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 

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- Sarah Tharia

I’m a little confused about wake windows as baby gets older. My daughter is about to be 11 months but i noticed if she sleeps till her regular wake time of 7:30.. bedtime ends up being too late.. do i offer a set bedtime as they near one year old? because we aim to keep bedtime 7/730 but some days ends up being 830 which is too late in my opinion, and i know wake windows will only continue to get longer so how do we deal with bedtime?

- Stacey

My 13 month old has started staying awake longer between naps pushing bed time later and later. He will go down for first nap 3.5 hours after being awake ( not necessarily showing tired signs), next nap is4.5-5 hours wake time. I think I should try and transition to one nap. He wakes between 545-7, changes daily. How would you suggest making the transition . Thanks in advance

- Heidi Lovens

Hello Shannon!
I would look at their overall schedule and evaluate how much daytime sleep your little Bub is getting. At this age, I would expect two naps totaling 3 hours give or take. I would also think about the way Bub is falling asleep for naps and bedtime and what you offer to get them back to sleep at night.
I offer free 15 minute sleep consultations if you’d like to chat more specifically :)

- Heidi Lovens

Hello Tara!
I would suggest capping his nap or pushing bedtime a little later to give him a slightly larger awake window if it’s taking him that long to fall asleep at bedtime. You can start with 1.5 hour naps and see if that’s helpful.
You could also try sitting in a chair at their door so he can’t run out. I also love positive reinforcements when kiddos stay in bed. That could be with your words, a sticker chart, daily/weekly fun incentives to stay in bed :)

- Heidi Lovens

Hello Christina!
At 2 years old, the awake windows are 5-6 hours. If you’re able to adjust naptime, I would suggest 12-2pm nap and and continuing to offer a 7:30/7:45pm bedtime to allow a little more awake time in the evening.
If your schedule doesn’t allow for the nap to be earlier, you can always cap the nap at 2pm or adjust bedtime a little later to 7:45/8pm to allow for that same larger awake window.

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