need.

  • Offer an awake night feeding if you feel it’s absolutely necessary. Sucking helps reduce pain, calm the nervous system and relieve sinus pressure, so If you think your baby needs a feed when they are sick, go right ahead and offer this.

  • Provide extra naps if they seem to need it. If your baby is really feeling miserable an occasional on the go nap in the car or stroller or even ergo carrier you wear can help make sure your baby is getting the daytime sleep he needs in a elevated position that will be more comfortable. This usually doesn't cause issue with the success of crib naps as long as it isn't all the time.

  • Trust your instincts and take care of your child’s extra needs while they are under the weather. As soon as your baby is feeling better and recovered they will likely go right back to their normal sleep habits.


  • Bring baby into your bed if your baby is confident and happy in their own sleep space. If you’re really concerned and want to sleep in the same room, make up a temporary bed on the floor of their room. Keeping them in their own room with familiar sleeping conditions will be much less disruptive than moving them into your room.

  • Go back to the old way or “prop” you used to get your little one to sleep. It’s difficult, because you want to offer them any kind of help you can while they are feeling miserable, but re-learning old habits is very easy and you don’t want to confuse them. Also, there is a chance that they will get LESS sleep that way (because remember those props were not working).

If you have any questions or concerns call your doctors office and speak to a nurse there. They are great about answering questions and calming fears. They will let you know if you need to schedule an appointment to come in, or if it's a normal illness that will run it's course.

Babies with independent sleep skills often get MORE sleep during teething and illness because they know how to get the sleep they need. So trust them to take extra long naps or sleep in late if that's what they need. If your child has been struggling to get the sleep they need this Winter please contact me, I can help!

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Kristine Petterson 

Sleep & Mindful Parenting Specialist 

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