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Sleep and Illness

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Dealing with illness in children is no small feat, especially when it comes to maintaining a healthy sleep routine. As their parent / carer, the challenge lies not only in tending to their physical and mental well-being but also in ensuring they develop and maintain independent sleep skills that will encourage growth and healing.

Every year I have clients asking for my help after their little one has come out the other side of illness. Sometimes it is an easy advice fix but sometimes we need to work on re-building their little ones sleep skills.

First and foremost

Follow your instincts! If your little one is unwell you would follow doctors’ advice first. If you have not seen a doctor and your little one wakes in the night, go straight to them and offer comfort and medicine if required or your doctor has recommended.

If you are worried about your little one and you need to monitor them, it is better that you go into their room to do this. Make yourself a comfy little spot in their room rather than taking them into your bed or downstairs. It only takes a couple of days of doing something different for your little one to prefer this new sleeping arrangement. This will mean that when they are better, you will have to start again teaching them to use their independent sleep skills.

Tips and strategies

Below are some ways to help to navigate the delicate balance between comforting a little one that is unwell whilst encouraging and fostering their ability to sleep independently.

  • Routine: Illness can be unsettling for everyone, disrupting your sense of routine and security. During sick days, aim to maintain a familiar bedtime routine as much as possible. Read this blog for a good bedtime routine if you would like suggestions. A routine that is no longer than 30 minutes once upstairs and everything carried out in the same or familiar order provides comfort and a sense of normalcy.
  • Environment: Ensure their sleep environment is dimly lit for the reading and feeding and as close to 10/10 for darkness when they go to sleep. Whether it be your room or theirs, light plays a big role in creating sleepy hormones and a sleepy vibe. Also ensure the temperature is just right, ideally between 16-18 degrees (refer to Lullaby Trust for further sleep hygiene). Allow them to wear their favourite pyjamas and read their favourite book. For you it may be worthwhile making sure that there is a sick bowl in easy reach for you to reach or them to reach, dependant on age. Water within reach if they are old enough. A restful sleep environment will contribute to a more restful night, especially during periods of illness.
  • Independent Sleep: Building independent sleep skills is a process that takes time and not best started when your little one is unwell. If they already have independent sleep skills (not needing anything external to get them to sleep) then it is best to maintain normalcy as much as possible. We want to be with our children when they are unwell, so I suggest staying with them until they are comforted and then gradually withdrawing, allowing them to soothe themselves to sleep.

Dependant on how unwell a child is of course, it is important to strike a balance between comforting a sick little one and promoting their sleep skills. While offering reassurance and care, you are there for them whilst allowing them to self-soothe. Doing this will mean that when they are better, the way they go to sleep will not have been changed.

Dealing with illness in children is undoubtedly challenging, but by fostering independent sleep skills, you can provide a foundation for healthier sleep habits. Through familiar routines, a restful sleep environment, and encouraging independent sleep, you can navigate the delicate dance of comforting your child while nurturing their ability to sleep independently.

Sweet dreams and a swift recovery to your little one and good luck mummies, daddies and carers, seeing our little ones unwell is so difficult.  

If your little one is still struggling to sleep, please get in touch.  Book a free, no obligation call and we can talk about working together to get you a better night’s sleep.

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