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Can sickness cause sleep regression? Here’s what we know

Zariah Kale

Zariah Kale

Zariah is a writer, history nerd, amateur chef and mum of three. When she is not negotiating screen time with one of her two tweens, or falling asleep during movies, you'll find her scouring vintage shops for one-of-a-kind pieces or apologising to friends for the "late reply" over text.
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 6 mins read
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It’s 3 a.m., and the baby just won’t go to sleep. This is your second night of this, and you despise nothing in the world more right now than the tiny bacteria that is doing this to her.

And you. While she may be having it tough, you can’t help but feel sorry for yourself. This little girl hasn’t slept properly in 2 days, and whatever shut-eye she gets is when you let her nap on your shoulder.

This in turn has left you standing in the middle of the living room at 3 a.m., in a t-shirt covered in baby vomit, deprived of any rest. But hey, as long as she’s not crying and is on her way to recovery, it is okay.

“This too shall pass!” you tell yourself. And it really will! But, in the meantime, here’s all you need to know about how illness can impact your baby’s sleep:

How does illness affect baby sleep?


It breaks our hearts to witness babies suffer from discomfort and pain when sick since it makes it extremely difficult for them to find solace and drift off to sleep. Symptoms like fever, body pains, earaches, or a sore throat can cause children to be restless and unable to sleep through the night.

Changes in appetite

Expect them to stop eating solids and drinking milk. Loss of appetite during a phase of illness is something parents are often concerned about, and rightfully so.

In some cases, the loss of appetite might cause hunger sensations that arise during the night, resulting in restlessness in children during the late hours. On the other hand, some illnesses may increase appetite or thirst, leading to more frequent overnight feedings

Going a day without eating properly is okay, but do let your healthcare provider know of the symptoms so they can suggest alternate foods and even rule out other possible health problems.

Disrupted sleep cycles

The beginning of illness can destabilise a baby’s typical sleep patterns, and they may experience more frequent awakenings during the night or difficulty transitioning between sleep cycles. As a result, their ability to fall into deep, rejuvenating sleep is impaired, resulting in overall compromised sleep quality.

Restlessness and irritability

It’s difficult to see babies who are agitated and restless when they’re sick. These emotions of discomfort might make it extremely difficult for them to relax and attain a comfortable snooze. They seek additional comfort and reassurance from their parents to provide relief and assist them in relaxing.

Do babies sleep poorly when sick?

Just like adults, when babies are unwell, their sleep is frequently disrupted, and an illness can cause discomfort, and general restlessness, disrupting their sleep patterns. However, there are certain things you can do to help your sick baby sleep better:

Comfort and hugs

Provide extra cuddling, gentle rocking, or soothing sounds before bedtime to help your baby feel comfortable and relaxed. While there may not be enough scientific data to prove this yet, a parent’s hug does have the power to magically heal wounds.

Manage symptoms

Follow your paediatrician’s guidance to address your baby’s symptoms. Administer any prescription medications, and use saline drops or a cool-mist humidifier to relieve congestion and pain as needed. Our rule of thumb is that, when in doubt, consult a physician. Also, there is no harm in getting a second opinion.

Create a comfortable sleeping setup

Create a comfortable sleeping environment by regulating the room temperature, ensuring darkness, and using white noise to drown out interruptions.

Maintain your routine

Maintain as much consistency in your sleep regimen as possible, even if your baby is sick. Following familiar habits before bedtime can tell them it is time to sleep.

Provide extra feeds

Sick babies’ appetites may fluctuate. If they are hungry or thirsty, give them extra feeds or smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.

Contact your healthcare provider

Consult your paediatrician if you are concerned about your baby’s health or sleep difficulties. They can offer advice about your baby’s problem and tips for improving sleep.

Can sickness cause sleep regression?

Sickness may not induce sleep regression in babies directly. It may, however, coincide with a transient interruption in their sleeping patterns.

Sleep regressions are more commonly related to developmental milestones, growth spurts, or habit changes than illness. When a baby is ill, their sleep can be disrupted in various ways, potentially leading to sleep regression-like behaviours.

For example, discomfort and pain produced by symptoms such as fever, congestion, or a sore throat might make it difficult for individuals to quiet down and sleep effectively, upsetting their sleep habits.

Changes in the sleep environment, unpredictable patterns resulting from illness, and increased overnight awakenings due to discomfort can all contribute to sleep regression-like symptoms. It’s crucial to note that once the illness is gone, the baby’s sleep patterns normally return to normal, although it may take some time. Providing extra comfort during illness, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, and obtaining medical guidance as needed can help ease transient sleep regression-like behaviours and promote better sleep after the baby’s health improves.

How to get some shut eye with a sick baby

We understand the importance of a good nap to keep us sane. Heck, our brain cells need to regenerate so we can function! But getting enough sleep when you have a sick baby can be tough, but there are ways to help you get some shut-eye:

Prioritise sleep

Make sure to prioritise rest for yourself and sleep whenever you can. Use their sleeping time as an opportunity to rest. Skip the laundry, order some takeout, and take a nap instead.

Accept help

Don’t shy away from any help being offered. This will give you some breathing space and time to rest.

Create a cosy environment

Keep your room cosy and quiet, and adjust the lighting and temperature to your liking. Take turns with your partner. You can establish a schedule to alternate caring for the baby at night. Remember that each infant is unique, and their reaction to illness may differ. During this period, be patient and show additional care and attention.

Hang in there and be patient and understanding, as your infant may want more attention and assistance than usual when they’re feeling low. Offering extra cuddles, soothing words, or gently rocking will provide comfort and security with your love and support for your little one.

Related Articles

The tired parent’s guide: How to fix your baby’s sleeping habits
The 10 most commonly asked baby sleep questions – answered!
Why the 18-month regression isn’t really a regression at all

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