Age Appropriate Awake Windows & Help Understanding Sleep Cues

When exhausted parents reach out to me, one of the first questions I ask is about awake windows. How much awake time are they giving their child before offering a nap or bedtime? All too often, these awake windows are much too long. 

An overtired baby has a harder time calming, falling asleep and staying asleep. Being overtired is the #1 culprit for early morning wake-ups too. So how do you know if your baby is tired? Here are a few sleep cues to look for: 

Getting Sleepy: Baby may start being uninterested in toys or maybe even you; looking off into space and giving cues like red eyebrows. Start working on your nap/bedtime routine now to get them to sleep before they are overtired. 

Time For Bed: This is when you will see more signs like yawning, red eyes, and fussing. Now is the time to get your child in bed so they can fall asleep. Allow enough time so that you don't skip your regular bedtime routine. You can adjust and make it a bit shorter if needed, but always offer a consistent routine to help signal that it is bedtime. 

Overtired: Your baby may become inconsolable, show signs like red eyes or pulling at their ears. You may even see a burst of energy. This “second wind” is definitely a sign that they are overtired. When your baby is overtired, you may find that it takes longer to get your little one to settle and fall asleep. 

Still struggling to understand sleep cues?

Along with the sleep cues listed above, you may also use their age-appropriate awake windows as a guide to know when to offer their next sleep. During the first 4-5 months, I suggest following a routine rather than a strict schedule. Babies and children thrive on a routine, and you may notice things feeling easier once you have a good routine in place.

Here are some age-specific guidelines that I recommend:

0-3 months: The maximum awake time during the newborn stage is 60-90 minutes. This is often just enough time to change a dirty diaper, feed your baby, snuggle and change another dirty diaper before they doze off. Naps in the early months are often short and frequent. 

3-6 months: Naps should be offered after 1.5-2.5 hours of awake time. Most often this allows for three naps. Around the 5-month mark is when we start seeing naps consolidating from short snoozes to longer naps. 

6-9 months: You will start seeing your baby consolidate to two naps with 2.5-3 hours of awake time in between. 

9-13 months: At this age, naps should be offered after about 2.5-4 hours of awake time between each sleep. The shortest awake window should be offered in the morning while the longest awake window is between the last nap and bedtime. 

13-18 months: This is the most common time to transition to 1 nap with 4.5-6 hours of awake time. Make sure to offer an early bedtime if the nap is short to avoid them becoming overtired. 

18 months-3 years: Continue to offer a nap with 5-6 hours of awake time. Your child is usually ready to drop the nap altogether between 3-4 years old. It’s still important to offer a “quiet time” until they are able to go from morning wakeup to bedtime without major meltdowns. It’s also wonderful for parents and caregivers to have some downtime in the middle of the day, too. 

I am available to help you and your family manage awake windows and more. See my bio below — and I encourage you to follow me on Instagram for more tips.

Heidi Lovens 
Founder of Everyday Lovens
Certified Baby & Toddler Sleep Coach & Wellness Advocate 

I am a business owner, toddler mama to my 2-year-old son, Lennon, and wife to my busy and often sleep-deprived FireFighter husband. Sleep is so important in our household! My husband often comes home exhausted after a busy shift at the firehouse. This is why I created Everyday Lovens in 2015 — to help educate parents and caregivers on the fundamentals and importance of sleep. 

I specialize in gentile and holistic techniques to create healthy lifelong habits. Each plan and approach is customized to a family's unique needs.
IG @everydaylovens 


  • Gabriella

    Hi Heidi!

    Between 5-6 months old my son had settled out to 3-4 naps per day, bedtime at 6:30, overnight feed at 3am and awake around 6am. At his 6 month appt my pediatrician suggested weaning the 3am overnight feeding for him saying that he’s “fully capable of sleeping through the night without eating” and that keeping it would just end up making it a habit for him moving forward. It was a rocky feed to drop with 30-45 min away crying (it was easier to just feed him honestly but I tried to do what our pediatrician had suggested). During that time he started waking up at 5am and even now if I feed him at 3am he goes right back to sleep but wakes at 5 or 5:30. Any suggestions? He usually has about 2.5hr wake window right before bed.

    Separate question/may help in your response above — he has always struggled with achieving age appropriate wake windows. At 6 months old he can only go at most 2 hours (more often closer to 1.5) between naps during the day. He gets fussy and rubs his eyes and wants to just be held towards the end of his wake windows, and falls asleep easily for his naps. Is this something that could be contributing to his early waking and do you think it’s worth trying to push to extend those wake windows longer during the day?

  • Anna

    Melissa, I am no sleep expert, but just wanted you to know I was in a similar boat just a few months ago. My little girl took 3 naps until about 10.5 months, when she naturally dropped to 2. I wouldn’t worry about it too much! Every baby is different. For most of the time my daughter was on 3 nap, she actually couldn’t even make a 2 hour awake window between waking up in the morning and her first nap. 3 naps a day can be hard, but you probably aren’t too far off from you LO dropping to 2!

  • Joanna

    Hello. I have a 9 month old, and even after working with a sleep consultant and sleep training, I’m still dealing with 530am wake ups! He’s averaging 10.5 night hours. I’m desperate, please help!!
    I usually get him from bed around 6:45. When he wakes he’s mostly happy, so I can justify letting him play in his crib to try pushing the start of the day. First nap is 3 hours after day start (9:30-10am) and he usually sleeps 1.5-2 hours. Second nap is 3.5 hours after wake up. He usually sleeps 1 hour. Bedtime is 3-3.5 hours after wake up. Usually ends up being between 7:15-730pm. On a bad nap day, he won’t go down earlier. He’ll toss and fuss until around 7:15.
    Things I have tried: capping last nap at 4pm, capping last nap at 1 hour, extending last wake window, shortening last wake window, a combination of all of the above. He falls asleep independently, wakes once or twice a night, but resettles independently within 5-10 mins. Any advice on what could help those mornings?!

  • Melissa

    My daughter is 8.5 months old and despite my efforts to increase wake windows for several weeks, she gets overtired. I can’t seem to get her past a 2 hr morning wake window, 2.5 hr afternoon windows and 3 hrs before bedtime. Sometimes she’ll refuse her last nap, but she definitely seems to be happier/sleeps better overnight with 3 naps. Do I keep trying to extend now or give it some time to see what she does on her own? Thank you.

  • Grace

    I’m following sleep cues and wake windows and creating a good sleep environment, but my little one still won’t nap well during the day, so then wakes more at night as a result I assume as he often wakes at around 4/5am. Help – what am I missing 🙈

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