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Talkin' Sleep

Wake Windows and Sleep Cues: Unlocking the Mysteries of Baby Sleep

There’s a new baby in your arms. One that you will spend the rest of your life getting to know their every quirk and personality trait. But right now, you just want some help on figuring out when they need to sleep. Figuring out a baby who doesn’t have all the most obvious signs or ways to communicate with you is hard. Especially in the first few days when you have just had a baby come out of you, or watched your partner give birth.

If you are someone who likes predictability (type A personality, perhaps?) you find it incredibly hard to feel like you have no idea just WHEN and for how long will this baby FINALLY sleep?! 

So let’s unravel a few mysteries for you by breaking down sleep cues and wake windows, so you can let out a sigh of relief and get that sense of predictability back.

Sleep Cues

AKA the body language your baby uses to communicate with you that they are tired. They start out subtle and as your baby gets more and more tired, will become more obvious. Unfortunately there is a chance of your baby hitting overtired mode if you don’t pay attention to the earlier signs, so let’s not let them get that far!

Each baby is unique in their own way, so remember as you read through these examples that these are only ideas of what your baby might show when they are tired. They may show only one or two, or all of them. You have to spend time getting to know your specific baby. (And for parents of multiples, each baby will show their own signs. You have double or triple or more sleep cues to learn!)

Examples of early sleep cues include:
  • Glossy or sleepy eyes
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Staring off into space
  • Slower motion and decreased mobility
  • Jerky movement of hands or feet
Examples of later sleep cues include:
  • Yawning
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Pulling on ears
  • Fussiness
  • Crying

Not sure how you are going to learn your baby’s specific sleepy cues? Overwhelmed by the thought? Well, luckily, we aren’t just making complete guesses about when baby is going to be tired or when to start paying attention to your baby so you can learn what cues to pay attention to.

Welcome, Wake Windows

Now disclaimer with wake windows, they are a tool! Not the holy grail of baby sleep. Just another tool I want you to utilize as you learn your baby and start to tailor everything to your uniquely amazing baby.

But it is a pretty magical tool to help those of us who like to have a little more predictability in our lives. These times can give you a general timeline of planning your day and be helpful.

Let me back up a moment, so what even is a wake window? A “wake window” is the amount of time that your baby can tolerate awake before they become tired and cranky.

Wake Window Guidelines (AND My Recommendations) By Age

Newborn Stage (Birth to 8 Weeks)

45-60 Minutes  

This time is a free for all for your baby! Offer the chance to sleep every 45 to 60 minutes, but mostly focus on getting to know your new little bundle and their sleepy time cues. Try your best to rest when the baby is sleeping (though I see you parents of multiple ages, and know that can be hard to actually do.) Remember that you are just entering into a brand new relationship and that it will take time to get to know each other.

Two to Three Months

60-90 Minutes

This time is still a free for all. You might be starting to get to know your baby’s pattern and sleep cues, but as any new relationship, you are still very much in the learning phase with each other.

Three to Four Months

90 Minutes – 2 Hours

Patterns may have started to emerge at this stage, but there is also a good chance that they have not. Don’t worry mama, this is still completely normal. Predictability is coming soon, but it isn’t something that your baby is quite ready for yet developmentally. Ignore those who keep asking why your baby isn’t sleeping through the night.

Five to Six Months

1.5 – 2.5 Hours

This is the predictability zone! Congrats parents, you’ve made it! Your baby’s circadian rhythm (AKA sleep-regulating system) is finally developing. Try to limit artificial lighting in the evening hours and for a night light, switch to red or orange lighting to help your baby’s circadian rhythm adjust.  Your baby might be able to start tolerating longer stretches of wake up time as the day goes on.

Six to Seven Months

First Nap: 1.5 – 2.25 Hours, Rest of the Day: 2-2.75 Hours

This is when things start to get a little more complicated than just remembering one wake window period. Around this age, babies start to benefit from extending wake windows as the day goes on in a way to help start building sleep pressure for that solid start of sleep at the beginning of the night. So offer their first nap earlier than you will offer any naps afterward.

Eight Months

First Nap: 2 – 2.5 Hours; Rest of the day: 2.5 – 3 Hours

Eight months is also a good time to start evaluating if your baby is ready to drop down to two naps instead of three. But it could really be either way. Watch your baby and see how they are doing throughout the day after waking up from naps. Do they wake up still looking tired and throwing sleepy cues? Or are they fully rested and ready to tackle all their new skills while awake? Remember, we are still wanting to build that sleep pressure, so first nap is always offered after a shorter wake window than naps afterward.

Nine Months

First Nap: 2.5 – 3 Hours; Rest of the Day: 3 – 3.5 Hours

If baby is not already at two naps during the day and their naps are short, it’s time to try switching to two and seeing if you can get their naps to extend.

Ten to Twelve Months

First Nap: 2.5 – 3 Hours; Rest of the Day: 3 – 4 Hours

You are now a two-nap pro! Now, I do want to warn you, during this time, some babies like to appear that they only need one nap during the day. There is just so much that they want to do. But the majority of babies are not actually ready for just one nap, and it’s really best to stick to two. Stick with a schedule that works for you and keep offering that second nap!

And there you have it. You’ve made it through the first year of your baby’s sleep! Utilizing all the tools in your tool belt, you will have learned so much about your baby by the end of their first year. There are probably some rough nights thrown in, but learning your baby and following your intuition on sleep is something you will never regret.

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