If there is one piece of information I wish I could give to all new mothers, it would be about awake windows.
In the newborn months, there is so much learning between a mother and her baby, and while it’s a beautiful time, it can also be stressful as the family adapts to a new routine.
When my oldest was born, it was a tough period. My husband and I were living with my parents at the time, and we had very little space. On top of that, it was very much life with a newborn: nights were rough, nursing was tough, and we were trying to figure everything out as new parents.
While many new parents will find it unrealistic to create and stick to a schedule when their baby is a newborn, it can be extremely helpful to have some routines in place. Not only can routines be helpful for your baby, but it can be helpful for you as you navigate a brand new world.
So how can you create age-appropriate routines while ensuring your child gets all the sleep they need?
Awake windows, my friend.
What are awake windows?
Simply put, awake windows are your child’s wake time between periods of sleep. It’s the amount of time your child is likely able to handle being awake before needing to be put down for a nap.
As your child grows, they will generally be able to stay awake longer in between naps.
Here’s a chart showing awake windows for ages 0-24 months:
To break the chart down: a 0-3 month old baby can handle being awake for 40-90 minutes in any one stretch of time. Once they reach that range, they’ll likely be ready for a nap.
You’ll notice that each age group has a range of time. Here’s why: Your child is a unique human and not a robot.
Babies aren’t programmed to go to sleep after being awake for a set time. Some babies will need a little longer awake windows, and some will need shorter awake windows. This range allows you to tune in to your child’s unique needs and respond to them.
Why are awake windows so important?
Awake windows, along with your child’s cues, help you determine when your child is ready for sleep.
However, as your child continues to develop, you won’t always be able to rely on their sleepy cues to give you notice that they’re getting tired. Instead of slowly becoming less engaged with what’s going on, your baby is likely to remain engaged in activities, become overstimulated, and miss giving you signs that they’re getting tired.
And once your baby is overtired, they can become fussy and clingy, making it harder for them to fall asleep.
Awake windows help you stay ahead of that “point of no return.”
If you know that your child can handle being awake for about 2 hours, then around that 2-hour mark, you can take your child into a different room to begin their nap routine, which helps prevent them from becoming overstimulated and overtired.
On the flip side of this, following awake windows ensures your child is getting a good amount of awake time during the day, which is just as important for their development and sleep.
If your child isn’t quite ready for bed but you put them down before their awake window range, they may fall asleep, but chances are, they’ll have a shorter nap. You want enough sleep pressure to build up before putting your child down for sleep so that they will be able to have a good, long nap.
Awake windows give you some predictability within the day instead of worrying that you’ll miss sleepy cues or put your baby down too early.
When can you pivot away from awake windows?
For the first 3 months, your baby will likely feed and sleep on demand – whenever they want. Watching your child’s awake windows to ensure your baby isn’t staying awake too long can be helpful.
After 4 months, you can begin to shift away from awake windows and lean more towards a clock-based schedule. While there is no certain age you need to do this by, once your child has a better sleep schedule and good routines have been established, it might be easier for you to know at certain times, your little one will take a nap.
Generally, you’ll see this happen quite naturally.
Your baby may take naps at the same time each day, wake up from naps after a specific time, and go to bed around the same time each night. Once you notice those patterns, it’s a good time to make that jump.
Some parents will find that they prefer a clock-based schedule as it allows greater flexibility in activities. For instance, if your baby takes naps each day at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., it can be easier to plan events out of the house, as you know exactly when your baby will be going to sleep.
But what about awake times? I don’t want my baby to become overtired!
Remember that your child’s awake time has a range for a reason. Even if your child has an off day and they wake up earlier than normal, keeping a clock-based schedule is okay, as there’s still some wiggle room in their awake times.
Having this information about awake windows can be a powerful tool as you begin the journey of helping your child get better sleep.
And if your baby is between 0-16 weeks and you’re wanting a little more help with their sleep, we have a newborn sleep guide that is the perfect solution for you. Grab it here today!