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  • Jessica Berk

How to Get Your Sick Toddler to Sleep

When your child gets sick, it can be a challenging time for both you and your little one. Toddler sleep seems like an elusive thing when they’re healthy, but when they’re sick? Send in the reinforcements!

Plenty of good sleep is critical for your toddler to get better, but symptoms like fever and coughing can make it difficult for them to rest comfortably.

Today, I’ve got 6 tips for how to get a sick toddler to sleep so they can bounce back and get healthy again as soon as possible.


>>Watch this blog on my Awesome Little Sleepers YouTube channel! 👇


Toddler sleep tip number one: maintain a consistent bedtime routine

Keep your toddler's bedtime routine as consistent as possible, even when they're sick. Familiar activities like reading, taking a warm bath, or singing lullabies can provide comfort and signal that it's time for sleep.

This is one big reason why it’s important to have a consistent bedtime routine even when your child isn’t sick.

It helps kids learn that after these steps, sleep comes next and can even help stimulate melatonin production. This is all very helpful when they're feeling under the weather.

Toddler sleep tip number two: be flexible with the sleep schedule

Be consistent with the routine, but flexible with the schedule. Kids need MORE sleep when they’re sick. All humans do! Our body needs rest to fight illness and get healthy. But kids' symptoms can make it hard to sleep, which can quickly lead to them becoming overtired. When they’re sick, it may feel like they’re getting even less sleep than normal, but that’s not what we want.

Kids who have typical bedtime around 7:30 pm may need to go to bed an hour earlier - that’s fine. Just watch their sleepy signs. Some kids who’ve stopped napping may need a nap, especially if they slept poorly overnight. You can offer a car nap just to help them catch up on sleep.

And some kids may fall asleep at the “wrong” time - like 4 pm in the car. But if they’ve been struggling with sleep while sick, I’d recommend just letting them rest for an hour or so. That may mean you have to move bedtime a little later, but that’s okay. Sleep becomes the priority during illness, so let them get it however they can.

Toddler sleep tip number three: use a humidifier

Adding moisture to the air with a humidifier can help alleviate congestion and make it easier for your toddler to breathe. Make sure to clean the humidifier regularly – the inside can get moldy after a few days.

Another option to help with their breathing is by putting some Vicks® VapoRub™ on their chest. Some people swear by putting Vicks® on their kids’ feet and then covering them with socks, but there isn’t much data to support this is helpful. But it can’t hurt, so feel free to give it a shot!

Toddler sleep tip number four: elevate their head

Cough and congestion can be worse when you’re laying down flat. Relieve some of these symptoms by slightly elevating your child's head while they sleep. Do this by using an extra pillow or even place a folded towel under the mattress to angle the head up a little bit. This can make breathing easier and promote better sleep.

Toddler sleep tip number five: keep them hydrated

Obviously you want to encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. This can help keep their throat moist and prevent dehydration, which is especially important if they have a fever. Stick to water or electrolyte-rich drinks. Avoid sugary drinks before bed, and especially avoid anything with caffeine.

Toddler sleep tip number six: at bedtime, offer extra comfort and reassurance if necessary

Sleep can be hard when your child doesn’t feel well. Cough, congestion and fever can all make falling and staying asleep difficult. If your child normally falls asleep alone, but they really want you to stay with them when they’re sick, it’s okay to stay and give them some extra TLC. Just think about doing as little as you can, so you don’t start any bad habits that may be hard to break.

For example, if your child is used to falling asleep alone, when they're sick you can sit next to them and rub their back for a few minutes, then leave once they’re calm. But you don’t need to lay in the bed with them sleeping on your arm all night.

Also, let your child know that you’re staying because they’re sick but once they’re better, you won’t be staying anymore. Sleep is the most important thing when they don’t feel well, so it’s okay to give them some extra comfort for a few days.

The key here is that once they’re feeling better, allow them to go back to falling asleep alone. Kids’ colds usually only last a few days, so don’t get stuck helping them sleep for longer than that or you might be falling into some bad habits that will be difficult to break.

Of course, if your toddler is struggling to sleep due to pain or discomfort, consult your pediatrician. Remember, every child is different, so it's essential to pay close attention to their specific needs during this time.


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