There is so much conflicting information floating around the internet surrounding baby sleep! How long should your baby nap? How do you know if your baby is over tired? what is the magical cure to constant night waking? But did you know that one of the key factors in facilitating AMAZING sleep, is knowing the correct baby awake windows?

Like all other areas of baby sleep, there are a lot of different recommendations on baby awake windows. As a sleep consultant I often find that babies with catnapping or night sleep issues are having either far too little or far too long awake windows. Both are detrimental to their overall sleep.

So, what is a baby awake window?

Simply put, an awake window is the time between when your baby wakes from a nap and goes back to sleep.

Why are they important?

Awake windows are crucial to good sleep, this is because they help to manage “sleep pressure”. Now I know sleep pressure sounds like sleep consultant jargon and doesn’t mean much to most people, but it is actually very important to understand it. Sleep Pressure is a term coined by Dr. William Dement, founder of the National Sleep Foundation, that is used to explain our inherent drive to sleep.

In order to revitalise ourselves, most adults are able to stay awake all day and then sleep well all through the night. They take of all of the physical, mental and emotional events of the day, learn new things, develop new skills and then rest their bodies through the night. Babies don’t quite have the capacity to do that.

Babies can only carry so much of a mental/physical and emotional load, before they need to sleep it all off and refresh. Too much awake time can make for a very overwhelmed, stressed baby. An over stimulated and overtired baby will struggle to settle and stay settled. They will likely wake frequently feeling wired and uncomfortable. Then the vicious catnapping cycle begins.

On the flip side of that, they do need to be awake long enough to actually build up enough sleep pressure to sleep well. A baby who is under-tired will most likely catnap or wake frequently in the night simply because they haven’t had enough wake time to experience the world around them!

Do awake windows stay the same?

No, awake windows will grow with your baby. It is ludicrous to think that a 6-month-old will have the same nap requirements as a sleepy newborn. Most Newborns need 4-5 solid naps a day in order to function well. A 6-month-old baby, on the other hand, will usually only need 3 naps and far more awake time. A 9-month-old usually only needs two naps and even more awake time!

How do I know the best sleep window for my baby?

Below is an awake windows table to use as a guide! These awake windows are a good overall recommendation; however, some babies will require less or more awake time depending on when and for how long they are napping.

Age of baby/ childRecommended awake period between sleeps
NB(1-3) weeksAge of baby/ child
3-6 weeks1.25- 1.5 hours
6-9 weeks1.5- 1.75 hours
9-12 weeks1.75 hours
12-16 weeks1.75- 2 hours
16-18 weeks2 hours
5 months2.25 hours
7 months +2.5 hours (many babies drop from 3 to 2 naps at this time. Therefore, there is a 4-hour awake window between end of last nap and bedtime)
15-18 monthsMorning nap will disappear around this age, bedtime will need to be 4 hours from end of last nap
18 months- 2 yearsBy this age your toddler will only be having one nap a day, bedtime will need to be 4.5 hours from end of last nap
2- 3 years5.5 hours, 1hr nap (roughly) 5.5 hours between end of last nap and bedtime. Most children will completely drop day naps by age 3.

Do you have a baby who catnaps or wakes frequently through the night? If you are needing a little support Dream to Grow is always happy to help you figure out the perfect routine for your little one. Just pop over to our enquiry page and send me a message! Alternatively email me at courtney@dreamtogrowsleepconsultant.com.au