I LOVE fall. Pretty leaves! Hot cider! Chilly temps! Pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING!! But I have to admit, there’s one thing I definitely don’t like about fall — the start of cold and flu season. While cold and flu season officially peaks in January and February, it starts in early October. I’ve had one nasty cold already — and given that I have three children under the age of 7 living in my home, I’m sure it won’t be my last! 🙁
And guess what? As much as we parents will try our hardest to prevent it, our babies and toddlers are probably going to come down with a few viruses this season, too. And this raises an important question: how will these inevitable illnesses affect our babies’ and toddlers’ sleep?
Fortunately for you, that’s exactly what we’re talking about today! So read on, parents, and find out what you can expect, sleep-wise, this cold and flu season.
2 Ways That Illness Will Likely Affect Your Baby or Toddler’s Sleep
Most parents find that illness affects their babies’ and toddlers’ sleep in these two ways:
- Your baby or toddler’s overall sleep amounts increase. This isn’t surprising, right? Illness affects us adults in the same way. And it’s no wonder — fighting off infection is hard work! That’s why fatigue is a symptom of just about every illness there is. In fact, fatigue and fever (which is your body’s way of fighting illness) often go hand-in-hand. Here’s a little aside: remember that fever itself is actually a sign that your child’s body is fighting infection. So no need to treat the fever unless it gets too high (over 104) or unless your child seems to be in pain. Sometimes, it’s best to let the fever run its course without medication.
When your baby or toddler comes down with a virus, don’t be surprised if she naps more than usual, or if she seems ready for bed quite early (or sleeps in quite late.) This is perfectly normal. The best thing you can do is to let your baby or toddler sleep as much as she wants to (I know — so tough, right? 😉 ) Honestly, this is one of the upsides to your little one’s illness (if illness can have an upside) — you will end up with a lot more downtime than you normally have! So soak it up while you have it. I usually use my kids’ sick days to catch up on chores, work ahead on my writing, and read as much as I can of whatever book I happen to be devouring at the moment. 🙂
Of course, if your baby or toddler’s extra-sleepy state lasts for longer than you feel is normal (longer than, say, 5-7 days), or if you become at all concerned that something more serious than a simple cold or flu may be happening, don’t hesitate to contact a healthcare provider.
- Your baby or toddler may wake more often than normal. Just when you thought it was all ‘more naps’ sunshine and ‘earlier bedtime’ roses…here comes the bad news. While it’s true that your baby or toddler will probably sleep more, overall, than he usually does, he will probably also wake more often than usual (particularly if he takes really long naps, or if he is sleeping through the night). For instance, a baby who normally sleeps through the night may wake a few times and need comfort. (This is especially true for stomach viruses — if your baby or toddler gets a stomach bug, prepare for some middle-of-the-night vomiting and/or diarrhea!)
Same is true for naps. You might find that your normally-great napper takes shorter naps than usual, because he wakes from each nap early, out of discomfort. Instead of taking his usual long naps, your little one may take a series of shorter naps. Again, overall napping amounts will probably be greater, but you may not get those long stretches of sleep that you’re used to.
I have found that my kids usually wake often at night, or wake early from naps, in the first 48 hours of an illness. After that, their symptoms (usually) calm down, and they start to gradually return to their normal sleeping habits.
Illness and Sleep Training: What Should You Do?
What if your little one falls ill in the midst of sleep training? What do you do then? Do you power through and keep coaching through the illness? Or do you ‘press pause’ and wait until your baby or toddler is healthy before resuming your sleep training?
Here’s our advice: if your baby or toddler is flat-out miserable, stop what you are doing, sleep-training wise, and focus on nursing your little one back to health. This may mean you end up taking a few steps back — you may need to rock/feed/swing to sleep again, for instance. But this is okay – it’s just a short-term solution to a short-term problem. But remember, to guard against short-term coddling becoming long-term sleep struggles, be sure you get back to your normal routine as soon as your baby or toddler is on the upswing. Wait too long, and it can feel like you’re starting all over with sleep training!
However, if your child is sick with a little sniffle, and seems to feel okay, you can continue on with your sleep training as normal. Basically, use your judgment, and treat your baby or toddler the way you would want to be treated in the same situation. Not many of us would drag ourselves into work if we were vomiting and had a 103 fever, right? So don’t ‘push through’ something like that with your little one! On the flip side, though, I’m sure all of us have gone on with our lives as normal when we had mild colds; your baby or toddler can probably do the same.
Sleep Training in Sickness and in Health!
Sleep “speed bumps” like illness, teething, and sleep regressions may slow down your sleep coaching progress, but they certainly don’t have to undo all of your sleep coaching progress! If you need more detailed tips on sleep coaching during illness without undoing everything, be sure to check out our article in our VIP Members Area, an extension of your village of sleep support. Or, if you are tired of reading, why not connect with one of our expert sleep consultants, and get professional help in navigating your little one’s sleep speed bumps? Your consultant will craft a Personalized Sleep Plan™ just for you that outlines exactly how you can navigate a speed bump like illness.
Browse our list of consultation package options here.
Once you make your choice and purchase, you will immediately receive an e-mail with your Helpdesk login information. You’ll be able to log in and get started right away!
Want more information about how personalized help works? Check out our FAQ page here, and get answers.
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For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night.
If you’re looking for ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine during the day, I encourage you to explore Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-tos” of good baby sleep. With over 45 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style.
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20 thoughts on “2 Ways Illness Affects Your Baby or Toddler’s Sleep (And Sleep Training)”
Hi my son is 9 half months everytime I but him down at night time or even in the day he starts crying but also he as come a bit poorly now since the last couple of days I was just wondering if I could have some help please thank you my name is kelly
Hi @Kelly – Thank you for writing to us! Sorry to hear you’re having a tough time with your 9 month old’s bedtime! I hope he’s feeling better too, and sleeping better as well! For more information and help with this, I would like to recommend that you consider our e-Book, The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep.
The 3-Step System e-Book is the most popular e-Book on our site and is designed to give you all of the information you need to get your baby sleeping soundly. Written in a straightforward, easy-to-read format, this will answer your biggest baby sleep questions, including how much sleep your baby needs, how to create sleep-optimizing routines, how to help your baby fall asleep independently, and when to start night weaning (to name just a few).
Plus, depending on which e-Book package you purchase, you will have access to supplemental materials as well, including audio recordings, tele-seminars, case studies, workbooks, and more.
You can find and order the book directly online here:
Please let us know if you have any questions at any time Kelly!
hi, i have been doing sleep training( controlled crying) to my 7 months old baby. for the first 3 days he cried from 5-7mins then fall asleep.
but in day 5 he tend to have a bit or runny nose and cough, he cried longer than usual and stop when i go in to pat him. then cried again when i left.
is it the illness effect his sleeping or the sleep training don work for him?
Hi @Lin – Thank you for writing to us! I hope that things are getting better again! it is quite common to hit some “speedbumps” along the way when working on sleep training. Illness can certainly make things tougher, as you have likely read in this article! Feel free to “slow down” a little while he is not feeling well, and hopefully you’ll be back to that 5-7 minutes! Hang in there and keep teaching those good sleep habits!
My LO is almost 20mo and has been a great napper—usually gives us 2.5-3 hours. She had a bad cold about one month ago with awful congestion and coughing and since then has only been taking 1hr naps. We haven’t changed her schedule or diet in any way. I’ve been thinking she’s starting to get her 2yr molars because she’s continually chewing on things and though her cold is gone she still has a runny nose. I’m thinking this could be keeping her from taking a longer nap? She sleeps soundly at night (10ish hours) and always wakes happy and ready to go. It was just so sudden. Is there something else I need to try to get back to the long naps?
Hi @Rebecca, thanks for writing to us! I’m so sorry to hear your daughter was sick and that it’s disrupted her naps. We do consider a 1 hour nap to be good as it is long enough to be restorative, so I don’t have any solid suggestions for you, but if you’d like to download our free guide with nap tips maybe there will be an idea in there you haven’t thought of yet: https://www.babysleepsite.com/free-baby-nap-guide/
I do know from being a mother myself (I have a son that’s 22 months) that some transitions do happen causing hiccups along the way. My son was taking shorter (for him) naps for a while but eventually (and thankfully) they lengthened back out again but I do think it took a while. There are little things like you mentioned – teething, sleep regressions, illnesses – that can all cause challenges but hopefully things will get back to normal for him soon!
We recently had to take my toddler to the hospital because she started vomiting everything she tried to eat or drink. Everything. She could keep breast milk down better than anything so I am letting her breastfeed as much and as often as she wants. We brought her in after it had been going on for a day and a half, about 36 hours. They tested for flu and strep and came back with nothing so they sent us home with a laxative and nausea pills, the nausea pills helped incredibly and we only had to give her 3 total to get her through the vomiting stage and the laxative for if she doesn’t poop within 2 days (which we didn’t use). Now she’s having diarrhea but she is still nursing a lot. She doesn’t scream in pain anymore like she did the first two days, now she’s just been sleeping. Is this normal? She sleeps and only wakes up for a couple minutes for when we change her diaper or she wants to nurse then she goes right back to sleeping. She’s been sleeping for about 20 hours now waking up every now and then for a few minutes. The longest she’s been awake was maybe 30 minutes while we tried to get her to drink Pedialyte and eat ice chips. We were gonna start her on bland food like crackers and bread today because she has been holding her liquids down for 24 hours now but she just wants to sleep and nurse. When should I be worried that she’s sleeping too much?
@Courtney – Thank you for stopping by our sleepy little village. Oh no, poor baby! I hope your little girl starts feeling better soon – this illness sounds like it’s taken a terrible toll on her body and she’s exhausted. I completely understand your concern and worry about her sleeping too much – 20 hours in a 24-hour period is most definitely a lot, typically, for a toddler. However, I’m unsure if that is cause for concern as her sleepiness seems to be due to her illness and recovery, which is an area her healthcare provider would be best equipped to answer. If you haven’t already, please contact him/her as soon as possible and explain what you’ve told us so they can inform you better and/or give some recommendations. Our best wishes and thoughts are with you all during this time. Please stop back in to see us again soon.
@ Claire — ha! Well, they say timing is everything 😉 Good call on the waiting — weaning will go better if everyone feels healthy and is at their best. Hope it goes well, Claire! Best of luck to you! And thanks for commenting. 🙂
Just got this link on the very day we planned to start eliminating our 8 month old daughter’s 4 am “snack” – which also happened to be the very day my daughter woke up all night long with a fever and congestion. I guess we’ll be waiting until this clears up to do that final night wean!
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