As a new parent, figuring out when your baby should sleep can sometimes feel like a math equation as you try to fit in naps, feeds, and playtime. And because you can’t follow a by-the-clock schedule until your baby is solidly on two naps, your baby’s sleep is going to look different almost every day. This often leaves exhausted parents wondering how to get their baby to take adequate naps at the right time so they don’t end up overtired.
So what’s the secret? Understanding awake windows! If you aren’t familiar with awake windows, let me introduce you to this concept which I guarantee will change the nap game for your baby!
What Are Awake Windows?
Awake windows are exactly what they sound like: periods of time that your baby is awake in between naps and before bed. We follow awake windows in the first year or so (and beyond) because sleep still varies. So following a schedule isn’t always realistic and can often lead to an overtired baby.
Awake windows vary based on your child’s age and development stage.1 Every child will differ slightly when it comes to their windows. This is why we provide a range and not a definite time when it comes to awake windows.
Recommended windows by age:
- 0-3 months: 60-90 minutes
- 4-6 months: 1.5-2.5 hours
- 7-9 months: 2-3/3.5 hours
- 10-12 months: 2-4 hours (morning can still be short)
- 13-14 months: 2.5-4.5 hours
- 15-18 months: 4.5-5.5 hours (try to follow a schedule at this age)
Keep in mind that these might vary depending on how long of naps your baby is taking and how rested they are from night sleep.
Why Do We Follow Awake Windows?
In the first year of life, short or non-existent naps are almost always a result of your baby being overtired. This can cause their cortisol and adrenaline levels to rise and prevent your baby from falling asleep. But awake windows can help fix that!
When you follow awake windows, you ensure that your baby will sleep within their optimal range based on their development stage. This will help promote longer, more restorative naps. Awake windows also help ensure that your child has enough sleep pressure built up, which you can think of like a “tired tank.” The longer your baby is awake, the more their “tired tank” fills up. But you don’t want that “tired tank” to spill over. Otherwise, you end up with an overtired baby!
Pay Attention to Sleep Cues
In addition, you also want to ensure you are paying attention to your baby’s sleepy cues. These cues look different for each child. Some common sleepy cues include:
- rubbing eyes
- grabbing ears
- suddenly becoming disinterested in activities
- having a glazed-over look
- crying or fussing
- red eyes and red eyebrows
If you notice that your baby is showing sleepy cues and is nearing the end of their awake window, that is an indication that it is time to start getting your baby ready for sleep. In this stage, that optimal sleep window can be missed quickly, so you want to ensure that you consider both awake windows and sleepy cues to help find that magic time to put your baby down to sleep.
Prevent an Overtired Baby by Shortening Awake Windows
There is one more secret I want to let you in on when it comes to awake windows. When your baby takes short naps (less than 50 minutes), you want to shorten that next window by about 30-45 minutes.
For example, if your baby is 6 months old and their normal awake window is between 2-2.5 hours between naps, and they take a 40-minute nap instead of following their “normal” window, you want to shorten the awake window before the next nap. This will prevent your baby from getting stuck in an overtired cycle and continuing to take short naps.
Just remember, all babies are unique and will have slightly different windows. Do your best to stay within the recommended range, watch sleepy cues closely, and get your baby down as quickly as you can for the best possible chance of nice long naps!