Wake Windows: What are They and Why do They Matter?

nap time naps overtiredness tired cues wake windows Jan 04, 2022
Wake Windows: What are They and Why do They Matter?

You’ve more than likely heard of the term “wake windows,” but what are they and why do they often feel like trying to solve an impossible math question?

Wake windows are the maximum amount of time your baby can tolerate being awake between naps (or before bed), and include: feeds, diaper changes, and any leftover “playtime.” These wake windows are based on your baby’s age and developmental needs and will change throughout your baby’s first few years accordingly. If you’re a parent who is struggling with newborn sleep and looking to make sure your newborn is getting enough rest throughout the day, wake windows are step #1.

Understanding wake windows and using them appropriately is a GAME-CHANGER for baby sleep and avoiding your baby becoming overly tired (which makes putting your baby down for sleep very difficult). They are also essential in understanding your baby’s hunger and tired cues and differentiating between the two.  

Here are some sanity-saving tips when it comes to understanding your baby’s wake windows and helping your little one meet their appropriate awake time frames. 

Why Your Baby’s Wake Windows Matter

All babies are different, but wake windows are KEY to every baby sleeping well! When used in combination with an eat-play-sleep schedule, this is how you will be able to spot hunger cues and early vs. late tired cues - all making it easier to avoid an overly tired baby who fights sleep!

Check out this blog to learn more about an eat-play-sleep schedule and why it’s useful!⠀ 

Overly tired babies have a difficult time putting themselves to sleep, and usually require some sort of outside help. Because we want our little ones to practice independent sleep skills, helping your baby avoid becoming overly tired is so important and will make removing sleep props go more smoothly.  

If you’re unsure how long your baby should be awake during the day, here is what I recommend:

  • 0-8 weeks: awake for 45-60 minutes
  • 2-3 months: awake for 90 minutes MAX
  • 3-6 months: awake for 2 hours MAX
  • 6-9 months: awake for around 3 hours MAX
  • 9-12 months: awake for around 3-4 hours MAX
  • 12-18 months: awake for 5 hours MAX

*Note: Babies born before 37 weeks should follow the wake window for their adjusted age.

Remember that these wake windows are a range and that a little more or less time is ok. The important thing is to try and not regularly go over the MAX recommended time awake. Also, keep in mind that these wake widows include feedings. This is especially important to remember in the newborn phase! 

In the newborn phase, it’s normal for your baby to only be awake for a feed, a diaper change, 2 minutes of “play”, then right back to sleep they go! I know it can seem like there’s never enough awake time with them, but as they grow, so will their wake windows! 

In the beginning months, I always recommend being strict with wake windows, but as you become more attuned to your baby's sleepy cues, you may find that your baby can handle slightly more or less time than the average wake window.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

If you’re needing some extra support when it comes to finding the ideal time to put your baby down for a nap based on wake windows and cues, as well as learning to fall asleep independently without being rocked or fed to sleep over time, I have helped thousands of parents with my baby sleep guides all looking for help with this!

When and How to Push Wake Windows

One of the most commonly asked questions I get asked is “When do I start my baby’s wake window?”

What I recommend is starting your baby’s wake window clock and the eat-play-sleep flow as soon as you take them out of the crib. There are a couple of reasons why this is helpful:

  1. If your baby wakes early from a nap (only naps for 30 minutes or less), I recommend leaving them in their crib, as long as they are not crying and don’t need to be fed. Leaving them in their sleep space for the remainder of the hour allows them to (best case) fall back to sleep for additional restorative sleep, or (worst case) get some extra time resting in the dark even if they don’t fall back to sleep. 
  2. If your baby’s schedule relies on hour-long naps, but they’re only taking 30-40 minute ones, this will help ensure that your day still goes smoothly and stays on track! If your baby does cry when they wake, I recommend following my “short-nap” process that is laid out in all of my downloadable guides. ⠀

As your baby grows, they need more time to be awake, engaged, and stimulated! If your baby is taking too many naps or naps that are too long for their age, this can throw off their nights and confuse bedtime, leading to lowered sleep pressure and increased split nights. [1]

If you notice that this is happening, it’s time to extend those wake windows! This is best done by gradually stretching your baby’s wake window over a few weeks or a month by slowly keeping them awake for 10-15 minutes longer every few days. 

Sometimes babies appear to not be able to handle an increase in wake time but based on their age they should be working toward these transitions and might need a nudge from caregivers. But remember, all babies are on their own unique timeline, so pay close attention to the clock & your baby's cues, and don't stretch the wake window if you believe your baby truly can't handle it yet!

It’s normal for your little one’s sleep to be a bit rough during this transition of extending awake times, but stay consistent and you and your little one will get through it!

If you’re interested in a free download that includes wake windows & nap transitions by age, click HERE!

When to Shorten Wake Windows (and when to ditch them altogether)

Once in a while, there are instances where wake windows will need to be shortened (or thrown out altogether) from what your baby’s normal wake times are:

  • Your baby is going through a growth spurt
  • Your baby has had a rough night of sleep, poor naps, and are working on catching up on their sleep debt
  • Your baby is ill and needs the extra rest

Wake windows should typically be followed more directly than tired cues, but in these circumstances, it’s best to follow your baby’s tired cues to help them get the rest that they currently need. 

Tired cues are signs that your baby is showing you that they are either getting tired, ready for a nap immediately, or overly tired. Understanding these cues and noticing early cues will drastically help you get your baby down more easily for a nap! Once you see these early cues, it’s time to start your baby’s nap routine:

Early tired cues:

  • Zoning out or losing interest 
  • Avoiding stimulation
  • Red brows or eyes
  • Turning toward chest
  • Sucking hands or fingers
  • Tugging ears

Just remember that no two babies are alike, so it may take some time to learn your baby’s tired cues, as well as when they are ready to extend their wake windows!  

No matter where you are in your baby sleep journey, it’s never too late to follow these wake window tips and guidelines! 

If you find yourself still struggling with your little one’s sleep, please know that you are not alone and that I am here to help. Download one of my comprehensive sleep guides or schedule a call with me for some personalized support. 

 

Resources:

[1] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/baby-sleep/baby-sleep-cycle

Need help transforming your child's sleep? Check out my sleep offerings for children 0-3 years old!

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