What is a Wake Window?
As Sleeper Teachers®, one of the most important things that we teach families about infant and toddler sleep is the role that awake periods play in daily schedules, routines and sleep success. Depending on the age and stamina of your little one, they have an optimal amount of time they should be awake between sleep cycles (naps and night sleep). These awake periods are known as “wake windows”.
Determining Wake Windows
We like to explain to families that finding the “sweet spot” of your little one’s wake time stamina is both an art and a science. We have a great starting place, based on age, but each individual person (no matter their age) has specific sleep needs that also matter. Just like not all kids hit developmental milestones at exactly the same point, wake window optimization varies, too! Don’t worry — we are here to help and have a free wake window cheat sheet for you, so keep reading!
Once you determine what the ideal wake time is based on your baby’s age and individual response to being awake for that period of time, stick to following these windows (as opposed to set nap times or following all sleepy cues) as consistently as you possibly can. To prevent overtiredness, focus on ensuring your baby does not exceed their wake window.
It is important to note that wake windows extend in duration as a baby gets older. In other words, the older your baby gets, the more stamina they have to sustain longer periods of time awake. It can often feel like the moment you find a wake window working well, baby is ready to extend it. Welcome to parenthood, right?!
Signs of Wake Window Success
There are two main ways to determine if a wake window is appropriate for your child. We first recommend taking a look at how quickly (or slowly) sleep onset is occurring. This means keeping track of how long is takes your little one to fall asleep for a nap. Ideally, it takes about 10 minutes to transition from awake to asleep. If sleep comes quicker than that, it can mean that overtiredness was looming. Sleep onset that takes more than 10 minutes may indicate there wasn’t enough wake time between naps and baby went down undertired.
Once you have determined a wake window starting place based on age and time it takes for sleep onset, the length of naps can be a useful tool for finding a perfect wake window. When wake windows are spot on, little ones are able to string together multiple sleep cycles because their “sleep pressure” is just right.
When experimenting to find the perfect wake window for your infant, remember the story Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks had to investigate the porridge temperature, chair size AND bed firmness. Similarly, we need to do some detective work to find the best awake period for each little one.
What about Sleepy Cues?
Oftentimes our clients ask why their babies show sleepy cues far before the wake window is over. Many parents end up putting their babies down early, only to result in another dreaded catnap. Remember that without enough sleep pressure, it is unlikely that multiple sleep cycles will be linked together! Don’t fall into the same trap.
Adults yawn throughout the day, but it doesn’t mean we’re ready to hit the hay immediately each time it happens. To help your baby make it through their wake window, we recommend sunlight, fresh air, active play, and natural sugar (like fruit). These ideas are just a few that we offer to our clients who are attempting to grow their little one’s wake window.
Where Should We Start?
If you are feeling lost trying to find a wake window starting place for your infant, you aren’t alone.
Wake windows are complex, so we have created a FREE Wake Window Cheat Sheet to share with you. To have it sent directly to your email, click below!
Cheers to hacking wake windows for your little one, and cheers to sleep!
Brittney and the Sleeper Teachers®