This post was written by Devon Bookman, a fellow mom and sleep consultant in training at Happy Sleeping Baby.
If you are like me, Awake Windows quickly became my favorite concept when I started learning about baby sleep. The information felt like a secret formula to help our days become more peaceful, and, as a result, our nights more restful.
An Awake Window is a period of time that your baby can stay awake...happily. Yes, there is an actual scientifically-proven time frame that your baby should stay awake before they expire and require sleep again.
Awake windows work with the science of sleep pressure. Sleep pressure builds in humans while we are awake, gets eliminated while we sleep, and the cycle continues throughout the day. Think of a teapot building steam before it shouts.
Has your baby ever seemed wide awake and ready to party? Some parents might think hyper behavior means their baby is not sleepy, while this is often quite the opposite. In fact, when a baby becomes overtired, their little bodies are flooded with the stress hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. This is what keeps them wide awake and full of energy.
During our sleep training journey, we learned this the hard way. One evening we went out to a family dinner which resulted in our daughter staying-up way past her bedtime. When we got home, it took us 2 hours of our daughter uncontrollably crying until she was able to calm down and fall asleep. The point is: it is harder to get your baby to fall asleep in an overtired state.
Here is my advice: try to find your baby’s most ideal Awake Window. Avoid your baby becoming overtired by sticking to that Awake Window as best you can.
Remember, sometimes overtired behavior is unavoidable. There can be other factors at play like when a baby is in the middle of a big development. This happens quite often as babies are constantly growing and changing. Other times it could be that your baby has had too much stimulation. Big changes can also be the culprit, like starting preschool [read more about sleep changes when starting preschool here] is a perfect example of when this may be out of your control.
The chart below helped me understand Awake Windows, by age. This is a general chart so your baby might have a slightly different Awake Window times.
Newborns ~ 45 mins to 1 hour awake between naps
3-6 Months ~ 1.5 to 2 hours awake between naps
6-13 Months ~ 2.5 to 3.5 hours awake between naps
12 months to 3 Years ~ 4 to 6 hours awake between naps
Again, every baby is different, so what works for one mama may not work for you. For our daughter we were more conservative with her Awake Windows. Meaning, we encouraged her to stay awake for shorter periods of time rather than longer periods of time.
Test out an Awake Window and see how your baby responds. It may take several attempts to find your baby’s “sweet spot”. Be patient and kind with yourself. Babies are constantly growing and developing. Just when you find the “sweet spot” it could change on you! Stay the course and do your best. You got this.
Want more information about helping your baby sleep? Use the Happy Sleeping Baby book which has everything you need to know about sleep! Learn more here.
Visit the Parent Resources page for sample schedules and more tips to help your kiddo sleep! Or learn more about Awake windows here.