Wake Windows by Age: A Guide To Baby Wake Windows for Better Sleep

By Carolynne J. Harvey, founder of Dream Baby Sleep

New babies need lots of sleep. But figuring out when to put them down for naps can be tricky— and this is where wake windows come in handy. A “wake window” is the amount of time your baby can handle being awake between naps before they start to get overtired. Wake windows differ by age, and will gradually expand as your baby grows, but understanding them can really help you maximize your baby’s sleep and get them on their best schedule. (For example, newborn wake windows are often shorter than people think.) Understanding and applying wake windows by age can lead to better sleep for both baby and parents. Here’s what you should know about understanding and using wake windows.

What is a Wake Window?

A “wake window” is the amount of time your baby can handle being awake between naps before they start to get overtired. An overtired baby will fight sleep and be difficult to settle, so knowing how long your baby’s wake window is by their age will help you keep them in that “sweet spot” where they’re ready for a nap but not overtired. Sleep is essential for cognitive and physical development, and especially for newborns who are not sleeping long stretches at night, regular naps are a key component of that. (It’s worth noting here that newborn wake windows are only relevant for daytime sleep— at night, they don’t need to stay up between stretches, though they might want to!) 

Naps can be tricky, especially during the first few months. If it’s hard to get your baby settled for a nap even when following their wake windows by age, you can bring in some tools to make sleep easier. The 4moms® MamaRoo Sleep® Bassinet, which mimics natural movements that can calm a baby, can help soothe your baby, making it easier to transition to nap time.

Do Wake Windows Include Feeding?

This is a very common question I get from parents. Yes, wake windows do include feeding. You want your baby to be awake and alert while nursing or bottle feeding, and a feed takes a lot of energy for a tiny one! The best way to ensure an alert baby who stays awake for their feed and doesn’t “reset” the newborn wake window by drifting off is by trying to feed your baby as soon as they wake up from their last nap. You may have heard the phrase “eat, play, sleep” and this is a good order to keep in mind when thinking about wake windows.

How Long Are Wake Windows By Age?

Wake windows get longer with age, and they’ll vary from child to child too— you’ll know if your baby is happier on the lower or higher end of each window. Here’s what you can expect with wake windows by age: 

Newborn Wake Windows 
  • 0 to 4 weeks old: 45 to 60 minutes 
  • 4 to 8 weeks old: 60 to 75 minutes 
  • 8 to 12 weeks old: 75 to 90 minutes 
  • 12 to 16 weeks old: 90 to 120 minutes 
Infant Wake Windows
  • 5 month old wake window to 7 month old wake window: 2 to 3 hours 
  • 8 month old wake window to 10 month old wake window: 2.5 to 4 hours 
  • 11 month old wake window to 14 month old wake window: 3 to 4.5 hours 
  • 15 month old wake window to 24 month old wake window: 4 to 6 hours

What Happens If My Baby Does Not Follow Wake Windows?

First, I want you to know that newborn wake windows are a rough guide.  Your goal is to set your baby’s internal sleep cycle, and using wake windows can be helpful for that, but you can also follow a nap schedule that’s based on wake windows— this can be helpful for you mentally, and more consistent for your baby. (The constant math and calculating from wake windows can make us feel a little crazy!) We want some flexibility, but consistency is key. Off nap days will happen, and in that case, use early bedtime! Here’s my rough 3-nap schedule: 

  • Start the day by 7:30am.
  • Nap 1 8:30-9am based on when baby awakes for the day.
    • Nap 1 is actually not a nap, but an extension of night sleep and the shortest wake window.
  • Nap 2 start between 11:30am and 1pm based on the quality of nap 1. A quality nap 1 is 60 mins or longer.
  • Nap 3 is a cat nap designed to bridge the gap between day and night, normally 30-45 mins starting between 3:30-4:30pm.
  • Bedtime between 6:30-7:30pm.

Of course, an off day here and there is fine, but if naps are a consistent struggle and overtiredness is a pattern, take a look at your newborn's wake windows and see if they’re too long, as your baby may be experiencing disrupted sleep patterns. Overtired babies have a hard time falling and staying asleep, whereas babies that are getting quality rest experience benefits like the regulation of cortisol levels and improved mood and behavior that can start occurring after 3 months old. Often, reducing the time awake between naps can make a big difference if you’re struggling here.

How to Know Your Baby Is Tired

This is one of the big questions parents have for me: how can I tell when my baby is approaching the max amount of time they can handle being awake? Most babies will show signs of tiredness, which can be a cue that their newborn wake window is drawing to a close. Some sign to look out for:  

  • Eye rubbing
  • Looking away
  • Reduced activity
  • Staring
  • Blinking
  • Droopy eyelids
  • Yawning
  • Pulling at ears
  • Cries aren’t settled with a feed
  • Fussing
  • Arched back 
  • Sweating

When you start to see these signs in your child, get ready for a nap! Here are some of the best ways to set up nap time for success: 

  • Utilize a Playard for Safe Play and Naps: Incorporate the 4moms® Breeze® Plus Playard as a convenient and safe space for your baby to play and nap, making it easier to transition to sleep when the time comes. 
  • Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment: Dim lights, use white noise, maintain a comfortable room temperature. 
  • Develop a Consistent Routine: Establish a pre-sleep routine that includes calming activities like a warm bath or reading a book. 
  • Use Swaddles and Soothing Techniques: If your baby is not yet rolling, a swaddle can help calm their “startle reflex” and keep them from jerking themselves out of a sleep. Older babies can use sleep sacks, which function as part of their sleep routine to remind them “it’s time to sleep now.”  
  • Respond to Cues Promptly: Once you get to know your baby’s signs, act on them when you see them!

Using wake windows by age can be a really helpful way to help get your baby off on their best nap footing. And again, don’t stress if not every day is perfect. Babies often don’t develop a consistent sleep schedule until around 4 months old, according to the AAP, and in my experience can be more like 6. Being patient and consistent will eventually pay off, as well as being safe about sleep (remember to only ever put your baby to sleep on a firm, flat surface like the 4moms® MamaRoo Sleep® Bassinet or  Breeze® Plus Playard). You’re doing great!