New parents are often very surprised that newborns can barely stay awake for an hour before they need to go back to sleep – this is usually just enough time for a feed, nappy change and thorough burp before you’re swaddling them back up again to sleep.
As your baby grows so too does the period in which they can stay awake.
In this blog I’ll talk you through the appropriate wake windows by age, sleepy cues and how to stretch wake windows when needed.
What are wake windows?
Baby wake windows are exactly that – the time that your baby is awake between sleeps during the day.
It’s helpful to know which wake windows work best for your baby so that they can have the best chance of sleeping soundly, both day and night.
Wake windows tend to extend with age and lengthen as your baby gets older, as they tolerate more awake time during the day. If your baby wakes for a feed overnight these awake times are not counted as wake windows, as the focus should be on a quick feed, active winding, nappy change and back to bed.
Focusing on correct wake windows during the day in the first few weeks will help set your baby’s circadian rhythm and help them learn the difference between day and night.
Suggested baby wake windows by age:
- Newborn – 4 weeks: 45 mins – 60 mins
- 6 weeks: 1hr 15 mins
- 9 weeks: 1hr 30 mins
- 12 weeks: 1hr 45 mins
- 4 months: 2 hours
- 5-7 months: 2.5 – 3 hours
- 8-12 months: 3 – 4 hours
- 18 months: 4.5 – 5 hours
- 2 years old: 5 – 6 hours
How many wake windows should my baby have?
This differs as your baby gets older.
The younger they are, the more wake windows and naps they’ll have.
From around 4-5 months old your baby should be having 3 naps a day and 4 wake windows and depending on your parenting style and baby’s temperament, each day might look a little bit different in terms of timing unless you and your baby prefer a set routine.
From around 7-8 months old babies will be showing signs of readiness to drop the third nap of the day. This will mean their naps will transition to 2 and wake windows drop to 3 per day.
The next change happens around 15-18 months old and is when toddlers drop to just 1 middle of the day nap and 2 wake windows.
Why are wake windows important:
Wake windows are important to make sure your baby is going to bed with enough sleep pressure to help them drift off to sleep relatively quickly and stay asleep, but without stretching them too much to make them overtired and cranky.
Watching your baby and not just the clock is the best way to make sure you’re sticking to age appropriate wake windows. Sleepy cues, or tired signs, are shown at different times by different babies, so learning your baby’s own sleepy cues will help get them to sleep at the right time.
Sleepy cues are tired signs that your baby will start to show after being awake for a period of time. Usually they’ll start to show them towards the end of a wake window. As your baby gets older these signs become less reliable, but it’s always a good idea to watch your baby and not just the clock when deciding when your baby needs to sleep.
Sleepy cues can include:
- red eyebrows and eyelids
- clenching fists
- rubbing eyes
- looking away
- possetting more
- burying their head into you when holding them
How to stretch my baby’s wake window
Stretching your baby’s wake windows can help them to build enough sleep pressure to help them settle faster at nap time, and learn to link their sleep cycles. It’s a fine balance though between stretching them a little bit and not too much to push them into overtiredness.
Babies often find the first wake window of the day the hardest to stay awake for. This is because babies see their first nap as a continuation of night sleep. Try your best to stick to the recommended wake window and try some of the points below to help them reach their nap time.
Stretching them by just 5 -10 minutes every couple of days is a nice gentle way to increase their wake window. If you’re finding your baby is showing lots of sleepy cues towards the end of their wake window, then here are some ways to stretch them.
- Fresh air – take them outside for some fresh air and sunlight. A burst of natural light, particularly before being taken into a darker room for their nap can help regulate their circadian rhythm by assisting with melatonin production. If they tend to fall asleep easily in the pram or carrier and you’re wanting to avoid this, try holding them for a brief walk outside, or take a picnic blanket out into a shady spot and let them have some play time under the trees.
- Play time in a different room – if your baby has been playing in one room of the house then take them into a different room for a change of scenery, or try some free play on the mat or in a bouncer.
- Face to face interaction – try singing nursery rhymes to your baby or reading them a picture story book. Simple games like peek a boo or round and round the garden will hold their interest too.
- Offer a top up feed – feeds are included in your baby’s wake windows and offering a small top up feed might help extend their wake window. Try offering older babies on solids a small snack.
Is it best to follow a routine or stick to wake windows?
In the first 6 weeks of life it’s definitely a good idea to watch your baby’s sleepy cues rather than relying on the clock and a strict routine. In these early weeks your baby will still be adjusting to life outside the womb and still in what’s known as the fourth trimester
Breastfeeding is still being established and you’re still probably learning your baby’s specific sleepy cues, as every baby is different. In the beginning your baby’s sleep may differ everyday, but slowly you’ll find it easier to get into and stick to a routine as they get older.
After the first couple of months of life it can be helpful to try and stick to more of a set routine as babies thrive on routine, and it can be very beneficial for parents having predictability to their day as well, knowing when they can make appointments and plan social outings while still optimising their baby’s sleep.
When on 3 naps, why is the last wake window of the day the shortest?
When your baby is still taking 3 naps and is under 7-8 months old, the last nap of the day is usually a brief one. Because of this, their wake window following such a short nap shouldn’t be the same as after a long 2 hour restorative nap. As it’s also at the end of the day, your baby’s drive to sleep gets higher with more melatonin being produced, hence why this should be the shortest wake window of the day.
Does being awake in their cot count as part of their wake window?
This also depends on the age of your baby.
For babies under 4 months old, the answer is yes. Babies this age who are awake in their cot should have this time counted as part of their wake window, whether you’re trying to resettle them back to sleep or not. The last thing we want is an overtired baby who will then be even harder to resettle and upset, so if your baby wakes from a nap early and you’re resettling them but they don’t go back to sleep, start their wake window time from the time they woke up.
Over 4 months old the answer is no. For these older babies it can be helpful to try and stretch their wake window a little bit as discussed earlier. At this age they tend to be able to cope with a slightly longer wake window so start their wake window from when you get them out of the cot.
My baby’s sleep was only short – how long should their next wake window be?
If your baby has only had a short nap, whether it be at home or out and about, and didn’t go back to sleep, they may not make their entire next wake window and show sleepy cues sooner. Generally speaking, the shorter the nap or sleep periods, the less likely they’ll be able to cope with their next full wake window. As mentioned above though, the older the baby is the better it is to gently stretch them to their next nap time.