Baby Sleep Schedules
A critical part of the sleep learning process is ensuring your child is following an age-appropriate schedule. For the first several months, this is going to mean following age-appropriate awake windows. Awake windows (also known as awake times) are very important to monitor because not only do they dictate nap schedules and bedtimes, but missing this window – even by 15 or 20 minutes – can be devastating to the falling asleep process.
I liken this idea to eating a perfect avocado. You buy a hard, unripe, green avocado from the grocery store and bring it home where it sits on the counter for some time. You’ll keep an eye on it, maybe give it a squeeze here and there to see just how close it is to being perfectly ripe. And suddenly, it’s ready to eat! But you better get to it quickly or the next thing you know it will be brown and there go your dreams of a perfect avocado.
So, at the risk of comparing your baby to produce, the way your little one operates is similar: your child has a window of time where they are going to be the most awake and alert, but there is a limit to this window. Getting your child down to sleep before time has expired will yield a much smoother falling-asleep process. If we miss that window, the body starts to produce stimulating hormones like adrenaline and cortisol which will make it very difficult to both fall and stay asleep. Short naps? Might be due to overtiredness. Protests at bedtime? Possibly awake for too long after the time of the last nap.
To find your child’s awake window, it is important to watch the clock while also keeping an eye on your child’s sleepy cues. It’s certainly a balancing act, but the two should live in symbiotic harmony.
Here Are Some Awake Window Averages by Age
0-3 months: 45-60 minutes
3-5 months: 1.5-2 hours
5-7 months: 2.5-3 hours
8-13 months: 3-4 hours
14-18 months: 4.5-5.5 hours
18-36 months: 5-6 hours
And Here Are Some Common Sleepy Cues
Avoiding gaze/staring off
Becoming less engaged
Pulling at ears
Red-rimmed eyes/eye brows
Many parents tell me, “But my 9-month-old is showing sleepy cues after just an hour of being awake! Do they really need a nap?” This is where it’s important to balance those cues with average wake times. We know your 9-month-old likely does not need a nap after one hour of being awake (unless he were sick or had some crazy night); more than likely, he just needs a change of scenery or a bit more stimulation. Sometimes, I yawn or feel sleepy an hour or two after I wake up as well. It doesn’t mean I need a 10:00 a.m. nap, it just means I have to stand up from my desk, maybe get some fresh air, refill my coffee, and move my body. The same is true for your child. If you can get your little one as close to their awake window range as possible, they are more likely to sleep better and longer.
That being said, it is important to remember that the above numbers are just averages. Your child’s stamina may differ, and they might need slightly more or less time awake between naps. While this may vary by 20 or 30 minutes, awake times likely don’t differ by hours.
If you are struggling with sleep in your household, schedule adjustments are a good place to start. Along with independent sleep skills, they will go a long way in helping bring some peace and predictability to your sleep situation.
If you’re exhausted, totally overwhelmed by your child’s sleep habits, or looking for answers to the sleep questions that keep you up at night (literally), then you’ve come to the right place. I’m Jamie, founder of Oh Baby Consulting, and my goal is to help your family get the sleep you need to not just survive, but thrive!