Children’s Illnesses and Sleep

At this time of year, with lots of bugs going around, it can feel like a neverending stream of colds, coughs and runny noses. Parents often ask me what they should do about their children’s sleep when they are unwell.

My 5 Top Tips

  1. Photo by Kristine Wook on Unsplash

    When we feel unwell, we all need a bit of extra tender, loving care. Children are no different: they might need extra cuddles during the day and the night. If they are really under the weather, you may choose to sleep in your child’s room with them so that you are on hand if you are needed. Unless you already are co-sleeping, I recommend you sleep in your child’s bedroom if this is needed rather than bring them in to bed with you. It just makes it easier to transition back to independent sleeping when they are well again. Make sure you don’t fall asleep whilst holding a baby on the sofa. If you are exhausted and feel you may fall asleep then make sure your baby is in their safe sleep space, preferably their cot.

  2. Give more fluids. Again, this might be needed through the night as well. If you have a young baby, they might need an extra bottle or breastfeeds to prevent dehydration but also for that added comfort and thirst. (Contact your GP or 111 (in the UK) if your baby is refusing a feed and is under 8 weeks).
  3. You may find that even if your baby has been fully weaned, a night feed creeps in whilst they are unwell. Don’t worry, give this if you feel that is what is needed. You can get them back off of it when they are better. (It might take a few nights to wean back off but that isn’t too much of a concern). If you have concerns they are dehydrated, ask your GP or pharmacist if they need an oral rehydration solution. Look out for the following signs of dehydration. Again, if you have any concerns, call 111 (in the UK) or get an urgent GP appointment.
    1. Dark yellow pee.
    2. Fewer wet nappies than you would normally expect (for example, no wet nappy or urination for 12 hours).
    3. Child is breathing quickly.
    4. Child has a fast heartrate.
    5. Baby or child has no or few tears when they cry.
    6. Baby has a soft spot on their head that sinks inwards (if your child is under 2 yrs old).
  4. Don’t worry if they go off their meals. Offer easy-to-eat foods regularly, like yoghurts or smoothies, porridge etc. Fluids are more important. Contact 111 or GP if they have not drunk anything for 8 hours (when awake)
  5. If they have a cough or a cold, use saline nose drops. This can help loosen dried mucus and relieve a stuffy nose. Keep an eye on their temperature. Call 111 (in the UK) or get urgent medical help if:
    1. Baby is under 3 months and has a high temperature of 38 degrees or above.
    2. Baby is over 3 months and has a high temperature of 38 degrees or above and doesn’t come down within 15-30 mins after paracetemol or ibuprofen.
    3. Is between 3-9 months and has a high temperature of 39 degrees or above.
    4. Is any age and has a low temperature below 36 degrees when checked 3 times in a 10 minute period.

Other indicators for when you should seek medical advice:

  • Photo by Sasun Bughdaryan on Unsplash

    Baby or child is finding it hard to get their breath and is sucking in their stomach in under their ribs

  • Has bright green, bloody or black vomit
  • Has eyes that look sunken
  • Is quiet and lacking energy even when temperature is normal
  • Makes a throaty noise when breathing
  • Is making grunty noises with each breathing
  • Can’t say more than a few words at once (when children are old enough to talk)
  • Has clear pauses in their breathing
  • Is crying constantly and cannot be comforted or distracted and the cry sounds different from their normal cry
  • Is floppy
  • Is hard to wake
  • Appears confused

Go straight to A&E or call 999 if:

Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash
  • Their skin looks mottled, bluish or pale
  • Is very lethargic or difficult to wake
  • Feels abnormally cold to the touch
  • Is breathing much faster than normal
  • Has a rash that doesn’t fade when pressed
  • Has a fit or convulsion

For more information go to the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust website.