Sick kids sleep is often a challenge due to uncomfortable symptoms. When your child is not feeling well, helping them get adequate rest should be one of your top priorities.

Sleep is essential

Even when we feel our best, sleep is an essential factor in maintaining good health. The quality and quantity of our sleep affects almost all of the human body’s major systems. This includes cardiovascular, pulmonary, endocrine, and immune health. Regenerative processes that occur during sleep are intertwined with these systems. This is why helping your child get quality rest is so important when they need to heal from an injury or illness. 

Reasons for sick kids poor sleep

The tricky thing about sickness and sleep is that illness and injury are notorious for causing rough nights with kids. It’s difficult to fall asleep when you have a sore throat or a congested nose. Children with growing pains wake up multiple times because they are uncomfortable. A child who is nauseated and vomiting could be up most of the night. Helping our children sleep in these situations can feel like an absolute battle.

How Can You Help Your Child Get Better Sleep?

To make these tips easier to remember, I’ve come up with the acronym DEEPER. Here’s a brief overview before we go into more depth.

7 ways to promote deeper sleep in sick kids

A child sleeps with his bear.

DDecrease distractions

E-Environment Check

E-Eat Carefully Before Bed

P- Positioning Preferences

E- Exercise during the Day

R- Rituals/Routines/Relaxation

One of the surprising things I’ve discovered is that quite a few of the interventions that help a child sleep better don’t actually occur right before bed. There are a lot of things you can do during the day to set yourself up for success when it’s time to do the bedtime routine.

Sick boy lying down with one hand covering his face. When they are uncomfortable, sick kids sleep is difficult to obtain.

What to do to help sick kids sleep

  1. Decrease Distractions

Turn off devices sooner rather than later in the evening.

When you want to help your kid start winding down, shutting down all devices in the evening is a smart move. There is a lot of information in the media about the importance of avoiding blue screen lights in the hours preceding bedtime. The reason behind this is that exposure to blue light is known to decrease melatonin, the hormone that helps us fall asleep.

Take some time to check in with your child earlier in the day.

Check-in with your child about assignments that are due, or worries they have earlier in the day. It’s always important to listen to your child no matter when they bring something up. By addressing anxieties earlier, you can decrease how distracted they are worrying about something at night.

Sick Kids Worry

Sometimes sick kids worry if they are going to be alright. Others worry about going to a doctor’s appointment. Children of all ages worry that their symptoms will get worse or never go away. It’s no wonder that sick kids often have a hard time falling asleep.

Let them ask questions and talk about their feelings

Take the time to reassure your child that everything is going to be okay. Answer their questions and allow them to express their feelings about being sick. Go ahead and let them complain! Listen carefully to their concerns.

2. Environment Check

Creating a healing space in your child’s room earlier in the day can also be helpful. If you have a few minutes, take the time to look at how you can make their room more of a healing space. Here are a few things to consider.

  • Tidy things up a little bit.
  • Make the bed nicely.
  • Assess the lighting of the room. Determine if your child prefers a dark room or a nightlight.
  • Check the temperature of the room. Ensure it’s not too hot or too cold for your child.
  • Assess the sounds in the room. Assess if there are any noises that need to be toned down.
  • Consider adding white noise to the room if your child is having trouble sleeping.

3. Eat Carefully Before Bed

Caffeine is notorious for sabotaging sleep. It’s one of the main reasons it’s added to so many energy drinks. If you have a younger child, most physicians will recommend not giving them caffeine of any kind. If you have a teenager, this can be a little trickier. It is important to remember that caffeine can be a sneaky ingredient in many things. For most kids, caffeine found in chocolate is going to be the hidden culprit. If you can, it’s best to avoid eating right before bed.

Avoid excess sugar and large meals especially when you have a sick child. While it may be tempting to provide extra treats to a child who is injured or upset, this could backfire on you when it is time for them to get some much needed rest.

4. Positioning Preferences

Take a minute to help your child find a position of comfort. Make sure they have their favorite object nearby. Find that special stuffy or blanket before it’s bedtime so you are not searching your entire house for it. When your child is injured or unwell, consider some different positions to help them be more comfortable. A child with a cold might feel better with an extra pillow to prop them up. A child with a broken bone or a sprain may benefit by keeping that extremity elevated. Don’t underestimate the power of taking a few moments to make sure your child is as comfortable as possible. 

5. Exercise

Exercise during the day is well known to help sleeping quality at night. When your child is feeling ill, this can be a hard one to fulfill. If your child tolerates it, try to do some gentle stretching during the day. Even going for a short walk can make a difference.

6. Routine

Follow a consistent bedtime routine or ritual. It could be a bath-brush teeth-story-bed. My kids also enjoy hearing a lullaby. If your child is struggling because they are feeling out of sorts, you could consider adding a mindful element to their routine such:

  • Guided Meditations
  • Gentle Massage
  • Music
  • Positive affirmations

Getting rest is crucial to healing! Thinking about how to help your child sleep earlier in the day can set you up for a successful evening.

Sick and Injury-Specific Suggestions

  1. Fever– You don’t necessarily have to treat all fevers, but if your child is uncomfortable, I suggest treating it so that they can sleep better.
  2. Pain– Make sure pain is addressed before bedtime. You may want to consider giving a dose of Tylenol or Motrin when appropriate.
  3. Nausea and vomiting– Provide easy-to-digest foods during the day so your child doesn’t have as many stomach issues. Encourage fluid intake during the day so you are not worried about catching up during the night.
  4. Babies with stuffy noses– try suctioning with a bulb syringe or a nose Frida before bedtime to promote better rest. For older children, help them blow their noses properly.
  5. For a child with a stubborn cough who is over the age of 1, you could try giving them a spoonful of honey. Note: Never give honey to babies under the age of 1

Should you wake a sick sleeping toddler?

If your child is resting comfortably, don’t wake them up to re-check a temperature or provide an optional medication. The more sleep you let them get, the better!

Final Thoughts

Sleep is essential for everyone’s health, especially children who need adequate rest to heal from illness or injury. By following the DEEPER tips, parents can help their children sleep better and deeper, which can promote healing.

Remember to decrease distractions, check the environment, eat carefully before bed, consider positioning preferences, encourage exercise during the day, and establish a consistent bedtime routine. By doing these things earlier in the day, parents can set their children up for a better night’s sleep.

Looking for more information on how to help your child when they are sick? Check out my article on how to address your child’s pain in five steps.

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