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A complete guide to baby wake windows

Wondering what your baby’s wake window is and how it can help them get better sleep?

Getting babies to sleep and encouraging them to have decent naps is one of the toughest challenges for new parents. 

Baby looking at a clock to calculate wake window

While as adults we get our sleep in one big chunk at night, babies need their sleep broken up into lots of pieces throughout the day so they can feed 24/7 when their tummies are tiny. 

Your baby’s wake window is one of the best pieces of information you can use to help time your baby’s naps and bedtime, encouraging healthy sleep and a much easier life for you! 

What are wake windows?

Your baby’s wake window is the amount of time they stay awake between naps. It is the length of time your baby can comfortably stay awake before they become tired and need sleep. 

Getting this timing correct helps your baby to get enough sleep during the day, which then has a positive impact at night. 

A baby who has spent too much time awake during the day will actually tend to sleep worse at night, with more night wakings, because they are overtired. Confusing, right?

Being overtired impacts on their ability to get a restful night’s sleep. So the trick is to ensure they have an awake window that works for their internal clock so they do not become overtired. 

When to start using wake windows 

You can start figuring out your baby’s wake window right away as soon as they are born! It helps avoid baby becoming overtired, which hopefully means a happy baby! 

It will help you to understand when your baby needs a nap, which means they will be better rested and happier when they are awake and playing. 

Having the right wake window for your baby can help you figure out the best time to put them down for a nap – not too early, not too late. 

If your baby is put down too early they may struggle to get to sleep and then only have a short cat nap that doesn’t restore their energy. If they go down too late they may be overtired and struggle to get to sleep. 

It’s all about finding the right balance for your baby. 

Wake windows vs a schedule for your baby

So what’s the difference between wake windows and a schedule for your baby? Well the two things can actually serve each other. 

Knowing your baby’s wake window can help you figure out an ideal daily schedule for your baby. By knowing how long your baby can cope with being awake you can then figure out when their nap times will be and fit feeds, play and outings into your day. 

Of course some parents prefer not to follow a rigid schedule. In this case an awake window would simply help to figure out when baby needs to be put down for a nap. Everything that happens during that wake window doesn’t need to be exactly timed with a schedule. 

When it comes to babies plenty of people have written a manual, but you’ll notice there are a LOT of manuals out there. That’s because what works for one parent doesn’t necessarily work for the next parent. 

So the trick is to understand how your baby ticks – and all babies will get tired and need naps during the day – then fit their needs into a style of routine that works for you as well. 

I personally very much thrived with having a schedule for my two babies. I knew what was coming next and they always went to sleep easily at their set nap times. 

Mum pushing a stroller with a large clock thinking about routine and baby's wake window

Do wake windows include feeding?

Your baby’s wake window does include feeding. Whether they are breast or bottle fed, having their milk is part of the awake time. 

So when calculating your baby’s wake window include their feeding time as well as their play and activity time. 

What is the best wake window for a baby?

Your baby’s wake window will change a lot in the first year from just 30 minutes to as much as three hours. 

Every single baby is different so it’s very important to watch your baby for signs of tiredness. This can help you figure out their wake window. 

Time how long they are awake to the point when they start to yawn, rub their eyes, stare off into the distance and stop engaging with play. 

Once your baby starts to cry you know they are really gone past the point of being tired and need a nap. If they get to this stage then you may consider shortening the amount of time you keep them up during their next wake window by around 10 minutes to see if this avoids the tears. 

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How long is a newborn wake window?

Your newborn baby’s wake window will be very small. They may only be awake for around 30 minutes at a time. 

In the first couple of days your baby is possibly going to be awake even less time than this, for perhaps 20 minutes. 

Newborn babies need to feed little and often because their tummies are so small. For this reason they will nod off frequently and wake regularly to be fed. 

How to figure out your baby’s wake window 

You can look at our handy chart showing wake windows by age later in this article to give you a rough idea of what your baby’s wake window is. 

Every baby is different so do watch your baby closely for their own cues showing when they are tired. 

Signs your baby may be tired include: 

  • Pulling at ears 
  • Yawning 
  • Closing fists 
  • Jerky arm and leg movements 
  • Looking worried, frowning 
  • Staring off into space
  • Disengaged from play

Wake windows by age 

Your baby’s wake window will change from around 20 minutes in their first few days of life to as much as three hours by the end of the first year. 

As your baby grows you will need to watch them for changes in their behaviour. 

You will know their wake window is widening if they suddenly become less willing to nap. They may refuse to go to sleep or not be showing any signs of being tired. 

In this case you may want to consider stretching the wake window. You may also consider whether your baby is ready to ditch one of their daytime naps. 

The first year is all about rolling with your baby’s changing needs. A lot changes in those first 12 months so roll with it and remember that if their routine seems to go from being really steady one day to being a bit chaotic the next do not panic! 

This list gives you an idea of what your baby’s wake window might be by age. Remember every baby is different but in my experience both of my babies fit into these guidelines pretty accurately at each stage.

AgeNumber of napsBaby wake window
0-4 weeksMultiple30 mins
1 monthMultiple1 hour
2 months4 naps1 hour – 75 mins
3 months4 naps1 hour – 90 mins
4-6 months3 naps1 hour 45 mins
6-9 months2-3 naps 2-3 hours
9-12 months2 naps2-3 hours
1 year1-2 naps3-4 hours
18 months1 nap6 hours

Babies go through growth spurts or fussy periods which can disrupt their normal routine. Just roll with the changes and keep following your baby’s cues to figure out what they need. 

Baby's wake window by age chart guide

How to stretch wake windows 

There are a few reasons why you might want to stretch your baby’s wake windows. 

One is that your baby may be showing signs of tiredness quite early on in their wake window. If they go down for a nap too early they may not quite sleep long enough, which can have a bit of a knock on effect throughout the day as they become overtired. 

So stretching their wake window can help you to avoid those short cat naps. 

When dropping a nap you may want to stretch your baby’s wake window first to ease them into the transition. 

If you do want to stretch your baby’s wake window try the following: 

  • Distract them. Consider taking them outside for some fresh air to give your baby a change of scene. You could also try a different game or take them into a different room to encourage them to stay awake and alert for an extra 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Have a clear difference between day and night. During the daytime try to keep your baby in a bright room with the curtains open during their wake window. When it’s time for a nap shut the curtains and make sure the environment is soothing and quiet.
  • Go for small increments. If you are trying to stretch the time between naps so you can drop a nap go for small increments of just 10 to 20 minutes at a time.

Wake window activities for baby

When your baby is awake this is the time to stimulate them, play and just bond and enjoy your time with them.

Activities don’t have to be huge events that involve lots of props. It can be something as simple as sitting and talking to your baby, giving them a tour of the house, talking to them about what you’re cooking or taking them out into the garden to sit on the grass.

Some great baby wake window activities are:

  • Sing nursery rhymes. Do this with a book to show them pictures if you have one.
  • Hold them and dance around the living room.
  • Point out their body parts and name them. Of course they won’t be talking for a while but your baby will find it fascinating.
  • Play on a play mat on the floor.
  • Let them look at themselves in a mirror.
  • Let them smell some herbs.
  • Take them on a tour of the garden.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Give them some tummy time.

There are lots more ideas for things to do with your baby at home here.

Why bother with wake windows?

The reason for paying attention to your baby’s awake window is it can improve your baby’s sleep habits and help them sleep for longer. This in turn means they’re more rested and so are you. 

If you know your baby’s wake window then you will know when it is time for them to be put down for a nap. By paying attention to their body clock you will be able to ensure they get a healthy amount of sleep. 

A baby who is well rested during the day will also sleep well at night, which is something all of us parents want to happen! 

So a wake window can help you to ensure your baby has enough sleep. This has lots of knock on benefits to making it easier for your to care for them. 

For example a baby who has woken for a decent nap will feed well, rather than nodding off on the bottle or boob having only had a snack. 

You can then play with them for a short while before their wake window ends and it’s time to pop them down for another nap. 

This simple rhythm of sleep, eat, play, sleep again is really all you need to keep in mind when it comes to your baby’s daily routine. You can read more about this rhythm in my post about the EASY baby routine.

Whether you choose to strictly time all of that is really down to you. Some parents find that really helps, others hate it. 

If you’re the type of person who hates scheduling and just wants to go with the flow then the idea of timing your baby’s awake time may be really unappealing. 

However even if you’re not on a rigid routine, it can help to have a rough idea of when your baby might be tired. This way you will be able to quickly figure out what might be wrong if and when they cry – if you know it’s the end of their wake window then you’ll know it might be time to put them down for a restorative nap. 

Benefits of knowing baby wake windows 

To summarise the benefits of understanding your baby’s wake window are: 

  • Helps baby get the right amount of sleep. 
  • A baby is who is overtired may cry more. 
  • Makes it easier to get baby on a routine that works for them. 
  • Baby will feed better if they are getting restorative naps regularly during the day. 
  • Helps you understand your baby’s needs – when they cry you know if it’s because they are tired/hungry/bored. 

You may also like: Tips for getting baby to sleep

Wake windows for baby by age

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