Inside: Read the ultimate guide on how to follow baby wake windows and the secret to optimizing sleep using tired cues to build a strong sleep foundation for longer, better naps
Have you ever heard – “Make sure to follow your baby’s wake windows”?
Sometimes baby sleep advice can be very overwhelming. After all, every baby is different!
As a new mom, I was bombarded with baby sleep guidance— “don’t bed share”, “don’t let the baby fall asleep eating”, “wake your baby after 3 hours of sleep”, “lay down drowsy not sleeping”…
I felt like I was in an avalanche of information. And the worst part was, I didn’t know what advice was wrong and what was actually useful.
But after walking through my own journey of motherhood, I found my own groove. I found my rhythm of parenting where I was able to decipher what advice actually mattered and what didn’t.
One baby sleep tip that held true was being aware of wake windows. But I found a twist that’s even better!
The key is to partner your baby’s wake window with their tired cues for better, longer sleep.
This means you get a full nap time to catch your breath, mama 🙂
Not too sure how to do this? That’s okay! I’ll walk you through the step-by-step guide to baby wake windows to help you maximize those wake times and promote better sleep.
Let’s jump in…
How to Follow Baby Wake Windows Using Cues
What is a wake window?
So, what exactly is a wake window and why is it so important?
A wake window is simply the amount of time your baby can be up before needing another nap. Or the stretch of time your baby is a wake in between naps. A wake window normally starts from the time your baby wakes to the time they go back to sleep.
Knowing the amount of time your baby can stay awake in between naps at every stage of their growth is the little golden secret to better naps!
Understanding your baby’s wake window can help you offer your baby a nap before they get overtired. It can also prevent your baby from being undertired, which often leads to short naps.
As your baby grows, their sleep needs change. When your baby is a newborn, they sleep all the time with very little wake time. But as they grow, their naps consolidate and the amount of sleep they need during the day decreases.
That’s why a 1 month old can have 5 naps and a one year old can have 2 naps.
As your baby grows, their naps decrease and their wake windows increase.
But how do you know your baby’s wake window?
Wake windows are usually based on your baby’s age. The recommended wake windows are helpful to know the approximate time your baby can be awake before needing another nap. This can help prevent crankiness, fussiness, short naps, fragmented naps, and overall poor sleep.
Here are the recommended wake windows and naps by age:
1-4 Months Old
- Number of Naps: 4
- Wake Window: 30-60min
5-8 Months Old
- Number of Naps: 3
- Wake Window: 2-3 hours
9-12 Month Old
- Number of Naps: 2
- Wake Window: 2.5-3.5
12-18 Months Old
- Number of Naps: 2 or 1 (17m+)
- Wake Window: 3-4 hours
And while it’s useful to the “recommended wake window” times are helpful, it doesn’t have to be strictly followed.
The most important factor is—knowing your baby’s tired cues.
Instead of just following the recommended wake window- use it as a guide for your baby’s age.
Partnering your baby’s tired cues with the recommended wake window is the optimal way to ensure you are offering your baby naps based on their exact signals and stage of development.
How to know your baby’s wake window
To know YOUR baby’s wake window, simply start to watch your baby’s tired cues about 30 minutes before the minimum time of the wake window. That way, you are aware of your baby is tired before the wake window and you don’t miss their “nap window” (the time you give your baby the nap before they become overtired)
For example, if your baby is 7 months old and is supposed to have a 2.5 hour wake window then around 2 hours from their last nap you would watch for any tired cues. If your baby getting a little slower, maybe staring off into space or starting to slow blink, then you would begin your nap routine and put your baby down to sleep.
That means, at a typical 2.5 hour wake window age, your baby’s wake window is really only 2 hours.
And that’s okay!
But if you were only following the recommended guide, then you would have kept your baby up for a half hour longer which means a fussier baby, a frazzled mom and possibly a poor nap.
Related Reading: 0-12 Months Sample Baby Schedule Routines
Understanding Your Baby’s Tired Cues
The secret to how to follow baby wake windows is to follow your baby’s tired cues- not just their wake windows.
If you just follow a wake window, you can put your baby down for a nap either too early or too late which will lead to poor, unrested, short naps and a very fussy, irritable baby– not good!
Even though your baby cannot fully talk to you yet, they are always communicating with you. Whether by sounds and coos, or screams and flailing arms.
Your baby communicates with you through their body and sounds. And it’s essential to know how to read those communication cues.
What is your baby trying to tell you with their cues? How do you read those cues?
By focusing and paying attention to your baby’s
- cries, coos & sounds
- facial expressions,
- hand movements,
- mouth movements,
- eye patterns,
- overall body movement
All of these things can help you know more about your baby and what they need.
Here are some examples of communication cues that your baby might do when she/he is tired- I call them tired cues.
- Slow blinking
- Red eyebrows
- Relaxed hands
- Reaching for sleep associations (blanket, pacifier, lovey, crib,)
- Resting head on your shoulder
Some OVERtired cues include irritability, crying, fussiness, and hyperactivity. These signs could be that your baby is overstimulated and overtired, and their body is trying to process being awake when they should be sleeping.
If you offer your baby a nap when they are showing initial tired cues, you prevent can prevent your baby from becoming overtired!
Creating a wake window and nap schedule customized to YOUR baby
When you pair your baby’s individual tired cues with the wake window age recommendations, you are able to figure out your baby’s sleep needs and tailor a daily nap schedule based on your baby’s needs.
As your baby gets older, you will continue to watch for their tired cues and shift the wake window to accommodate their growth and development.
For example, if your baby is 9 months old and is starting to show signs of dropping their third nap, then you would begin to slowly elongate the wake window and watch for tired cues at a later time. Instead of 2.5-hour wake windows, maybe it’s time for 3-hour wake windows.
Because you are already in tune with your baby’s cues, it will be easier to spot when a developmental change is coming or happening.
Every change in your baby’s routine will be in a gradual pattern. If they’re dropping a nap, you’ll slowly add time to wake windows to fill the time they are awake that they normally would be sleeping.
How to Follow Baby Wake Windows FAQ
Does the wake window include feeding?
Yes, the wake window includes your baby’s full feeding as well as any activities they normally do while they are awake. Anything your baby does in between the time they wake and go back to sleep fills the wake window.
How long should baby’s first wake window be?
In my experience, this wake window is usually the shortest. It’s almost as if your baby’s first nap is an extension of their nighttime sleep and they can’t stay awake very long during that first window of being awake.
The first wake window can be quite of a mystery. Every baby is different.
You might notice that your baby’s wake window is 30-45 minutes shorter than the recommended wake window for their age. This is normal!
That’s why is essential to know your baby’s tired cues and follow their signals letting you know when they are tired.
For a 2-3 hour wake window, my daughter’s first wake window was only about an hour and 10 minutes. As she got older, this wake window got a bit longer but it was always substantially shorter than the other wake windows.
On the flip side, the last wake window tends to be a bit longer as your baby prepares for nighttime sleep.
Help! My baby doesn’t follow the wake window time
It’s perfectly normal for your baby to fall outside of the normal recommended wake window chart based on their age. Some babies have high sleep needs and need more sleep support and some babies have low sleep needs.
There is NO right or wrong when it comes to your baby sleeping. (As long as they are sleeping safely).
The most important thing you can do is follow your baby’s individual tired cues. When you know the signs of being overtired and under-tired, you can always gauge when your little one needs sleep. Whether it matches the “wake window chart” or not.
Every baby is unique and every baby’s sleep needs are unique. That’s why there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to sleep.
If your baby doesn’t fall follow typical wake window times and if they are showing signs of poor sleep, reevaluate your daily routine- ensuring they are having full feedings, are reaching milestones, and filling the time they are awake with stimulating activities that promotes growth. Be sure to do a nap routine every time you offer your baby a nap to signal to your baby that it’s time to sleep.
Their tired cues told you that they need sleep and the nap routine tells them that sleep is coming. These signals work together to promote better sleep!
If your baby is having thriving days and the shorter/longer wake windows aren’t affecting their sleep, then you have a happy baby!
What age do you start following wake windows?
Remember, wake window recommendations do not have to be strictly followed. The key is to watch for your baby’s tired cues within the wake window range depending on your baby’s age.
It’s more important to understand your baby’s tired cues so you can accurately understand their specific wake window time.
Because you aren’t following an “exact” window of time, you can begin watching for tired cues and being aware of wake windows even when your baby is a newborn.
Your newborn can begin following a very loose routine as early as 4 weeks and if you are being mindful of their wake windows even at this early age, you can build a sleep foundation based on your baby’s cues. Allowing you to further understand your little one and deepen your connection.
Wake windows do become more prevalent as your baby grows out of the newborn phase and begins forming an overall daily nap schedule.
An encouraging note about baby sleep-
You cannot make your baby fall asleep. That’s right!
Truth is, you have no control over your baby sleeping or not. What you do have control over is offering them a nap. Meaning, making sure they are full, diaper changed, and in an environment conducive to sleep (dark curtains, sound machine, swaddle, etc.). It is up to your baby to take the nap!
Sleeping is a biological function that your baby is learning as they are trying to get used to this big, new world, just like learning to roll over crawl, and walk. They are adjusting to life outside of the womb and every week they are developing new skills.
Sleep is one of those functions! As your baby continues to develop, they will undergo several sleep levels. Enter things like the dreaded 4-month sleep regression haha. These are just signs that your baby is growing and developing new skills.
Some babies walk before the “average age”, some babies walk right at the “average age”, and others walk after. That’s why it’s called average- it can be before, during, or after and still be perfectly normal.
You can encourage your baby, support your baby, and set your baby up for sleep success but it is ultimately your baby who will learn how to sleep.
If you have a concern about your baby’s sleep patterns, always talk to your pediatrician first and you can consult a sleep consultant that fits your family’s needs.
Grab your FREE Baby Wake Windows Cheatsheet
All of this information can seem very overwhelming and can be a lot to process all at once. To help you save this awesome information and implement it on your own time, I created a Baby Wake Windows & Cues Cheatsheet for you!
It’s the perfect resource that you can refer back to and help you implement these baby sleep tips at your own pace.
The Baby Wake Windows & Cues Cheatsheet includes:
- All of the highlights of this post including tips about tired cues and wake windows
- Wake window chart & recommended naps by age
- Routine Template
- Daily Baby Tracker
Download the free PDF now and save it right to your device! Use the form below to get it sent straight to your best email address 🙂
RECAP– How to Follow Baby Wake Windows and Tired Cues
Some babies can only stay awake for a shorter amount of time before becoming overtired and cranky. And some babies have lower sleep needs and can be awake longer.
That’s why it’s essential to know YOUR baby’s tried cues and signals– so you can offer them a nap when they are communicating to you that they need it most.
Partnering your baby’s wake window with their tired cues will help you better understand your baby’s sleep needs, offer a nap at the optimum time and encourage better, longer, restful sleep for your baby
If you’re struggling with short naps or bad naps, try revisiting the wake window and honing in on those tired cues.