Sleep and Sickness: What you need to know from a holistic sleep coachDec 07, 2023
One of the worst things to see as a parent is your little one sick.
We wish we could take it from them.
Add your OWN sickness to the mix (because, your baby or toddler probably coughed in your face, lol) and you've got a difficult situation! It's tiring!
So - what do you need to know about sleep and sickness.
Firstly you might be wondering.. is sleep going backwards??
We all know that baby sleep isn’t linear and one of the main things that can really impact the way that your baby is sleeping is illness.
It’s important to remember that there are no bad habits when it comes to sleep and if your baby is unwell or in any kind of pain and discomfort, it will be so normal for them to want to seek out extra help and support from you. Just like we do from our friends and family when we're sick!
The power of your comfort is enormous, and comfort is a valid need that your baby has so please don’t panic, feel like things are going backwards or that you are making ‘bad habits’ if your baby does need that extra help – this is so normal and I promise you, this isn't going to mean they need this same support forever.
Follow their lead
When your baby is unwell, their immune system is craving rest in order to heal and recover. In addition, sleep will naturally be disjointed - both of these things combined can mean your baby is looking for longer naps and early bedtimes, both of which are okay!
The very best rule of thumb when it comes to sickness and sleep is that there are literally no rules. If your baby seems to want more sleep, we will want to follow their lead - remember sleep is the body's way to rest, repair itself and heal so its normal they will want more.
This might mean your baby's awake time is significantly less than normal. Rather than looking at the clock or thinking about what your baby 'normally' does, follow their cues to find the best sport for them. If your baby is sleeping a lot, just make sure they are still getting sufficient feeds to keep them well hydrated.
They won't let me put them down!
It’s also going to be normal for your baby to want to be on you 24/7 when they are unwell. Co-regulation is so powerful and your baby is going to want that by the bucketful when they are feeling poorly.
The very best way to approach this is simply to surrender - it might mean your baby will only contact nap. It might also mean your baby wants to be rocked, held, patted or fed to sleep. Remember all of this is normal even if your little one was sleeping independently before.
If you are struggling in the day, try doing naps assisted in the baby carrier to help relieve some of the stress.
It seems so much worse at night!? (You would be right!)
There's a few reasons why sickness seems worse at night. Firstly, low cortisol levels. Cortisol helps to immune system to function properly and is basically like nature's ibuprofen - it reduces inflammation. Overnight, when cortisol levels are low, inflammation can be exacerbated and symptoms of sickness can also be exacerbated as your immune system steps it up a notch with these hormonal shifts.
At night, baby is also laying flat and this can make things like congestion and coughs a little tricky and quite naturally, can mean your baby is more wakeful.
With this in mind, you may feel that cot sleep is simply unattainable and honestly, it might be! If you are feeling like your baby can't manage cot sleep, consider setting up a safe bedsharing arrangement so you aren't caught off guard.
Consider safer bedsharing
It’s important to be realistic when you are managing a sick baby. If they are struggling overnight, you may find yourself falling asleep with them on the lounge or an armchair and the research is clear that this is FAR more risky than a safe bed sharing space would be, in fact, the risk is 50 times higher for a baby when they are sleep in an armchair or sofa. With this in mind, an intentional co-sleeping space may be sensible.
Please note bed sharing won't be safe if:
- You or your parter are also unwell or overly tired
- You or your partner have consumed alcohol
- You or your partner smoke
- You have taken any drugs or even prescription medication that makes you feel drowsy
- Your baby is premature or small for their gestational age
Now that they are better..
Lots of little ones will revert right back to their normal rhythms once sickness has passed, however, if you feel like your baby has recovered and they haven't done this naturally on their own, you can help to support them gradually.
This could look like fully assisting them to sleep but at their ideal nap times for 3-5 days to get the rhythm back to their days and moving back towards your normal sleep spaces and ways of settling from there once everything is feeling more manageable again.
Quick tips for optimizing sleep when your baby is sick
- Offer pain relief before sleep times.
- Feed on demand or offer smaller, more frequent feeds. Make sure to wake baby for fluids if they are sleepy
- Consider using a humidifier, saline spray and a nasal aspirator if they are congested.
- Cuddle therapy is magic.
- Checking in with your GP if you are ever concerned about your baby's sickness symptoms or contact Health Direct - 1800 022 222 to speak to a nurse 24/7
Hope this helps!
Need more help?
If you need some more support with your baby or toddlers sleep, we'd love to help you!
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