Wake windows are all the rage nowadays, but the concept is actually a fairly recent invention.
They are basically a way to predict sleepy cues, and also to help parents whose babies don’t reliably show sleepy cues. Even if your baby does show sleepy cues, wake windows can help you plan your day.
For example, if you know your baby is typically awake for 75 minutes after she wakes up in the morning and before she shows sleepy cues and is therefore ready to go down for her first nap, that means her wake window is roughly 75 minutes.
You can use this to plan your day. For instance, after I feed and diaper the baby, I know I can reliably put her in her baby gym to play for 30 minutes while I get her sister ready for school. But if I try to shower too, I’ll be dealing with an overtired baby who will be hard to get down for her nap. It'll be better to put her down in her crib first and then shower. She'll nap longer and I'll enjoy my shower more without a wailing baby.
Always go by sleepy cues first if your baby shows signs of being tired BEFORE the wake window is up.
But if your baby doesn’t show sleepy cues, use wake windows instead.
Wake windows generally start out shorter and get longer throughout the day.
For a baby in the three-month-range, for example, her wake windows might be 60-75-75-90 minutes. That is, 60 minutes from her morning wake time until the first nap, 75 minutes of awake time (including feeding and diapering!) between the first and second nap and again between second and third naps, and 90 minutes between the final nap of the day and bedtime.
Every baby is different in terms of sleep needs and wake windows so again, use your own baby's sleepy cues to predict her wake windows.
When should you NOT use wake windows?
I generally advise stopping them by 5-6 months. At this age, your baby should be ready to settle into a predictable clock-based schedule. That might look like:
7 am wake up
9 am nap
12 pm nap
7 pm bedtime
With older children it can be helpful to know, for example, that your child needs to be awake 4-6 hours after naptime and before bedtime, but since this is such a wide range of times, it’s not terribly useful. I find it easier to say, “don’t let your child nap past 3 pm” than to focus on the wake window.
If you'd like help getting your child's sleep schedule optimized so that the whole family sleeps well, set up a free consultation and we'll get your family well-rested in two weeks or less, guaranteed.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and certified life coach for parents. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.