How do wake windows help your baby sleep?
Waketimes, wake windows, awake windows are all buzzwords that seem to be mentioned frequently on parenting Facebook pages or in mom groups. They are often described as the key to your baby getting sleep and can be suggested as preferable to a rigid schedule by many parents. But what exactly are wake windows, and what makes them so important? Elizabeth King, professional sleep consultant and founder of Sleep Baby Consulting, is going to share what they are, how they work, and when and why you should focus on them to help your baby get the best sleep possible.
What are baby waketimes?
Waketimes, or wake windows, describe how long your baby is awake between their naps. They start very small in those newborn months and grow as your baby grows. It is also important to note that these wake windows include feeding times. They start when your baby’s nap is over and end when they start their next nap, including the time it takes them to eat.
As a newborn, your baby’s waketime will be very short. It might even be just the amount of time that it takes to feed them! Newborn babies need lots of sleep, and feeding takes a lot of their energy. It is completely fine if your baby is ready for a nap right after they finish their feed and get a good burp. As your baby grows, you will notice their waketime lengthening gradually and their naps consolidating as well.
How do you know how much awake time your baby needs?
Your baby will give you signals (we call them sleepy cues) that tell you exactly how much waketime they need. In their first few months of life, you want to put your baby down for a nap or bed as soon as you see any one of these sleepy signs. They are things like:
- Rubbing their eyes
- Getting red around the eyes
- Staring off into space
- Snuggling up with you
One sign that is not included in this list is crying. That’s because crying is a signal of an overtired baby. If you are waiting until your baby is fussy before putting them down, they may already be past that ideal point of sleepiness.
This can be hard because some babies don’t show many sleepy signs, especially at first or if they are already overtired. In that case, keep an eye on the clock and note how much awake time they have had when they start to get fussy before a nap. Then shorten their wake window by 5-10 minutes and see if that helps them go down more easily! They might not show any signs of being tired, but getting them down before they are overtired will support a longer nap.
Why do we use wake windows?
Getting your child’s waketime windows right can help you strike the perfect balance between overtired and under tired and allow your baby to take a beautiful, long nap. Overtiredness will cause it to be hard for a baby to fall asleep and stay asleep, which leads to difficult and short naps. Undertiredness is less of a concern but can also cause napping difficulties, especially in older babies. Overtiredness can also build up, leading to what we describe as a sleep debt - a baby who has been overtired for a while and is “in the red” when it comes to sleep and needs to catch up.
Some parents also prefer waketime windows to a rigid schedule. It can feel easier to follow wake windows and be a more organic approach to mapping out your baby’s day. Instead of fitting your baby into a schedule, you’re learning what your baby needs and following those cues. If you’re starting your day at the same time each day, this timing will begin to be very predictable, which makes life easier for parents and babies alike.
One last note, there does come a time where we need to start following the clock more than our babies' cues. As babies grow, we need them to build up appropriate sleep pressure to take a great nap. This shift usually happens around seven months old. At that age, while we are still aware of their waketime windows and sleepy cues, we start to fade into more consistent, set naptimes. A sleep consultant can be a great resource to help you build a schedule that fits your baby and your family!
Elizabeth King is the founder and CEO of Sleep Baby Consulting based in Charlotte, NC. She started Sleep Baby out of a love for families and seeing how much more they enjoy each other when everyone is well-rested! Sleep Baby has worked with thousands of families across the globe and has an incredible team of consultants located across the US. When she’s not talking with families about sleep, Elizabeth loves getting outside with her husband and three boys hiking, swimming, or taking trips to the beach. She and the Sleep Baby Team would love to help you learn more about how your baby can start getting better sleep tonight!
Note: Guest blog posts are shared for informational and educational purposes and may not reflect the official policy or position of SlumberPod (parent company, Dovetail Essentials, LLC), our employees, and/or contractors.