It’s no secret that the first year of your baby’s life is one of the most frustrating. In fact, you’ll spend most of your time figuring out when your child should be sleeping and for how long, which will often leave you confused.
Fortunately, your child should develop their sleep cycle at around four months, allowing for patterns to emerge. That’s when you should start implementing a sleep schedule that gives you more time to handle other household chores.
But even if you come up with an ideal schedule for your child’s sleep, it will be hard to stick to it, especially since many factors affect their sleep patterns. That’s why you should implement both a schedule and awake windows, then adjust them as needed.
What Are Awake Windows?
Awake windows represent the periods of time that your child is awake in between naps and bedtime. These windows vary from child to child, based on their age and personality. Actually, each child is able to stay awake for just a couple of hours per day, which changes with their development.
Why Are Awake Windows Important?
People follow awake windows for two main reasons. First, they want to make sure that babies are awake long enough to actually take their next nap. Secondly, parents want to put their children to sleep early enough to avoid overtiring them.
It’s important to remember that it’s far easier to follow an awake window than a strict schedule, especially in the first six to nine months of life. That’s mainly because babies’ nap lengths, night sleep, and awake time vary from day to day and constantly change as they get older.
How Long Should Awake Windows Be?
All babies are unique and differ in the amount of time they can stay awake before needing a nap. That makes coming up with a general guideline pretty hard. However, there are a few recommendations based on a child’s age that will help you determine the ideal length of awake windows:
• Newborn: The maximum awake time is between 60 and 90 minutes during this stage. That’s enough time to feed the baby, change diapers, and snuggle before they fall asleep.
• 3 to 6-month-old: You should offer naps after 1.5 to 2.5 hours of awake time during this stage. That should allow for three naps, slowly transitioning from short snoozes to longer naps.
• 6 to 9-month-old: You will notice that your baby will respond better to two naps with 2.5 to 3 hours of awake time in between.
• 9 to 13-month-old: Naps should be combined with 2.5 to 4 hours of awake time at this age. You should offer the shortest awake window possible in the morning, with the longest being between the last nap and bedtime.
• 13 to 18-month-old: You should transition to one nap with 4.5 to 6 hours of awake time. If the nap is short, offer an earlier bedtime to avoid overtiring the child.
• 18 months to 3 years: Continue with a single nap and 5 to 6 hours of awake time. Once your child turns 3, they should gradually stop taking naps altogether.
When Should You Start Using Awake Windows?
Generally speaking, you should implement awake windows as early as possible. Most parents start even before their child turns three months. However, each child is different, so don’t be distressed if yours doesn’t adapt to their awake windows. Keep experimenting until you find the perfect balance between sleep and awake time.
How to Adjust Awake Windows
Sometimes, you’ll have to adapt your child’s awake windows based on how long they nap. Keep in mind that if your little one sleeps for, let’s say 20 minutes, a full awake window will result in a cranky, overtired baby. To avoid that, whenever your child’s naps are short, you should also shorten the next awake window.
For instance, if your baby naps for 40 to 45 minutes, reduce the awake window by up to one hour to prevent overtiredness. This rule also applies to the last nap before bedtime, even if your baby has had a rough night of sleep and might seem overtired in the morning.
And even if the first awake window is already very short, you might have to reduce it again depending on your child’s morning behavior.
You need to understand that awake windows can feel very overwhelming at first. Things become more complicated when you realize that baby’s sleeping patterns change within the first year constantly.
As a result, you will often miss the ideal awake window, but don’t let that bring you down. Remember that awake windows are not perfect, and as long as you try to stay consistent, you will notice an improvement in your child’s sleeping schedule.
Additionally, it’s important to mention that awake windows are just part of the baby’s sleep equation. It is entirely possible that your child might struggle to get sleep even after perfectly following the schedule. So always pay close attention to your little one’s needs and adjust accordingly.