It’s that crisp time of year when leaves are changing and weather fluctuating. Fall allergens, unpredictable weather, and back-to-school germs are tough on little immune systems. But when it comes to sleep, how should we deal with illness and other disruptions like sleep regressions?
Coughs, Colds & Fever
When our little ones are unwell, it’s our natural tendency to want to comfort—and that’s exactly what we should do. Extra snuggles, rocking to sleep, allowing your child to sleep upright on you—there is no wrong way to get your child plenty of rest and over that hump to wellness.
The most important thing to keep in mind, and the challenge I see parents run in to the most will illness, is getting back to the routine as quickly as possible. Many parents allow the tools we use to comfort while sick to creep into the routine and slowly turn into habits that start to disrupt sleep long-term or seemingly undo the great work baby and they have done with sleep training. The good news is, you haven’t ruined the progress. Sleeping, once learned, is very much like riding a bike. Once your back to the routine and being consistent again, your child will remember the schtick and jump back on track. However, you can expect a couple of nights of protest as little one tests the limits to see if you’re really serious about this sleep thing again.
So how do you know if your child is well enough to sleep on his/her own again? If a fever existed and is gone and/or if kiddo seems to be regaining energy and acting more normal during the day—it’s time to return to the routine. They don’t need to be 100% before doing so and they may still wake a couple times at night form congestion. Consider a warm bath just before bed to help open up passageways and drain any excess congestion. You can even add a drop of lavender, chamomile or peppermint oil or some Epson salt (make sure to follow instructions for babies and don’t try a product you’ve not used before on your child). Additionally, running a humidifier and child pain medications can help to bring down any swelling in the nasal passageways to help promote more restful sleep. Make sure to consult your doctor before giving medications. Most importantly, remember it’s ok to trust your instincts. If your child seems off still even when recovering, go to them—you know your baby best.
Many sleep experts, doctors and behavioral specialists go back-and-forth on sleep regressions and whether they are real or overplayed. And really, it doesn’t really matter which side you fall on. What we do know for sure is there are periods of development throughout your baby and toddlers life where sleep may get off track. Maybe it’s when speech or motor skills are developing, or maybe you are facing naps strikes with your toddler. The most important thing is how we address these sleep interruptions and transitions.
If your child is not yet sleep trained, a sleep regression may be an ample opportunity to start. Since so-called regressions are often a sign of some development gains, there is a good chance your baby is showing signs of being ready to regulate his/her own sleep.
If your child was previously a good sleeper, it’s important through a sleep strike at any age to be patient. A regression is short-lived and if you can be patient and consistent through it and stick to your normal routine, you will see your little one through it more quickly. That means – even if your little one is resisting a nap, don’t be too quick to drop the nap. And if nighttime sleep is broken and not restful, resist the urge to go back to old habits like co-sleeping or nursing to sleep.
You can read more about particular developmental milestones at common regression ages here: