Wake windows by age are often misrepresented on Google. So we want to share with you our analysis AND experience of wake windows so that you are properly informed to make decisions for your baby or toddler’s sleep.
What are wake windows?
Firstly, let’s start with what wake windows are. In short, they are the duration of time between one period of sleep and the next sleep period. For example, from morning wake-up until the first nap, or from the final nap to bedtime.
They are effectively your baby’s maximum capacity to stay awake.
Why Baby’s Wake Windows Are Important
Once you are able to determine what your child’s wake window is, you can plan your day in terms of activities, when naps should be, when feeding and meal times should be.
This doesn’t mean you should have a regimented routine as not every awake period, and not every day, will look entirely the same.
Nevertheless, understanding your baby’s wake window will allow you to schedule things in the day with a little more certainty. This can be very important when you have older children and you want to spend extra time with them, or you need to plan for school or nursery runs.
Additionally, the wake window allows you to be guided on when a child’s final nap of the day should end. For example, a baby of 6 months should be having an evening power nap rwith a final wake window of around 1.5 hours (less than 2 hours because of it being a nap under an hour) before bedtime; whereas a 9 month old on 2 naps should have a final wake window of around 3 hours before their bedtime.
Knowing this will allow you to get a better handle on your child’s routine, especially on those days where you are out and about, avoiding overtiredness in your little one for bedtime.
When to start using wake windows
Newborns don’t really have wake windows as they have very little energy to stay awake for any length of time. They typically wake up, feed and go back to sleep.
This will start to change around 3 months where wake windows become a bit more obvious. Even then, we typically wouldn’t expect them to be longer than an hour or so.
Wake windows become really important from about 3 months right up until a baby is on a 2 nap schedule and is more likely having naps around the same time.
Even then, knowing your child’s age-appropriate wake windows is really important to enable you to handle changed in daytime routine, when they become unwell, and when they are starting to transition to less naps.
Wake Windows vs Sleep Cues
Whilst wake windows are a great guide to help parents plan a day of naps and activities, you should always be aware of your baby’s energy levels.
And how you do that is by watching their sleepy cues.
Wake windows can change because of teething, illness etc, and they also increase in duration as the baby gets older.
Therefore, knowing when to put your baby down based on their mood, energy levels and their sleep cues can be really important.
So what are a baby’s sleep cues?
Most parents – including us before we were sleep consultants – thought a baby yawning or rubbing their eyes was the time to go to bed.
However, those cues are actually of a tired baby who should already be in their crib or cot.
In fact, the sleep cues you are looking for are when a baby or toddler starts to lose concentration, zone out of what they are doing, and look out for that pink colour form around their eyes or eyebrows. This last one should be the easiest one to find.
This is where you should be stopping what they are doing, taking them to their cot/crib and then following your nap routine, if you have one. Below are the 3 stages of sleepy cues:
In saying all of this, one thing babies and toddlers are great at doing is disguising sleep cues. They are playing, they are having fun and they are distracted from how tired they are. Think about how you can feel when you’re always on the move, then the moment you sit down, the tiredness hits you. That is babies too.
So knowing your wake windows can really help for those children who only show you sleep cues longer after they’re tired!
Why Are Wake Windows By Age Important?
Understanding the different wake windows by age is critical because they change as your baby becomes older.
Now not every child at 6 months will follow the age appropriate wake window; however, from our experience and data gathering working with thousands of clients, we know that around 98% conform to the below ranges. And if they don’t, the wake windows won’t be THAT different. Maybe 15-30mins, and not as much as you may think.
Below are the wake windows we use in our Online Sleep Plans and when we work with clients privately:
You will find that our wake windows are shorter than the wake windows published and suggested by other sleep consultants. That is fine, but we believe in our wake windows so much and we also train our students in our Academy about these wake windows. If you are finding that your baby or toddler seems too energetic before bedtime, that they are grumpy or emotional, and/or their sleep isn’t where you would like it to be, change up your wake windows.
Why some wake windows are shorter
We very much believe that the shorter a period of sleep, the shorter the next awake period will be. So we work on a minimum and maximum wake windows by age.
For example, the maximum wake window for a 6 month old would be 2 hours. This would be after their night sleep and any naps which last longer than 1 hour. And the minimum wake window – assuming no illness – would be 1.5 hours after sleep lasting less than 1 hour.
Our theory – backed by the work we do with our clients – is that less sleep = less rest = less energy = shorter wake window.
So if your child is only cat napping, their wake window will be shorter than the recommended period for their age. That’s why our image above shows two wake windows per age.
How do I calculate my baby or toddler’s awake time?
You should calculate your infant’s wake window from the time that they wake. Some child will wake and not come out their sleep space straight away. Because of this they are still technically resting so their wake window may not be as clear-cut as that, but we would always recommend you base it on the time that they wake, and if they can go a little longer then you can make that judgement at the time.
Do wake windows include feeding?
A baby’s wake window is simply the period of time from when they wake up. During that wake window, they will likely be changed, fed and have some play time, depending on the baby’s age.
Wake Windows vs Set Schedule
When babies go to 2 naps, usually around 8 or 9 months, they may fall into more of a set schedule. A nap in the morning about 2.5 hours after they wake up (which is their shortest wake window of the day), and then again in the early afternoon after their lunch. This nap would typically finish with the next wake window of around 3.5 hours until bedtime.
When there is a set schedule, a parent typically won’t be following wake windows so much. But understanding wake windows, even at this age is crucial. Very soon, they will move to a single nap and knowing the right wake window to bedtime is crucial to avoid overtiredness and potentially reducing the quality of their night sleep.
How to stretch wake windows
Whilst we wouldn’t encourage you to stretch a baby wake windows, there are times where you may have to.
Firstly, the reason we wouldn’t generally encourage you to stretch them is that you’re then keeping your baby up longer than what they’re capable of. It’s similar to making them wait longer for their meal when they’re hungry.
However, you may have to stretch wake windows when your little one is going through a nap transition. Generally, babies who transition naps aren’t ready for the wake windows required for the next nap structure, but they’re energy levels are too high for old structure.
For example, a baby moving from 3 naps to 2 naps – usually around 8 months – won’t be ready for the 3-3.5 hour wake windows needed for a 2 nap structure. Their wake windows have probably stretched from about 2 hours to 2.5 hours, which is enough to make fitting in the 3 naps tough. But they aren’t ready for the 3-3.5 hours.
On some days, they will absolutely need the 3 nap days, but on those days where it’s clearly 2 naps, if you don’t stretch wake windows throughout the day, you can end up in a situation whereby the 2 naps have finished early in the day leaving a longer wake window to bedtime.
For example, we often see naps happening at 9.30am and then again at 1.30pm, with all sleep finished by 3pm. The wake windows leading into the 2 naps was probably optimal, but it meant a 4 hour wake window to bedtime (assuming it’s 7pm) and an overtired baby.
So by stretching the wake windows a little longer, the nap structure may have looked more like nap 1 at 10am and nap 2 starting at 2.30pm, with all sleep finished by 4pm and a 3 hour wake window to bedtime.
So in this example where we stretched the wake windows before both naps, there is much more of a balance across the day.
What are a toddler’s wake windows?
For toddler wake windows, we recommend a slightly different approach, in that we follow set wake windows from the nap ending until bedtime. See chart above for recommended wake windows.
So we believe the wake window for an 18 month old should be 4 hours, and that 4 hours is from when the nap ends. Now, children at this age will typically only nap for about 1.5-2 hours, so for a nap to finish at 3pm for a 7pm bedtime, their nap would have to start at 1 or 1.30pm. Assuming they woke around 7am, this would mean a wake window of more like 6-6.5 hours in the morning.
Whilst this is definitely longer than their optimal wake window, we belive this is the right approach for 2 reasons:
We would rather a child is optimally ready for bed at night, even if it means they are a little more tired going into their nap. This should help them fall asleep much more easily.
We believe wake windows can be a little longer in the morning than the afternoon, given that they will have come off a higher period of night sleep (11-12 hours), compared with the afternoon where they have come off a shorter period of sleep (1.5-2 hours).
Finally, as the day goes on, we all become more tired, even us adults. So naturally, a child will be more tired after a long day of activites and that’s another reason we believe in shorter wake windows going into bedtime.
One thing to note with toddlers is that we find that they start to increase and become more varied from the age of 2 years old. Therefore, it sometimes has to be a bit of learning to find out which wake window is optimal for an individual child. Whereas in the younger age range, the wake windows are a little more certain.
Wake Windows Summary
Whilst sleep cues of a baby are critical, as the body doesn’t lie, as babys grow older, spotting those sleepy cues can become more and more difficult. Therefore, understand wake windows can really help a parent. It also allows parents to plan their day a little more, or adjust as the day goes on depending on how naps have been going.
We don’t belive in regimented routines, but we do believe in wake windows and use this to guide the routines that we develop for our Online Sleep Plans and the work we do with our private clients.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there 3 month old wake windows?
A 3 month old wake windows are short. Very short, as they are often just waking for a feed, a nappy change, a look around and then back to sleep. Usually a the wake windows for a 3 month old would be no more than 30-60mins depending on their energy levels and how much they’ve just slept.
What are the wake windows for 4 month old?
Generally a 4 month old wake windows are around 60-75mins after good sleep (lasting over an hour) and about 45-60mins after shorter sleep (lasting less than an hour).
There is alot of literature out there which suggests the wake window for 4-month old should be longer, at around 2 hours. But with our own children, and the babies we work with at this age, we know that is far too long.
How long is a 5 month old wake window?
A wake window for 5 month old is still relatively short. Their tummies have grown, they’re taking more milk to give them increased energy levels and they are starting to see the world more. But the 5-month old wake window is still shorter than most people think.
When we work with clients privately, and also in our Online Sleep Plan, the 5 month old wake windows we use are 90mins after a long sleep (lasting more than 1 hour) and 60mins after short sleep (lasting less than 1 hour).
You may also be interested in: How Long Does Your Baby Need To Sleep For?
We are a husband and wife business, and are leading sleep consultants based in the UK. If you are having issues with your little one’s sleep, have a look at our sleep plans which range from an online plan to one-to-one coaching. If it feels like you’ve tried everything, then come and try the one thing you haven’t which we know works – that’s our proven sleep method Comforting Through Change™.
We also train people to become sleep consultants. So if you fancy a career change, one where you can be at home ALL the time, contact us via our Academy. We would love to hear from you.