Babies sleep a lot; especially newborn babies. But if you don’t know the proper awake times for your baby’s age group, they may be going to sleep too early or too late, which leads to sleep disturbances and nap refusals. Basically you’ll just have a very overtired baby on your hands.
In this informative post I’ll outline wake windows by age and explain everything you need to do to help your baby or toddler get to sleep on time.
What is a wake window?
A wake window is the maximum period of time that your baby or toddler should be up in between sleep. A wake window includes feeding time and the wind-down routine you’ll perform before you put baby to bed.
That’s why it’s always best to know what your baby’s age-appropriate wake time is and to work backwards so that you’re not putting baby to sleep when he’s overtired.
When should you start using wake windows?
Sleep is largely disorganized when babies are first born and any semblance of a routine comes later, by the time your baby is between 6-10 weeks. That being said, I typically start giving parents wake windows by the time their baby has turned three weeks.
How long should wake windows be by age?
Many parents are surprised to find out that wake windows are actually very specific per age and change frequently as baby ages. Additionally, I find a lot of parents frustrated at a lack of advice and guidance around wake windows in many popular sleep books and blogs.
Often if you do see wake windows in books or blogs the range for age is very large, leaving a lot of room for interpretation. Unfortunately, vague wake windows leave parents guessing and often ends with a very fussy, overly-tired baby.
Newborn wake windows
Have you ever noticed that all newborn babies do is sleep and then at some point after the first few they just seem to wake up? That’s because newborns are born with maternal melatonin in their system making them super sleepy.
This maternal melatonin typically wears off in the first few weeks and after that babies are just more alert and sometimes harder to get to sleep.
Melatonin is the hormone responsible for helping us go to sleep and babies don’t typically start producing their own until three months. That’s why many parents become frustrated in that 4-12 week window, as their good little sleeper they thought they had been blessed with has all but disappeared!
While wake windows in those newborn days and weeks are hard to come by, there are some rough guidelines:
In my newborn schedule for week 1, I like to recommend to parents to follow Tracy Hogg’s EASY schedule, as if find it’s much easier than trying to follow a wake window in the early weeks.
E stands for Eat
A stands for Activity
S stands for Sleep
Y stands for You time
This is just a simple routine that parents call try to use to give some structure to their day in those first few weeks. Baby eats, baby has a little activity (although, let’s face it, in those first few weeks there is next to no activity, because it’s just eating and then right back down to sleep again), baby sleeps and then you have some free time.
This is actually a routine that some parents use until 3 months or so.
Weeks three through six is when you can begin to establish a bit more of a routine using wake windows, but again, do understand that babies and routines are really hard to come by in those few weeks and months.
Newborn sleep is pretty disorganized and it really isn’t until three to four months of age until babies settle into predictable routines with three naps per day.
From three to six weeks, aim for 75 to 90 minutes of awake time.
Now, just because you have an idea of how much baby should be awake at this time doesn’t mean you should only watch the clock as to when you need to put baby down. You also have to watch for drowsy cues. At this stage, you want to watch for drowsy cues and the clock as to when exactly you need to put baby down.
If you watch baby enough you’ll start to pick up on their drowsy cues and you’ll immediately know when to put them down.
Here are the drowsy cues to watch for:
- Decreased activity
- Slower motions, less vocal/social
- Not interested in toys/people as much
- Redness around eyebrows or eyes
Once a baby begins to come out of the newborn phase and reaches six weeks it’s a good time to start thinking about developing a routine with your baby and following age-appropriate wake windows can really go a long way towards establishing a rhythm for your day.
Wake windows for this age should be between 90 and 105 minutes (1.5-1.75 hours)
This time frame is notoriously hard on parents as many are desperate for a routine but frustrated with baby’s short nap times, as many babies cat nap at this age and unfortunately those long newborn naps can be hard to come by. This doesn’t happen for all babies and working on your baby’s sleep environment and sleep hygiene from day one will really go a long way towards preventing those short naps.
Wake windows by age
Once your baby gets past the newborn phase, routines and daily rhythms emerge and sleep becomes much easier to come by.
Wake windows at 3 months are between 1.5 to 2 hours
Usually by three months most babies are on a three nap a day schedule (early morning, mid-morning and one brief cat nap in the late afternoon).
The three nap schedule continues for baby until they reach about 7 or 8 months.
Wake windows at 4 months are 2 hours
Many parents loved the convenience of letting baby nap on the go, but now that baby is older and distracted much easier, it’s a good idea at that three to four month mark to start having at least one nap a day at home in the bassinet or crib.
Disorganized newborn sleep is a thing of the past at this stage and your really want to give baby the opportunity to nap around those wake windows.
Remember, the wake window includes the wind down and feeding time, so make sure to work backwards so that you’re not trying to feed or wind down an overtired baby.
Four months is typically when many parents start to research sleep training methods to help their baby learn how to self-soothe and sleep better.
Wake windows at 5 months are 2 hours, 15 minutes
Babies that have enjoyed cat napping up until this age will need to start learning how to consolidate their sleep or their day and night sleep with start to be negatively impacted. Learning some age-appropriate settling techniques will help babies at this age learn how to take longer naps.
Wake windows at 6-12 months are 2.5 hours
Six months is when many parents opt to forgo that last nap of the day, which really throws a wrench in baby’s plans. The last nap of the day is typically dropped by 7 or 8 months, but before a baby is developmentally ready, it serves to tide a baby over until bedtime. See my 12 month old nap schedule here.
By the time a baby reaches 6 months, solid food can really help baby sleep better, too. Aim for 1/2 a cup of food at each meal around 6 months and then gradually increase it over the next several months. By one, babies should be having between 3/4-1 cup of food at each meal. If you’re in a food rut at this age check out a post I wrote on 8 month old food ideas, meals for one year olds and breakfast ideas for 1 year olds.
Wondering about toddler wake windows? I have an 18 month old sleep schedule you can browse.
Should wake windows be longer before bed?
No, wake windows should not be longer before bed. It’s a common misconception that babies should be kept up later so they can be ‘good and tired’ for their bedtime. A tired baby is a baby that takes forever to settle, wakes many times during the night and consequently naps poorly the next day.
Not paying attention to wake windows and therefore not moving up bedtime appropriately is a big reason why parents run into trouble in the evenings or why naps are hard to come by.
For example, most 5 month olds take three naps per day. Typically the last nap of the day is a quick nap just to get baby to bedtime without being overtired.
The schedule I give to parents advises baby to be up from their last nap of the day at 4:30 or 5. This means that if baby is following the correct wake time, he needs to be in bed, lights out by 6:45-7:15 (depending on what time he woke up from his nap).
Many parents are shocked to find that bedtime is so early and I often find parents ask if they can keep their child up until 8 or so. Here’s two reasons why that’s not idea for baby’s sleep. biological clock and wake window.
Should the first awake window be shorter?
No, the first wake window should follow the wake window guidelines for baby’s age. It’s kind of crazy to think that babies would need to nap so closely after a good night’s rest, but they do.
Rather than shortening your baby’s wake window before that first nap, perhaps try a bridging nap of 10-15 minutes to get baby to the next nap. A nap of more than 15 minutes will completely throw off the day, so make sure to wake your baby after 15 minutes to keep the day’s routine on track.
Starting the first nap of the day too early can actually result in baby waking up too early!