Wake Windows

A super helpful baby sleep tool for naps and bedtime.
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window

Wake Windows

A super helpful baby sleep tool for naps and bedtime.

What are Wake Windows?

Wake windows are really simple: the window of time your baby is awake between sleeps. That’s it. Hence the name: wake window. Each wake window starts from when your baby wakes up (not from when she comes out of the crib) and ends when she falls asleep, for her next nap or bedtime.

Babies tend to naturally get tired at the end of their wake window. Knowing what your baby’s wake window is makes it a thousand times easier to know when to put her down for a nap. Wake windows change every few weeks, getting longer as your baby gets older.

How Do They Help?

If you’re struggling with naps or bedtime, wake windows can be hugely helpful. They can help you figure out when your baby is truly ready for a nap: once she’s tired enough but not yet overtired. Putting your baby down for a nap before she’s tired enough will result in more crying and struggling to sleep and putting your baby down to sleep once she’s overtired can be disastrous in a different way. Overtired babies don’t go to sleep all that easily.

 

Why Wake Windows Aren’t Magic

Here’s the thing: wake windows aren’t the magic answer to sleep struggles. Figuring out your baby’s wake windows can be enormously helpful and a great start. However, it won’t make sleep magic. If your baby is waking up often at night or taking short naps, nailing wake windows won’t change all that. It helps with getting the timing right for sleep onset, not necessarily extending sleep. If your baby is still struggling to fall asleep independently or nap longer than 30 minutes at a stretch, I’ve got help for you here.

 

An Art, Not a Science

Here’s the thing about wake windows: they’re not evidence based (yet). Some people find that wake windows stress them out: if that’s you, here’s your permission to ditch them. However, even if you do enjoy using wake windows, or find them helpful, it’s imperative to be flexible.

Wake windows are averages- that means they vary from baby to baby, sometimes dramatically.

So while the average wake window for a 4 month old baby is around 2 hours, there are plenty of 4-month olds who can’t stay awake for more than an hour and a half. And that’s fine. Go with what your baby needs.

Wake windows vary not just from baby to baby, but from day to day for the same baby! Many external factors can influence the length of your baby’s wake windows, from what he ate to how he’s feeling to how much sunshine or activity he got that day. Don’t get locked into rigid numbers or set expectations: wake windows are an art, not a science.

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Wake Windows VS. Tired Signs

Here’s the thing. Some people will swear by wake windows while others prefer to look out for baby’s tired signs. I like to use both. Wake windows can be a helpful tool when used on their own, but when you combine them with tired signs, it’s so much easier to know when your baby is ready for sleep!

Toward the end of your baby’s wake window, start looking out for a wave of drowsiness that can manifest itself in the following ways:

Tired Signs
  • Decreased activity (relative to her stage). Less walking and crawling, or for
    younger babies, less kicking and squirming
  • Slower motions and less energy
  • Less vocalization- talking, cooing, squeaking or crying. Once the crying
    increases, you’ve kept her up for too long and she’s probably overtired
  • Weaker or slower sucking as he nurses or drinks a bottle
  • Quieter motions, calmness in her body
  • Appearing uninterested in surroundings.
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Drooping eyelids

Use the wake window as a general guide and the tired sign as a more definite target. If your baby’s wake window is 2 hours, and your baby starts flashing tired signs at 1 hour 50 minutes, go ahead and put baby down early. Wake windows are the guide, tired signs are the target.

Think of wake windows as the average for your baby’s age, and tired signs as your baby’s body speaking to you: I’m ready to sleep. Get to know your baby’s wake windows by looking out for her tired signs around the end of her wake window. With a few days of careful focus, a pattern will begin to emerge, and you’ll learn your baby’s wake windows. To successfully meet your baby’s sleep needs, use wake windows combined with tired signs.

*Not every baby will show tired signs every time they get tired, and some babies can easily pass from tired mode into overtired mode, so if you haven’t seen any tired signs and you’re reaching the end of the wake window, you may want to put your baby in for a nap regardless.

Wake Windows By Age

Age Wake Window
1 month
45-60 minutes
2-3 months
60-90 minutes
3-4 months
75-120 minutes
4 months
1.5- 2 hours
5-6 months
2-3 hours
7-14 months
3-4 hours
14-24 months (2 naps)
4-5 hours
14-24 months (1 nap)
5-6 hours
24-36 months
6-7 hours

*Wake windows are based on developmental age, so if your baby was born prematurely, make sure to use her adjusted age when calculating her wake window.

Points to Keep in Mind

 

  • If your baby used to nap well and is suddenly fighting naps, it may be time to lengthen those wake windows. Even 20 minutes can make a huge difference.

  • The first wake window of the day is often the shortest. That’s normal and nothing to worry about!

  • Wake windows often step-ladder, meaning they get longer as the day goes on.

  • Newborn wake windows are very short. That’s how they’re meant to be. It can feel like you’re “cheating” by putting your baby down for a nap so often, but she needs it!

  • For the last wake window before bed, some babies need it to be the longest one of the day, while others actually need a shorter one. This is where watching your baby’s tired signs will help you decide.

WILL SOLIDS HELP YOUR BABY SLEEP?

Will starting solids help your baby sleep for a longer stretch at night?

You might have heard parents swear “as soon as we started solids she started sleeping 8 hours!” causing you to wonder if you should be feeding your baby real food too. What wouldn’t we do to gain a few more minutes of sleep at night?

Sadly, it doesn’t help. There is very little evidence that suggests a positive correlation between solids and longer stretches of sleep, and there is some evidence that suggests starting solids too early can disrupt sleep (just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse!)

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