What are "Wake windows" and why are they important?

Preventing your child from getting over tired by paying attention to how long they have been awake. How to fine tune your child's ideal schedule.


There are really two things parents must know about sleep training: 1 – be consistent!! And 2 – prevent your child from getting over tired! If you can do those two things, you are good to go!!

Kids, as with all people, have a natural rhythm when it comes to sleep. Our bodies produce hormones to keep us up and running during the day, and different ones to help us rest at night. It’s all about timing.

Basic Sleep science


So, what happens when your little one stays awake past the time when these natural cues to sleep are activated? Well, the body assumes there’s a reason that it hasn’t been allowed to get to sleep, assumes there’s a need to stay awake, and fires up those daytime hormones again. This is basically the FIGHT in “Fight or flight” – adrenalin has kicked in.


And that’s when the trouble starts.


Because once those signals to stay awake get fired up, they’re tough to shut down - and baby’s already tired. Less sleep leads to more daytime hormones, and the cycle perpetuates itself.


Knowing your baby’s sleepy signs


The best way to prevent this situation is to get baby to sleep before they get past that window of opportunity. But babies, especially newborns, are a little bit cryptic when it comes to signaling when they’re ready for bed. However, if you know what to look for, it can work wonders in assessing the right time to put baby down.


Some good signs to watch for include tugging at their ears, or rubbing their eyes and nose, arching their back, and turning their face into your chest.


Those are all strong signs that your baby’s ready for bed, but they’re also easily mistaken for hunger signs. How do you tell the difference? Keep an eye on the clock noting the last time your baby ate.


It’s all about the wake windows


When E was born, I was texting my friend and veteran mama (somewhat obsessedly) about getting E on a schedule. When E was one month, my friend said “Just pay attention to what she is telling you.” Boy was she right.


A child’s wake window is how much awake time they can handle between bouts of sleep. And, naturally, this will extend as your baby grows and develops. When E was little I was so focused on a schedule when I really should have been paying attention to the wake windows. This makes a baby's schedule structured but not rigid.

Newborns can usually only handle about an hour of awake time in a stretch, so make a note of the time when they wake up and set a reminder or make a mental note that they need to be headed down for a nap around 60 short minutes after that. Mama, I know you are tired so literally write it down or set a timer on your clock. Also, remember that this includes feeding so you may only really be engaging with your baby for about 30 minutes.


Wake Window Cheat Sheet


Newborn - 6 weeks: 45 minutes to an hour

6 weeks – 3 months: 1 hour – 1 hour 45 min

3 – 6 months: 1.5 – 2.5 hours

6 – 9 months: 2 – 3 hours

9 – 12 months: 3 hours

12 – 18 months: 3 – 4 hours

18 – 36 months: 4-5 hours


What happens when my child gets overtired?


Have you ever been so tired you couldn’t sleep? Yup, this. The sudden influx of those daytime hormones can actually make humans quite manic – we often call this a “second wind.” If you miss your child’s “sweet spot” they might seem to be super happy and giggly for a while (just the opposite of what you would expect from a child who needs to get to bed), but before too long you’ll see their mood make a big shift into crankiness. Then, you’ve probably got a bedtime battle on your hands.


Conclusion


I know that this schedule can sound difficult for parents who aren’t used to it. But I can assure you, no client I’ve ever worked with has ever come back to me after implementing it and said, “I have a feeling that baby’s getting too much sleep.”


So give it a try for a couple of weeks and see how it works. I can almost guarantee you’ll be seeing a happier baby!


After reading this, what do you think you will try when fine tuning your child's schedule? Drop me a note in the comments!



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