Following your baby’s wake windows are the easiest and most natural way to prevent an overtired baby. A baby who is operating with a sleep deficit fights sleep, is cranky during the day, wakes up more frequently during the night and often feeds poorly.
All this to say, following the correct 3 month wake window will go along way towards getting your baby on track.
Understanding the 3 month old wake windows
Wake windows aren’t something the sleep consultant industry merely came up with, but rather they are based on science and take cues from your baby’s internal clock.
When a baby is first born, their internal clock isn’t yet developed, and their sleep is often erratic, but by three months, your baby is developmentally much more advanced. Naps begin to consolidate, there are fewer naps during the day and three consistent nap times begin.
A circadian rhythm emerges right around three months of age and it’s right around this time that parents often get very frustrated with their baby’s sleep schedule (or lack of sleep schedule).
By three months, your child has natural wake windows during the day and feel tired at a certain time of night and can wake by a certain time each day.
What is the wake window for a 3 month old baby?
By 3 months, your baby should be on a 1.5 hour wake window. For example, if your baby starts her day at 7:00 am, she should be asleep for her first nap by 8:30.
The wake window includes a wind down routine, so make sure you aren’t starting to put your three month old down 1.5 hours after they’re awake.
The wake window is followed even for bedtime. This means that if your baby wakes up from their third and final nap of the day at 4:30, it’s lights out by 6:00 pm. Six o’clock is a pretty normal bedtime for 3 month olds and this generally throws parents, as they are used to keeping their baby up until 8 or 9.
You also want to make sure you provide baby with enough awake time, as sometimes parents think babies need to go down after 45 -60 minutes following closer to a six week old schedule, and at three months babies will typically take a nap after an hour but it will just be a short one.
If you find that your baby is struggling to get to that 1.5 awake window, stretch out their wake window by 5 minutes every few days.
How you can promote healthy sleep habits at 3 months old?
I don’t recommend sleep training at 3 months of age, as baby is just not developmentally ready for it, but what I do recommend is promoting healthy sleep habits. Here’s how you can help set your baby up for success at 3 months:
Understand baby’s circadian rhythm/internal clock
I hinted at this above, but understanding baby’s circadian rhythm and how that affects his routine is really key here. The circadian rhythm is influenced by the homeostatic control mechanism and the circadian timing system.
Essentially the homeostatic control mechanism is the body’s way of making sure it gets enough sleep. The circadian rhythm is your baby’s internal clock that is set by sunlight. These two elements make up your baby’s body clock. The goal here is to match baby’s internal time with their real time.
While you likely fed baby and burped them just in time for them to drift off to sleep again, by three months, because these internal regulatory systems are now developed, you have to be pretty vigilant to give baby ample time to rest and get baby in bed at night at the right time.
Prevent an overtired baby by looking for signs of tiredness and following age-appropriate wake windows
Look at the clock and watch your baby as to when it’s time to put baby to bed. While 1.5 hours is the typical wake window at 3 months, this can vary by 15-20 minutes, so you might have to do some trial and error until you find your baby’s sweet spot.
- Decreased activity
- Slower motions, less vocal/social
- Not interested in toys/people as much
- Redness around eyebrows or eyes
Things like whining, fussiness, rubbing eyes, pulling ears are actually overtired signs, so if you see any of those quickly get baby in bed and make note of the time so you can catch them before you see these signs in the future.
Remember, the wind down period of 10-15 minutes should occur within this wake window!
3 month old sleep schedule and daily routine
Following the 1.5 hour wake window, here is a sample sleep schedule:
- 7am awake & feed
- 8.15am wind down
- 8.30am nap
- 10 am awake
- 10.30 & 11am feed & top off feed
- 11.15am wind down
- top up feed
- 11.30/11.45 am nap
- 2/2.30 pm awake
- 2.30pm feed
- 4/4.30pm nap
- 4.30 awake
- 5pm feed
- 5.30pm bath
- 6pm feed
- 6.15/6.30pm bed
- 10/10.30pm Dream feed optional
Usually by 3 months, babies can go between 3.5 to 4 hours in between feeds. A 3 month old typically follows the pattern of eat, play, sleep, with a few exceptions.
By 3 months, you really want to start encouraging a long, restorative lunch time nap. To do this, you’ll tank up your baby by offering a feed at 10:30 and then a top off feed again at 11 (this is just a short feed or about 2 ounces).
You’ll also notice that the feeds close to bedtime come more frequently than the rest of the day and again, that’s to encourage a long night time sleep.
A dream feed can be very beneficial at this age to encourage baby to sleep until about 3 am.
Just like during the day before naps, a predictable bedtime routine works to signal to baby that it’s time to wind down for the night. A bath, books, bottle/feed, and singing is a great example of a relaxing bedtime routine.
The bedtime routine needs to begin before the wake window expires and at this age, you can feel like you are beginning the bedtime routine too early, but know that this won’t always be the case. By the time baby is 8 months, their wake window has increased to 2.5 hours and they are going to bed closer to 7.
By three months most parents are relieved to find out most babies can comfortably do 2 feeds in a 12 hour period overnight. Babies that are 14 pounds or more at three months can typically just do one feed between 7pm and 7am.
If baby is still waking up several times at night, you’re likely to cause reverse cycling which means baby will begin to wake naturally to take more calories at night and less during the day. It’s good to work to gradually back off those feedings at this age.
A dream feed is a great way to get baby to sleep until about 3 a.m. The dream feed needs to be done by by 10:30 pm at the latest. This can help parents get a little more sleep and than they have been and typically fuels baby past that dreaded 1 am feed to sleep until 3 a.m. or so.
Not all babies respond well to a dream feed. If after the dream feed your baby promptly wakes up at 1 am, then you know that the feed didn’t work and in that case, it’s best to get in bed earlier and just wait for baby to wake up at their normal time.
Daytime schedule/nap schedule
With the 1.5 hour wake window, there’s not a whole lot of time for tons of activities, but even still, your baby is ready for a bit more excitement than she was when she was a newborn. Do not feel like you need a rigid schedule, but rather go off of the clock and baby’s sleepy cues.
Tummy time, walks in the stroller, errands and playtime with parents can help baby get in enough activity to be tired by the time it’s time to rest.
Babies are much more alert at 3 months and the biggest shift comes with the new inability to fall asleep wherever, whenever. At this age, it’s best to give baby the time to sleep in their crib/bassinet at least once a day, as opposed to all naps being on the go.
Because the lunch time nap is the longest, babies will do well to have that nap at home.
Baby’s last nap of the day
At three months babies are on three naps per day. The last nap of the day that typically starts around 4-4:30 is the hardest nap to achieve, therefore I always recommend parents do an assisted nap here. Taking baby on a walk or holding/rocking baby helps to get that power nap in.
The last nap of the day is only 30 minutes and just works to help baby make it do bedtime and prevent over tiredness. If this nap doesn’t happen or falls apart too early, move bedtime up for the day.
What should you do about short naps?
One of the biggest reasons that sleep is so hard to come by at 3 months is because the 45 minute sleep cycle emerges. Babies that were taking nice, long naps prior to this age are now taking short 30-45 minute cat naps.
The easiest way to work through this is to begin to practice good sleep habits with your baby so that he will learn how to connect those sleep cycles without your assistance.
At this age, the shush/pat settling method really helps to teach babies how to fall asleep independently.
Frequently asked questions about a 3 month old wake window
Is sleep training appropriate at 3 months?
Babies are not developmentally ready for sleep training at 3 months old. Prior to 3 months of age it’s advised to practice good sleep hygiene to help baby sleep well. You can do things like:
- Observing the correct wake window
- Conducting a wind down routine before each rest period
- Getting baby in bed at the correct time each night (1.5 hours after they wake up from their last nap)
- Starting baby’s day at 7 am each day, which is in line with their biological clock
- Creating a good sleep environment with black out curtains and white noise
- Swaddling your baby (if they haven’t shown signs of rolling)
Three months is a good age to start practicing putting baby down drowsy, but awake. Start by doing this for one nap of the day. Give your baby a minute or two to figure it out on his own before you rush in. The shush/pat settling method is also great at this age.
What does a restorative nap look like?
At three months, you want a restorative nap of two sleep cycles in the morning, totaling 1.5 hours, at least two sleep cycles in the afternoon, but preferably 3, and then a quick catnap to wrap up the day.
How long should a 3 month old wake window be?
A 3 month old wake window is 1.5 hours. A wake window includes feeding and the wind down routine.
Is it okay if my 3 month old has a later bedtime?
A later bedtime for a 3 month old will result in an overtired baby who will fight sleep and subsequently wake up more doing the night. Aim to put baby to bed no more than 1.5 hours after they wake up from their last nap of the day. This means bedtime will typically be between 6-6:30 p.m.
Is three months too early to start on a schedule?
Because the biological clock is formed by three months of age, this is a natural time to start baby on a schedule and predictable routine they can come to count on.
What does the 3 month old sleep regression look like?
The three month regression happens as a result of the 45 minute sleep cycle emerging. Practicing good sleep hygiene by observing natural wake windows, setting up a good sleep environment and putting baby down drowsy but awake can help baby quickly develop independent sleep skills so they can move past the three month sleep regression.
Find more wake windows by age here.