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  • Writer's pictureMary Cantwell

The Science and Art of Wake Windows

Updated: Jan 10

Are you trying to get your baby on a schedule, and it feels impossible?? Is your mind racing at 2am trying to figure what to do? Are some days predictable and other it’s all over the place? Do I do wake windows or a consistent timed schedule to help my baby sleep? Does it feel like we going down the rabbit hole of Dr Google? Information is wonderful but my goodness it can be overwhelming!

That first week with our newborn may feel like we are drinking from a fire hose. We are trying to balance feeding schedules, sleeping schedules, counting wet/dirty diapers, if we are breastfeeding, we are trying to get the hang of it and healing from birth. As the months roll by, it may feel like our babies sleep is still all over the place; some days more consistent and others are way off. We start consulting the oracle (aka Dr Google) to help our little ones get some much-needed sleep!

From a sleep consultant perspective, I use wake windows exclusively for newborns. For older babies (4 months and above), I recommend starting out with wake windows to help determine when they fall asleep best, and then naturally it morphs into a schedule that works well for your child.

Let’s chat through the wake window journey: What are wake windows, why are they important, decoding sleep cues that will help with wake windows, wake windows per age for your child and when is it time to starting tweaking/adjusting them.

What Are Wake Windows

Wake windows is the term commonly used for time your child is awake before they are sleep again. Sounds easy enough! Here is the thing: The window is a range for children, and they can fall on the high end or low end of that window so use it as a guide to see where your child falls asleep the best. An additional factor that can attribute to decoding wake windows is a child’s sleep cues and some children show minimal sleep cues that would indicate they are ready for sleep and we have to experiment and tweak the wake window for their age until we hit the sweet spot where they fall asleep within 15 minutes and connect 2 sleep cycles (sleep cycles are 30/45 minutes in length).

For the first 4 weeks, babies wake windows typically fall between 30-60 minutes which goes by in a blink of an eye! Between 4-12 weeks it falls between 60-90 minutes and as we round out babies fourth trimester it is between 1.5 to 2 hours. Holy smokes that is a ton of change in a short period of time. No worries, we will walk through how to manage the change!

Why Are Wake Windows Important

Wake windows are important to help your child stay rested and primed for sleep. When a child’s wake window is too long, they get overtired which makes it harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep. As they run through the day that overtiredness it builds up and it typically bleeds into a tough bedtime and possible night wake ups.

On the flip side if wake windows are too short, baby will have hard time falling asleep because their sleep pressure is not high enough and you will most likely stay on the short nap carousal. Once we hit the sweet spot for sleep, your child will have an easier time falling asleep and staying asleep longer.

Decoding Sleep Cues

Wake windows are the science part of sleep and sleep cues are the art. There are different tiers of what your child is communicating to you on how tired they are and being able to see them may help us hit that wake window sweet spot a bit quicker.

Phase 1 (I’m Tired): Zoning out, Pink eyebrows, looks away, turns head away

Phase 2 (Ready for Sleep): Couple of yawns, rubbing eyes/face, pulls on ears, hiccups, gets fussy

Phase 3 (Overtired): Arching back, pulling away, heightened crying, body rigid, hands in fists, hard to calm

We use wake windows in conjunction with their sleep cues as a way to communicate to use how tired they are and hit the sweet spot for them to fall asleep.

Wake Windows Per Age

Our goal with wake windows it to find where your child falls asleep best based off their age. Let’s get started on that!

First start with the recommended wake windows per age and work from there to see where they fall asleep easiest (shoot for falling asleep within 5/15 minutes once in crib) and aim for 1 hour (3 nap schedule, this would apply for nap 1 & 2). Daytime sleep cycles are 30/45 minutes in length and the connection of 2 cycle would give us at close to an hour which is a solid nap.

recommended wake windows

Next, lets hone into what your child is doing and communicating to us. If they are having a hard time falling asleep/staying asleep, the wake window is most likely to long and would start by moving WW earlier by 15 minutes). If they are falling asleep fairly well but taking short naps, then look to shoot for stretching the wake window (start with 15 minutes longer). When working with wake windows, be sure to include your sleep routine within the wake window.

When To Adjust Wake Windows:

If your baby is on a solid and consistent sleep rhythm and we start noticing they are having a tough time falling asleep or staying asleep when they once were fine (this does not apply if they are sick of course!), then it is time to look at adjusting them. Take a look at the recommended wake window for their age to see if they have transitioned to the next tier up or if we need to stretch them to the higher end of the wake window for their current age.

If you feel like your child’s wake windows are spot on but sleep still seems off, let’s set up a complimentary Discovery Call so that you can ask questions on how I serve families and I can get more information on what is happening sleep wise.

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