Managing a Child's Fever During the Night

If you are the parent of a baby or toddler, this may be a familiar scenario: A nasty cold or flu has left your little one burning up with a fever all day. The pediatrician has assured you that with some TLC and perhaps some fever medication, the temperature would return to normal as soon the infection clears.

Now that it's bedtime, though, you're not sure what to do. Should you monitor your child's fever through the night? Or is it better to let sleeping babies lie, even sick ones? With few exceptions, letting your child sleep is the better choice.

Managing your child's fever
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Understanding Fevers

It is important to remember that a fever—defined in children as a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees F or greater—is a symptom of a disease and not a disease itself. In babies and toddlers, fever is a symptom of common viral and bacterial illnesses such as croup, flu, colds, gastroenteritis, ear infections, bronchiolitis, and urinary tract infections.

As distressing as a fever may be, try to remember that it is a normal part of the body's immune response. It serves as a defense mechanism by stimulating the production of white blood cells (such as T-cell lymphocytes) that actively target, control, and neutralize an infection.

One of the things that happen when you sleep is that you get a better fever response. What this means is that, even if the temperature rises, your body is more actively focused on fighting infection.

Managing the Fever

Helpful or not, a high fever can make a child feel absolutely miserable, so there is a good reason to do all you can to relieve it. To this end, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you take the following steps to manage your baby's or toddler's fever :

  • Keep your child hydrated. A fever can cause your little one to lose fluids quickly and become dehydrated. This can lead to serious complications and the worsening of symptoms. To avoid this, push fluids as necessary to keep your child properly hydrated. If there are signs of dehydration, you can use an oral rehydration solution like Pedialyte. If you are breastfeeding, nurse your child more often.
  • Dress your child lightly. While your first instinct may be to bundle your child up when sick, it may only add to his discomfort. If the room temperature is comfortable (between 70 and 74 degrees F), it is better to dress the child lightly. Forcing a sweat is not a good way to treat a fever.
  • Try fever reducers. Children's Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Children's Motrin or Advil (ibuprofen) will usually do the trick. Though acetaminophen can be used in children as young as 2 months old, ibuprofen can only be used in children 6 months and older. If your child is younger than 3 months or you are unsure of the dosage, speak with your pharmacist or pediatrician before giving any medicine.
  • Use a fever reliever only when needed. Not all fevers need to be treated. According to the AAP, fever relievers are only needed if the fever is causing discomfort, usually above 102 or 103 degrees F. If you do decide to use one, give it just before bedtime to aid in a good night's sleep.
  • Avoid outdated or unproven remedies. The AAP also advises against alcohol baths, ice packs, or "starving a fever" which can do more harm than good. You should also not give a cooling sponge bath to your baby without first providing a fever reliever. Doing so can cause shivering and may actually increase body temperature.

You should never give aspirin to a child unless under specific direction from your child's doctor. Aspirin use in children with viral infections has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition.

When to Wake Up Your Child

It's understandable to be concerned when your child has a fever. If your child is able to fall asleep don't wake your child up just to take their temperature or give them fever medicine. Unless their symptoms are severe enough to warrant an emergency room visit, getting a good night's sleep is more important to the healing process than monitoring their temperature.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, if your child is sleeping restlessly, they may rest better after a nighttime dose of Tylenol, Motrin, or Advil. Similarly, if your child is breathing faster than normal or irregularly, you may want to check their temperature to decide if further action is needed.

When to Call the Doctor

Generally speaking, you would need to call a doctor or seek emergency care if:

  • Your baby is two months or younger and has a temperature of 100.4 degrees F or more
  • Your baby is three to six months and has a temperature of 101 degrees F or more
  • Your child is over six months and has a temperature of 102 degrees F or higher for more than two days
  • Your child has shaking arms and legs, trouble breathing, and eyes that are rolling back. These are signs of a febrile seizure. While most are relatively harmless, those that recur or last for more than 10 minutes should be seen without exception
  • You have difficulty waking the child
Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sullivan JE, Farrar HC. Fever and antipyretic use in children. Pediatrics. 2011;127(3):580-7. doi:10.1542/peds.2010-3852

  2. KidsHealth. Fevers.