What is an awake window?
Simply put, an awake window is the amount of time your baby is awake between sleeps. It is also referred to as 'awake time'. Some count awake time from the moment their baby opens their eyes. Personally I count awake time from the time you get your baby out of their cot or bassinet, as resting in their cot for a little while before you get them up (perhaps dozing on and off for a minute or two) is a lot less stimulating than being up and about.
To understand awake windows, it may help to know about sleep drive. Sleep drive is one of the main factors that determines when we fall asleep. The longer your baby is awake, the higher their sleep drive will be.
Awake windows include everything you do during your baby’s awake time until you put them back down for sleep; such as changing, feeding, playing, time outside, and even your wind-down routine. As newborn awake windows are so short, sometimes the awake time may only include a nappy change and feed before they need to go back down for a sleep - this is okay!
Why should I pay attention to awake windows?
Knowing your baby’s awake window can help your days and nights run smoothly as you will be putting them to bed when they are ready for sleep.
On the other hand, if you put them to bed when they are under-tired or overtired you could find yourself in the land of nap resistance, short naps, bedtime battles and early rising. Sound fun?
How do I know my baby's awake window?
It can be a bit of a balancing act to make sure they have a full awake window so they are tired enough to fall asleep easily, but not to the point of being overtired. The best time to put your baby down for sleep is before the end of their awake window AND when they are showing early tired signs.
Start with recommended awake windows based on developmental age (if your baby was born prior to 37 weeks, work off corrected/adjusted age.)
Awake windows are highly variable from child to child and will also depend on how many naps they are taking. For example, between 6-9 months and 12-18 months most babies will generally drop a nap, which leads to a wide awake window range according to where they are in the nap transition. Use this as a guide and see where your baby fits within the range.
Mood and general disposition are one way of assessing if you have the awake time right, as well as the quality and length of naps and how well your baby is settling for sleep. A healthy amount of time to take to fall asleep is around 5-20 minutes. If your baby is taking a long time to fall asleep but appears happy, it may be that they need more awake time. If they are taking a long time to fall asleep and are upset or unsettled, it could be that they need less awake time as an overtired baby will find it difficult to wind-down and go to sleep.
Of course it seems that just when you find the sweet spot, your baby’s sleep changes! As babies grow, their awake window does too. Babies are constantly developing, so you will want to re-evaluate their awake windows every month or so.
The shortest awake window is usually in the morning before the first nap, due to residual melatonin (the sleepy hormone). The longest awake window is usually before bed, and this sleep pressure will assist in achieving consolidated overnight sleep. At times you will need to adjust awake windows based on how your baby has napped. If your baby has woken early from a nap or had a nap of one sleep cycle or less (generally under 50 minutes), you may need to reduce awake time before their next sleep to avoid them becoming overtired. A good rule of thumb is: short nap = shorter awake window before the next sleep.
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