Managing Sleep when your Child is Sick

Updated: Oct 24, 2020

We have nearly completed our first year of day care with our kids and I can tell you, in terms of sickness, it was a year from hell.

One of them would bring home a bug, the next week the other would pick it up, then just as both kids would be feeling better, boom... we’d pick it up. This cycle continued pretty consistently all year. I can count on one hand the number of weeks we had sickness free.

Kids do pick up a lot of bugs in their early years, even if they don’t attend day care. I guess the bright side is that it is building their immune systems in time for when they start school.

We all know how horrible it can feel when you are unwell and a lot of the time you just want to curl up in bed, yet it’s not so easy to get the sleep you need. It’s the same for our kids, so how do we best help them through these times of illness, help them get the sleep they need to recover while at the same time not introducing new sleep associations?

This is a common concern among parents who have successfully sleep trained their children. They worry that by providing extra comfort at sleep time then all their hard work will be undone. This is a valid concern, although there are ways to battle through and have everyone sleeping better in no time.


If your little one is just a little congested or has a harmless cough, then you can probably stick pretty close to your usual routine.

If you are currently in the process of sleep training, in most cases in this situation you should be fine to continue as normal. At the very least, you can pause your progress then continue once they are feeling better. Just make sure they are as comfortable as possible. Have a chat with your GP to see if there is anything they recommend to help clear their congestion or ease the cough.

Fevers/Gastro/Respiratory Illness etc

If your little one has a more serious illness don’t be afraid to give them the comfort they need, they will genuinely be needing those extra cuddles and snuggles. Follow your GP’s recommendations and help them feel better as soon as possible.

If you are in the process of sleep training when they fall ill, put it on hold and pick up where you left off once they are feeling better.

Where possible, try not to re-introduce any sleep association like rocking or feeding to sleep. Be patient and sit there with them, give them a head rub, pat their back or mattress or just lay a hand on them. By doing this you are comforting them and helping them fall asleep, but you are not creating associations which can be difficult to remove when they are feeling better.

If your child is very sick and needs you there with them during the night, it’s best to set up a bed in their room, so you have all the benefits of co-sleeping without changing their sleep environment. This makes it easier for them to go back to sleeping on their own when they are better.

You may find that your little one is more lethargic during the day when they’re not well. If needed, pop them down for their naps early but wake them at the regular time, this will help keep your day on track.

One on one consultations and downloadable sleep guides are all available online x

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