April 25, 2024/Children's Health

What Are Baby Wake Windows? And How Long Should They Be?

Knowing how much time your baby should typically go between naps can help keep them on a more regular schedule

Caregiver leaning over happy baby

Baby sleep is a tricky thing. They need a lot of sleep. And yet it can be easy to wonder if your little one is sleeping enough. Or too much. Or if they’re taking too many naps. Or too few.

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It can feel like a fine line. One that a lot of parents are pretty sure they’re on the wrong side of.

Understanding baby wake windows can help give you a better idea of where your baby’s sleep patterns stand. And getting the hang of them can help you help your tot get the ZZZs they need.

“Understanding your baby’s wake windows can help you to start setting them up for a good sleep routine,” says pediatrician Kristin Barrett, MD.

What are wake windows exactly? And how long should wake windows be for newborns? For older babies? Dr. Barrett gives us a view into better understanding your baby’s sleep and wake times.

What are wake windows?

Wake windows are simply the amount of time that babies are awake between naps. They’re the time from the end of one sleep cycle to the beginning of the next. That means each wake window starts when your baby wakes up and ends when you put them down to nap.

Understanding how long your baby should be awake between naps is important. For them and for you.

Babies need sleep. (So do older kids and grownups!) It’s important for their growth and development — for their physical growth, their brain power and their emotional regulation.

So, understanding your baby’s wake windows can give you confidence that they’re getting the sleep they need to stay happy and healthy.

What’s more: A baby who sleeps well can make all the difference for the whole family.

“It’s important from a parental well-being perspective to be able to put your baby down, walk away and have some baby-free time, knowing that they’re safe and resting,” Dr. Barrett recognizes.

“It gives you a chance to get some sleep yourself. Or to take care of other tasks that need your attention. A more predictable schedule can help tremendously to shape your day and find a rhythm with this new reality of parenthood.”

Wake windows by age

Babies are individuals. So, one baby’s wake window may look a little different from another baby’s. And your baby’s wake windows may even look a little different from one day to the next. (Even one nap to the next.)

That’s normal.

Some babies are creatures of habit and may innately follow a very regular and fixed wake window schedule. For others, it’s more about having a ballpark idea of when they’ll be ready for their next nap.

That said, there are some accepted ranges of time you should expect your baby’s wake windows to be depending on their age. Let’s break it down:

Baby’s age
Birth to 1 month
Expected wake window duration
0.5 to 1 hour
1 to 3 months
Expected wake window duration
1 to 2 hours
3 to 4 months
Expected wake window duration
1.25 to 2.5 hours
5 to 7 months
Expected wake window duration
2 to 4 hours
7 to 10 months
Expected wake window duration
2.5 to 4.5 hours
10 to 12 months
Expected wake window duration
3 to 6 hours

“What you’re looking for is that each wake window will get longer with time,” Dr. Barrett notes.

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For example, a newborn may barely get through a diaper change and feeding before taking the first train to Snoozeville. But by the time they’re a few months old, they should be up long enough to eat, get a fresh diaper and have some playtime, too.

What to do during each wake window

A newborn baby’s wake window opens and shuts quickly. So, managing your time while they’re up can feel like a race against the clock. But as time goes on, you’ll be able to care for their needs and have more time bonding with your baby during each wake window.

Most important are the necessities, like feeding, diapering, tummy time and bonding activities, like holding baby and talking to them. As their wake windows get longer, you can add in some additional enriching activities, like going for walks, reading books, playing with toys and practicing new skills, like sitting and standing.

Ending a wake window

Understanding when a wake window is coming to a close is important for getting your baby set up for a successful snooze.

“The goal of understanding your baby’s wake windows is to help you prepare them to go down for a nap when they’re sleepy but still awake,” Dr. Barrett shares. “That’s how they can start to learn to self-soothe and fall asleep independently.”

And self-soothing is a critical skill for babies to get healthy sleep. And for the adults in their lives to take care of themselves as well. Most babies can start to learn self-soothing techniques starting around 3 months old.

Watch your baby’s cues to start to get a feel for when their wake window is hitting its limit.

“Each baby’s sleepy signals might be a little different. Common ones are things like yawning, rubbing their eyes, blinking more often or staring off. Generally, you’ll see the activity level decrease when they’re starting to get sleepy,” Dr. Barrett advises.

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Once you start figuring out what your baby’s individual signs are, check the clock and note the patterns.

For example, if your 4-month-old regularly starts showing signs of sleepiness two hours into a wake window, make it a routine to lay them down for a nap five minutes before that mark. That way you can be confident your baby is getting sleepy but hasn’t yet crossed the threshold of exhaustion. The perfect happy zone for transitioning to sleep on their own.

Added bonus: Understanding and responding to baby’s wake windows can help encourage safe sleep practices. (Remember, babies under 1 year old should sleep on their backs in a crib or bassinet, free from pillows, blankets, toys or bumpers.)

“Recognizing the end of a wake window can help babies fall asleep independently. That means you’re less likely to get stuck in the trap of relying on swings, bouncers, parents’ beds, couches or other less-than-safe practices,” Dr. Barrett points out.

A rested baby is a happy baby. So, watch their cues. Keep an eye on the clock. And know that while babies’ sleep needs may change quickly, sleep is vital to their development.

If you’re concerned about your baby’s sleep, talk with a children’s healthcare provider, like their pediatrician. They can help to make sure your baby is on track and offer personalized advice to help your baby sleep tight.

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