What is a wake window? Why is it important?
Many families use Wake Windows to plan a baby's daily sleep schedule. When a baby is under four months old, following wake windows can help you determine when it's time to offer a baby a place to sleep. And, when you offer a baby a place to sleep at the exact moment they are nearing the end of a wake window, they will typically fall asleep more quickly because you have found the pinnacle window of drowsiness. If you wait too long to offer a baby sleep, they can become overtired. When a human is overtired, their body pumps adrenaline to help them stay awake. This adrenaline results in an incredibly fussy baby (who, it's sad to say, is much more challenging to get to fall asleep).
So, many families follow wake windows because it makes the daily routine of a baby more manageable and less time-consuming overall. And, we all like that.
Why should I follow wake windows?
Following wake windows makes it easier for families to put an infant to sleep. When you follow wake windows correctly, you can spend 10 minutes getting your infant to sleep instead of 20-45 minutes. That can add up to an average of 4 hours of time back in a day.
How do I calculate a wake window?
A "wake window" is the amount of time your baby has been awake.
To calculate a wake window, take the time between the last time your baby woke up and the next time they fell asleep. So if your baby woke up at noon and now fell asleep at 12:45, your baby's current wake window is 45 minutes.
Should I follow wake windows?
Whether you should follow wake windows depends on your baby's developmental age. Wake windows should be followed when a baby is under 4 months from their due date. After 4 months from their due date, wake windows are not as effective as a flexible clock-based schedule.
Wake windows are no longer appropriate past 4 months because your baby develops a section in their brain called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus. The Suprachiasmatic Nucleus establishes a baby's 24-hour body clock. When a mammal has a body clock, it's more effective to offer sleep according to that body clock instead of using a wake window.
Suppose your baby is under four months developmentally (which means four months from their due date instead of their birth date). In this case, they do not have a 24-hour body clock. Instead, they live life on an extended timeline. While your baby lives life on a timeline, they go through a pattern of being hungry -> being awake -> being sleepy -> sleeping. Using a wake window timer can help you know when to offer your baby sleep so that it's easier to get them to fall asleep.
Suppose your baby is over four months developmentally. In this case, they have a 24-hour body clock. Signals from the sun, food intake, and temperature fluctuations program human body clocks. The brain interprets the signals and instructs the body's hormones on what to do at different times of the day. This process creates what's called a circadian rhythm. When sleep is offered to a baby at the exact times that the circadian rhythm expects sleep, the baby will go to sleep more easily and sleep longer.
So, you should only use wake windows until your baby is 4 months old developmentally (the date from their due date).
How do I find my baby's wake windows?
To find your baby's wake windows, average them over three days.
When a baby is under 4 months, all of your wake windows should be the same because they don't have a 24-hour body clock. Track when your baby starts and ends their naps and calculate the duration of wakefulness between these sleep sessions. Then, take the median of those values and use that as your wake window.
When a baby is under 3 months, their wake windows can change every week, so you will want to recalculate them reasonably often as their body grows (weekly or every other week).
Alternatively, you can use a baby nap schedule like the Lovebug App to do all of the calculations and reminders. The Wake Window guidance is broad and changes every 2 weeks in the first few months of life. Our Schedule plan is perfect for families looking for the tools to manage wake windows, but don't necessary need all of the video lessons and advice that the Lovebug Essentials plan has to offer.
When should you start using a wake window?
You can start using wake windows to calculate your baby's schedule at birth, but many families typically begin following a wake windows nap schedule as soon as they see the first social smile. The first social smile typically occurs around 6-8 weeks past their due date and signals that your baby now interprets the world around them. When this happens, they will be more curious about their environment and start to fight the drowsiness feeling. That's when you want to start bringing your baby closer to sleep with wake windows.
How long should my baby's last wake window before bedtime be?
Only use wake windows to find your baby's nap schedule when your baby is under four months old. At that point, all of the wake windows should be the same length.
Some programs will use the concept of wake windows to help you calculate a clock-based schedule. In that case, they make the last wake window longer to adjust for the period of wakefulness all humans have in the early evening. It's not using the concept of wake windows. Instead, they modify the wake windows concept to create a clock-based nap schedule. This modified approach to wake windows can result in early morning wakings, bedtime battles, split nights, or short naps. Use this approach with caution.
What are the Wake Windows by Age?
When your baby is developmentally less than 4 weeks old, their wake window should be between 45 and 60 minutes. It sounds CRAZY, I know. They wake up; they take 30-45 minutes to feed, and then it’s time to sleep again! It won’t always be like this.
Under 1 month: Wake window = 45-60 minutes.
1-2 months: Wake window = 45-75 minutes.
2-4 months: Wake window = 45-90 minutes.
At 2 months: total sleep should be around 16 hours, with the majority during the day.
4 months: At 4 months, your baby will graduate from wake windows and move to clock times because now your baby has a body clock. YAY! At this point, your baby’s body wants 3-4 naps per day. At 4 months, total sleep should be around 14 hours with ~25% during the day.
Somewhere around 8 months (every baby is a little different), you'll transition to 2 naps. At 8 months, total sleep should be around 14 hours with ~20% during the day.
Somewhere around 15 months (every baby is a little different), you'll transition to 1 nap. At 15 months. total sleep should be around 13 hours with ~15% during the day.
And at 3-4 years old, it goes to 0 naps - which saddens a lot of people!
When your baby is under 12 weeks, I want you to really focus on timing when your baby is offered sleep. Offering sleep means moving them to a womb-like environment and soothing them. You can watch the video series on creating the ideal sleep environment for your baby here.
The ranges above are broad, and the amount of time your baby is able to stay awake will change about every 2 weeks. Our Schedule is the perfect choice for those families who are looking for wake window guidance, but don't need the daily sleep advice that our Lovebug Essentials plan offers. When you log your little one's sleep, the Lovebug app will calculate your wake windows for you, and will notify you when it is time to start your routine.