A little voice calls out from the doorway, “Mom, Dad? I don’t feel good.” You groggily wake up and wonder what time is it? You get up to comfort your child and kiss their forehead. Yup, they are burning up. You check again with your hand. Your heart races a little as you look at the alarm clock. It’s 2 a.m. Why does it seem like fevers spike at night? Why does this always happen at night when everyone is asleep? When the doctor’s office is closed?! Don’t worry moms and dads, you’re not crazy that fever does spike more often in the late, night time hours.
Fevers Aren’t the Illness
But first off, it’s OK. Fevers are a good thing! If you haven’t read our article about not fighting fevers, be sure to read that. It talks about how the fever is an important part of your child’s immune system and how important it is for building up that immune system. Your child’s fever alone does not warrant a reason to go to the doctor. Throw away the thermometer. Fever is your child’s immune defense system in action.
Your child’s fever is not the illness. Your child’s fever is the healthy body’s defender against the bacteria or pathogen that is invading your child’s body. It’s heating up to kill that pathogen. Heat kills germs! It’s just like you cook food to kill germs. If your child has a high fever that means their body is doing its job. You might notice that the body is even better at doing that job at night. Well, you are right! You might be groggy but that immune system is kicking it into high gear.
Fevers Spike at Night
Night time is when your body is sleeping, and this helps with the body’s fever response. Remember the fever is the body’s tool to fight the bacteria or virus! It also happens naturally when there is no illness. Despite what you hear about 98.6 being the normal body temperature, your temperature actually fluctuates throughout the day and it goes up at the end of the day. So, if you will naturally see a higher temp even if your child is feeling good.
That immune system knows when the best time to get some healing done is and that is when you’re sleeping. That is the time when the body rests and restores! Studies show the immune system is dependent on sleep to regulate immune homeostasis, or balance. (1) That’s why sleep deprivation can have such a dramatic impact on your likelihood of getting sick. One study showed those who usually got less than 7 hours of sleep were almost 3 times more likely to get a cold than those who got 8 or more. (2)
Your body’s hormones operate on a circadian rhythm that helps out the rest and restore phase. Your stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which regulate inflammation are suppressed when you are sleeping. Other hormones, like melatonin, that are inflammatory are increased while you are sleeping. During the night your T-cells and proinflammatory cytokines go up. (3) When there are bacteria or other invaders, pyrogenic cytokines alert the hypothalamus, which is the body’s thermostat. When the body’s temperature is raised it makes for an unsuitable environment for pathogenic invaders. While a fever can happen at any time the likelihood is more during the sleeping hours.
Let the Fever Do It’s Job
It’s true- fevers spike at night! Remember inflammation and fevers help with healing and are signs of an immune system at work as long as it’s not chronic. The body allows for this defense system to kick in to kick out those pathogens. The body doesn’t make mistakes! Let it do its job.
It can be hard when you are stumbling around in the middle of the night to remember that fevers aren’t the enemy. Your first instinct is to make your child comfortable but don’t compromise the body’s ability to fight that fever. Want to help support it? Let them sleep. Remember lack of sleep can lead to a higher risk of getting sick and can limit the body’s ability to fight illness.
Help your child get the rest they need. Sleep is important part of supporting that immune system so if they are sleeping well don’t get in the way because you are worried about a fever. You can also help support it by making sure they are hydrated, medicinal mushrooms and even drawing them a hot bath with a little apple cider vinegar. Yes, warm is good! So, the next time you kiss that little forehead in the middle of the night and it feels hot, remember that’s the sign of a healthy body fighting the pathogens.
Want to help their little immune systems as they build? We have more tips in our article, Forget the Flu Freak-out.
Written by Dr. Patrick Flynn