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. 

www.everydaylovens.com
IG @everydaylovens 


37 comments


  • Rhiannon

    Hi, my son will be 2yrs in 3 weeks time and has always been an ‘early riser’, I have researched children’s sleep since he was 4 months, so I understand overtiredness etc, but nothing works. I came to accept that 5am was his time as I couldn’t fix this. But the last 5-6 weeks he has been waking anything from 3.30-4.30… and will not go back to sleep even though he’s tired. I keep him in his cot until 6, but he just screams until we get him up, unless I stay with him and then he will lie there, but still won’t sleep. He settles fine in the evening (mostly) and goes down between 6&7pm depending on when he woke from his nap. His nap is around 1-1.5 hours. I have tried a morning nap and also moved it to the afternoon but nothing works, I’m guessing it’s just one vicious cycle of overtiredness that I can’t break because he’s up so early… his awake time, wether morning or afternoon, is always going to be too long while he’s waking up at this time. I thought to give two naps to try and sort it, but he never seems to go for a second nap now as he’s not used to it. Help!
    I feel like I have been exhausted for two years solid!


  • Rabiya Iqbal

    Hiya,

    My son is 7 and a half months. From 3 months toll 6 months, he slept at midnight and woke up at 12 with 1 night feed during which he slept most of the time anyways. However, since he turned 6 months, he has been waking up at 10am instead. I don’t understand as he slept so well before. What could i do to ensure he sleeps longer please?
    Thanks!


  • Stacey

    Hi Heidi

    My daughter is 16 weeks, I watch her sleepy cues and she is always tired come the 60 minute mark. Is this normal? Or should I try extending her awake time gradually or should I still follow her cues? I can’t seem to get her to 3 naps because her wake windows are only an hour and she isn’t consolidating her naps still

    Thanks
    Stacey


  • Heidi

    Hi Alyna,
    That’s a good sign that she’s ready to drop to one nap. Her age is also a very common age to drop to one nap. I would check out the age appropriate awake windows for her age (4.5-6 hours) and create your daily schedule around then. Perhaps 7:30am wake 12:30-2:30pm nap and 7:30pm bedtime—give or take. You can always offer nap and/or bedtime slightly early as she’s transitioning and getting used to the new one nap schedule.


  • Heidi

    Hello Helena,
    I don’t think she has a large enough wake window from the start of the day until nap. If she wakes at 9am I would expect a 9pm bedtime. If you want an earlier bedtime, I would wake her earlier in the morning. That being said, if you want to keep the 9am wakeup ( I would love that late start!!!) I would offer nap 2-3:30/4pm and then bedtime 9pm. I do think it’s important to teach her to fall asleep independently at bedtime so that she can get herself back to sleep throughout the night without needing to be rocked and potentially overstimulated by contact in the night.


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