Oh how I wish I had known about awake windows before I had babies, it’s like the most simple thing that can make a HUGE difference to how your child sleeps in the day and therefore how well they sleep at night time.
So what is an awake window? Put in simple terms, it’s the time your child can stay awake before needing a sleep. It’s when they are biologically more tired and so putting them down within this window increases the chance they will settle quickly and stay asleep for longer.
There are SO many benefits to knowing your childs awake windows but the main one is they help you to keep on top of the dreaded overtiredness!
If the awake window is too small, your child will take short naps as they won’t be tired enough to take longer ones. If they are too long, they can also cat nap, be very unsettled in the evenings and have early morning wake ups as well as night wakes.
Let’s just explore this for a minute because lots of people are aware of their child being overtired, it’s a term that gets thrown around – A LOT. What people don’t realise is that it can totally be avoided without that much effort by using the awake windows.
When your child is overtired the hormone. Cortisol rises and makes it harder for them to go to sleep as it works against the sleepy hormone Melatonin. So they aren’t just being difficult fighting the sleep, biologically their brain is telling them to stay away and flooding their system with more of this non sleepy hormone so you’re basically fighting a losing battle. It also means they will wake lots when they eventually do fall asleep.
There are various signs most people area aware of for when your little one is needing a sleep. The problem with these are that often when baby is yawning it’s because they are beyond tired. So you see them rubbing eyes, crying, and think right off we go to bed but then they just won’t sleep. They are now overtired and you’re so confused because they showed all the signs of being ready for sleep.
Some children don’t even show signs of tiredness at all, which makes it even more important to understand what their awake windows are.
WHEN IS THE AWAKE WINDOW?
This varies by age, so it’s useful to have a guide, luckily I have guide with age appropriate awake windows from 4-12 months, click here to grab yours now.
As your child grows the windows get bigger so newborns for example will need more frequent naps. As the window gets bigger the number of naps decreases.
It’s KEY to get them to sleep within the awake window not at the end of the windows. Many people make this mistake where if the window is say 2.5 hours, they put them to sleep after 2.5 hours when your child is then starting to become overtired.
Knowing the awake windows makes your day predictable as it sets your childs naps, you can plan activities around when your child is more likely to be awake and not grumpy. It means you can set bedtime correctly as well, because if you know your child hasn’t napped well, you can get them to bed early.
Also, awake windows take the guesswork out of what's wrong with your little one, if you know when they need a sleep and they start to get grumpy then it means you know they’re tired and not hungry or teething.
You child will quickly fall into the awake windows, which means they are tired at the same time each day which is good for them and good for you. Time back in your day and a child that gets the correct day sleep for their age - win win baby!
Bedtime will be age appropriate which is usually before 7pm for most children under the age of 3 and in turn this will all help with night sleep.
Knowing when your child needs to drop a nap is hard enough but trying to do it when your child is exhausted makes it much harder. By using the awake windows you can help make that transition easier. For example when they drop the morning nap you can close the awake window from morning wake to lunch nap to ensure they don’t become overtired by lunch nap and sleep poorly for it. You can then increase the awake window again slowly over several weeks until they are able to mange longer.
When you understand their limitations around how long they can stay awake it allows you to help get them down before it’s too late and everything falls apart. Often when babies transition from 2 to 1 nap things can really fall apart if you’re not familiar with your childs awake window to start with.
ARE ALL CHILDREN THE SAME?
Awake windows are an average, the timing can vary either side by about 15 minutes. You’ll need to play around with them a little to see what works for your child.
What you’re looking for is that your child goes to sleep within 15 minutes of being put to bed.
If they are awake for much longer then they perhaps you've put them down too soon, if they are fighting it and struggling to sleep taking about 40-60 minutes to fall asleep you might need to shorten the gap slightly.
WAKE THEM UP
Waking your child up at the same time helps to set the awake window, so if you’re not already I strongly suggest you start to wake them every morning at 7am. You then work out the window from that morning wake, so if it’s 2.5 hours the next nap will be asleep by 9.30am for example.
I would advise waking them like this from as early as 3 months old to help get their awake windows settled for the entire day and have bedtime nice and early before 7pm.
The length of the nap is also important so if you let them sleep for hours in the morning they aren’t going to be tired for the next nap for a long time and you want to get most of their sleep in before 3pm or bedtime will end up being too late.
This is why I always recommend you wake your baby from the morning nap so that this is a short nap of 30-40 minutes so they can have a longer lunch nap of about 2 hours which will stay until they are 3 years of age.
So before the end of each awake window you want to try and have a little wind down to get baby ready for sleep. For the shorter naps you can have on the go this isn’t necessary but certainly once they hit about 5/6 months old you’ll want to make sure before the last 30 minutes of the window you’re starting to get baby into the sleep bag and getting the room nice and dark for all sleeps.
So instead of winging it and just waiting to see when your child seems tired, find out what their awake windows are. Put them down to sleep within that time period and you’ll find your little one settles quicker and sleeps for longer – who doesn’t want that?
This alone can be an absolute game changer for some parents, it can mean the difference between a baby that cat naps and one that sleeps for longer chunks in the day. It means you’ll have a baby that isn’t grumpy all day, cries when they wake from naps and screams in the evening.
It will give you predictability to your day knowing how many naps they need and when they need them and will give them an age appropriate bedtime that will help with night sleep.