Wake Windows & How to Optimize Your Baby’s Sleep by Age
- Wake windows are the amount of time your baby stays awake between periods of sleep.
- Some parents use wake windows as a tool to help them predict when their baby will be ready to sleep again.
- While we know that young babies sleep A LOT and tend to stay awake for longer as they get older, every baby is different, just like the lists of wake windows you’ll find online.
- There is a wide range of normal when it comes to your baby’s sleep periods, and babies change so fast. The more you get to know your baby and meet their needs when they’re awake, the better equipped you’ll be to help them sleep and cope when they don’t.
Most new parents are not getting the recommended seven hours of sleep and new mothers, in particular, lose more than an hour of sleep each night, a recent study in the official publication of the Sleep Research Society revealed. Sleep deprivation is no fun for you or your baby, and it’s potentially harmful to health. Any approach that claims to help you and your baby get better sleep is bound to be appealing, but there are some concerns with baby wake windows.
The basic principle is simple. If your baby stays awake for the ‘right’ amount of time within a suggested age-appropriate wake window, the idea is they’ll find it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
If your baby doesn’t conform to the wake windows suggested, there are complex calculations you can use to get back on track. This shifts the focus of attention to the clock and can put some parents off.
So, let’s peek behind the curtain and find out more about wake windows and whether they can help you and your baby get the sleep you need.
What Are Wake Windows?
The term wake window describes your baby’s awake time between each sleep. Wake windows are measured from the time your baby wakes up until they next fall asleep, and include everything that happens outside of sleep, including feeding, changing, and playing.
Newborn babies need a lot of sleep and have short wake windows, often leaving just enough time to feed and change your baby before they’re ready for another sleep. This is normal.
As your baby gets older, they will begin to stay awake for longer; wake windows gradually lengthen over time. Your baby’s wake windows aren’t just determined by their age; their temperament and your family’s schedule also play a part.
Try not to compare your child’s wake window with others. Some people need more sleep than others.
During awake time our bodies produce chemicals that build sleep pressure. Once that pressure reaches a certain point we feel tired and are ready to go back to sleep. In babies and young children, that pressure builds faster and they need to sleep more often.
Why Do Baby Wake Windows Matter?
They don’t, not really. What matters is your baby.
If your baby is sleeping well and you have no concerns, wake windows are simply special times you get to connect with your little one and learn more about each other.
Chances are, though, you’re here because you’re worried about your baby’s sleep and you’re looking for ways to help you both get the rest you need.
Sleep is essential for good health and well-being. It gives your body a chance to rest and repair, fight off illness and infection and process your emotions. Your baby grows while they’re asleep and good sleep improves your baby’s memory, language, and learning.
Now, wake windows aren’t an exact science, there’s no agreement on how long the ideal wake window should be. Luckily that’s a good thing. Your baby’s need for sleep and awake time is unique.
Wake windows start small, and they grow with your baby, and that’s the same with their sleep. Young babies aren’t designed to stay awake, or asleep, for that long.
Remember that sleep pressure? Well, if your baby doesn’t sleep when that pressure is at its peak, their body triggers a survival response. Cortisol floods their system making it much harder for your overtired baby to get to sleep.
Determining Your Baby’s Wake Windows by Age
So, how do you know how much time your baby should be awake? Let’s start by looking at how much sleep babies typically need.
A study by the National Sleep Foundation found that it can be as much as 18 hours a day for newborns, gradually decreasing to around 12 to 14 hours once they reach a year old.
This might seem like a long time, but this sleep doesn’t happen in one big lump. Your baby cycles through phases of waking and sleeping many times a day. Research shows that two-year-olds often wake as many as three times a night, and some children still benefit from naps at five years old.
Wake windows by age
Combining information from the most popular articles online, this table shows the wide range of suggested age-appropriate wake windows by age.
|Baby’s age||Wake window range|
|Newborn||30 to 90 minutes|
|4 – 8 weeks||35 to 120 minutes|
|9 – 12 weeks||1 to 2 hours|
|3 – 4 months||1 to 2.5 hours|
|4 – 6 months||1.5 to 3 hours|
|7 – 9 months||2 to 3.5 hours|
|10 – 12 months||2.5 to 4 hours|
|13 – 15 months||2.5 to 6 hours|
|15 -18 months||3 to 6 hours|
|18 months – 2 years||4 to 6 hours|
|2 – 3 years||5 to 6 hours|
|3 – 5 years||6 to 7 hours, or as much as 12 without a nap|
Your baby may be happy staying awake much longer or shorter than these figures suggest. Whatever the age of your baby, take your lead from them.
Observe your baby’s natural rhythms and preferences and go with those wherever you can. Not only will this make your life easier in the short term, but you’ll be laying the foundations for a respectful and trusting relationship that will last a lifetime.
How to Optimize Your Baby’s Sleep
The romantic vision of young children sleeping through the night doesn’t reflect the reality for many parents. Yet night waking isn’t all bad. Not only is waking at night believed to protect your baby from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), but how you respond to that waking plays a huge role in bonding and sets the tone for your relationship.
Remember: You and your baby are on the same side. Try to let go of expectations around sleep. Your job isn’t to make your baby sleep but to provide the conditions for rest and relaxation so sleep comes naturally.
- Respond to your baby’s cry as soon as you can, this builds patience and trust and helps improve memory and resilience to stress throughout life.
- Gentle movement and touch reduce stress. Babywearing and skin-to-skin contact are especially soothing for young babies.
- Breastfeed as long as you can. Your milk contains melatonin which helps your baby sleep. Feeding also stimulates your body’s production of prolactin and oxytocin, helping you sleep and bond with your baby.
- Get plenty of fresh air and exercise. Offer your baby lots of floor time and go outside when you can. Stroller walks and car rides often send babies to sleep.
- Let your baby get used to the usual ambiance of your home. Try not to create unrealistic conditions for darkness or quiet that you can’t sustain. Blackout blinds and white noise might help if your baby’s troubled by light or sound.
- Create familiar routines and rituals that your baby associates with sleep, these can include: low light, stories, lullabies, lots of cuddles, and a warm bath.
- Don’t worry if you can’t stick to a routine. Flexibility and a willingness to adapt are positive traits to be encouraged.
- Focus on what’s working now rather than sticking with something that feels wrong because you think it’ll be worth it in the end. Your relationship with your child is built in the present moment, and that’s what will help you both face any challenges ahead.
- Take care of yourself so you can be there for your baby in the most loving way possible. Let go of additional responsibilities and ask for help. Your baby is led by you so wherever you can, try to stay calm and relax so your baby can too.
Using Age-Appropriate Wake Windows
All babies are different. Try not to get too attached to the ranges given in the table above.
From the moment your baby is born, they want to communicate and connect with you, their survival depends on it. As you get to know each other, you’ll begin to spot familiar patterns as your baby gets tired.
Common baby’s sleepy cues include:
- rooting for milk
- avoiding eye contact
- droopy eyelids
- red eyebrows
- eye rubbing
- wriggling and restlessness
- yawning and crying
The more time you spend with your baby, the easier it is to recognize these cues, and not just for sleep. Using elimination communication with our youngest daughter, we were amazed to see how quickly we picked up her potty signals. Encourage communication by talking to your baby, this supports language development and increases trust and respect between you.
Gordon Neufeld’s stages of attachment offer a useful framework for considering your baby’s needs and responding to their sleepy cues at different ages:
- In their first year, your presence matters most to your baby. Stay close enough that your baby can touch and smell you. Your baby will naturally fall asleep while feeding. Don’t rush this stage as sucking helps reduce your baby’s blood pressure and stress levels, naturally inducing sleep.
- In their second year, your baby will be able to cope with longer periods apart, especially if you help them bridge any separation. Explain when you’ll be back and honor any promises you make, for example, to come back and check on them in five minutes.
- In their third year, your child will continue to be comforted by familiar routines and may like to have family photographs and mementos to emphasize their place in the family.
- In their fourth year, your little one may still get upset at bedtime, especially if you leave them before they fall asleep. Stay with your child while they cry so they can release any emotional backlog. The more comforted they feel, the easier sleep may come.
Keep focussing on building your relationship in the daytime so your child has a bank of positive memories and love to draw on. Your baby will become more independent when their needs are met, not from being forced to move on before they’re ready.
Do wake windows vary throughout the day?
Often they do, but not in all cases. Many babies’ first wake window is the longest, while for others, this might be their shortest wake window. Some babies sleep and wake in a more even routine, and that’s fine too. What matters most is that your baby is getting enough sleep in total.
Why have my baby’s wake windows changed?
As they get older your baby’s wake window will typically lengthen.
Sometimes this pattern is interrupted. While your baby is learning all the time, they also go through periods of rapid growth and development that can interfere with great sleep.
Along with these so-called sleep regressions, you may also find that when your baby is ill, there have been changes in the family routine or environment, or you’ve had a particularly emotional time, they need more support. The more willing you are to offer this, the easier it may be to navigate those tricky times.
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