Baby Wake Times, What Are They?
Baby wake times describe the interval between when your child wakes from one sleep period and falls asleep for the next one. Having the right wake times for your baby can make or break how easily he falls asleep for naps and at bedtime! The correct wake time length varies from child to child, but is the length of time that your child can stay happily awake before needing to sleep again.
Baby wake times start off super short at 20-45 minutes for newborns and increases to 3-5 hours by 1 year and 4-6 hours by 2 years of age.
Why does wake time matter?
Young children need an appropriate amount of time awake and time asleep in order to grow and develop in a healthy manner. During sleep, your child’s brain stores and sorts all of the new things he is learning; particularly during his morning nap and at night. His body also heals and recharges; particularly during his afternoon and at night. Also, growth hormone is secreted during sleep, primarily at night. Did your baby seem bigger this morning than when you put him down for bed? He does his best growing at night! Having an appropriate wake time allows your baby to get this much-needed beauty sleep.
Overtired children tend to get fussier and fussier, until their ‘second wind’ (a surge of the hormone cortisol) occurs and often results in a wired, hard to settle, moody toddler/preschooler or an extra fussy hard to soothe baby. So, your goal is to have your child down for nap or bed before he is so tired he starts crying. By that time, he is already overtired and should to be put down for a nap or bed right away.
How do I know what my baby’s wake time is?
You will use a mix of ‘sleepy cues’ and the clock to determine wake time. As your baby grows, you will start to recognize various cues he exhibits when he is sleepy. He may pull on his ear or rub his eyes or have a particular noise he makes. When you see his cues, it is nap time! It can take several weeks for a newborn’s particular sleepy cues to be evident. In the very early weeks, keep an eye on the clock so you don’t keep baby up too long. Around 2-3 months of age, you will be able to use his sleepy cues to help time his sleep. Near 6 months, you will be able to start transitioning from using sleepy cues to primarily using the clock to manage wake time. If your child starts to fuss, you know that you’ve exceeded his wake window and that it is time for a nap ASAP!
Newborns to 4 Months
Newborn awake times are short and sweet: 20-45 minutes. By the time baby wakes, eats, and burps it is typically time to put him back down to sleep. It is normal to feel like newborn awake times are spent feeding baby and not doing much else. It is simply not worth it to try to keep baby up longer than he can tolerate. A fussy, overtired newborn can feel almost impossible to get to sleep. Hang in there and your baby’s wake time will lengthen before you know it and the two of you will be able to be more social.
By 2 months of age, wake times will typically be close to an hour and by 4 months of age will be around 1.5 hours to 2 hours; typically reaching 2-2.5 hours around 6 months of age.
An overtired baby will often have a hard time falling asleep and take short naps. A baby with a too short wake time can also have a hard time falling asleep and take short naps. The difference? Overtired babies are typically fussy and will cry when they wake up. A baby who is ready for a wake time increase will *usually* be happy while waiting to fall asleep (unless they are fussy because they would rather be up playing!) and happy when they wake up from their short nap.
6 Months to 1 Year
At 6 months of age, most babies will have a wake time of at least 2 hours, stretching to 3-5 hours by 1 year of age. Baby’s wake time will slowly increase. If your baby was a great sleeper but all of a sudden starts having a hard time falling asleep or taking short naps, it is a good idea to take a look at your baby’s schedule and adjust wake time if necessary. I recommend adding 5 minutes per day until you find his new sweet spot.
2 Years to 3 Years
By this time, wake time is usually 4 hours to 6 hours, with a larger wake time in the morning and shorter wake time after nap. If your little one is napping great but having a hard time falling asleep at bedtime, he most likely is ready for a longer wake time between nap and bed. With this age group, you can adjust his schedule a little bit quicker, I would try intervals of 15 minutes at a time.
4 Years to 5 Years
Most children in this age group are no longer napping. Bedtime should be 12 hours from the morning wake up for most children. Children with higher sleep needs may need a 13-hour interval while children with lower sleep needs may need an 11-hour span.
Remember that all of the above wake times are averages; they give you a good starting place. Some babies need more wake time than typical for their age while others need less.
I recommend keeping a written sleep log for a week while you are figuring out your child’s wake time. This is much easier than trying to keep track of everything in your head!
What to include:
What time put in bed
Time fell asleep
Time woke up
Did you have to wake your child?
Mood when woke up
By keeping a visual of all of these things, you will start to see your child’s pattern and then can adjust his wake time up or down as needed. Keep in mind that while some children have the same wake time all day long, others will have their shortest wake time in the morning with it getting longer as the day progresses. Also, growth spurts and illnesses may cause temporary changes in wake times.
Having an appropriate wake time is so important to optimize your child’s sleep schedule and allowing them to get the proper amount rest they need as they grow and develop.
Do you need help tweaking your child’s schedule to optimize wake time and get on the road to sleep success? I am happy to provide one-on-one assistance!